Episode 184: Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and Other Forensics Myths

Ancient skull

Ancient skull of a young woman killed by an arrow. From the Museum of Toulouse, France. Image courtesy of Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to modern technology most crimes these days can be neatly solved in under an hour. At least that's what fictional TV shows like CSI seem to suggest. 

We wanted to address the so-called "CSI Effect," caused by the simplification of forensic science in popular culture. CSI and  likeminded TV shows–with their heroic investigators solving crimes in mere minutes–mislead viewers and affect real court cases. The reality of investigation is much slower and more complex, but no less fascinating.

Hosts Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy speak with experts Anna Dhody, a physical and forensic anthropologist, and Lisa Rosner, a historian. They discuss the early days of solving crime and the on-going chemistry of the human body throughout life and death.

Show Clock

00:00 Introduction

02:03 Past and present: the "CSI Effect"  

05:00 Forensic science: its beginnings

06:40 Burke and Hare: the not-quite body snatchers

09:34 Digging up the bodies: mass murder in Peru

10:41 BREAK: call to the community

11:11 The chemistry of bodies

12:44 Skulls, phrenology, and race

17:49 Closing Credits

Show Notes

Links to content:

Burked” Episode 1, Season 2: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Burke and Hare” An audio drama performed by the Wireless Theater Company.

Related media:

"The Real CSI" PBS Frontline 

High Tech, High Risk Forensics” The New York Times

Can Science Stop Crime?” NOVA


Hosts: Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy

Guests: Anna Dhody and Lisa Rosner

Producer: Mariel Waloff Carr

"Stabbings" by Moby, courtesy of

Image courtesy of Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons



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