By Jonathan Li and Eric Wang
Debris, charred to pitch blackness, lies scattered all over what once used to be a building. Now, only a gruesome mound of wood, concrete, stone, and corpses stand in its place. Whether such a tragedy was done with malicious intent or occurred purely by accident seems impossible to tell, since any potential clues remain hidden under the ruins. Yet, as shown in the “Fire and Explosives” chapter from David Owen’s Hidden Evidence, this site is actually a goldmine of evidence in the hands of a forensic investigator. Numerous chemicals, chromatography experiments, and technologies—miracles of modern science—can all be put towards finding clues as to how the crime occurred and even towards finding the perpetrators through DNA evidence. Still, when placed in the context of true crime narratives, forensic science seems oddly out of place. Writer and professor Jean Murley explains the true crime genre as, “a way of making sense of the senseless, but it has also become a worldview, an outlook, and a perspective on contemporary American life, one that is suspicious and cynical [...], and preoccupied with safety, order and justice” (2). This trait of true crime, one that is so focused on psychology, emotions, and justice, is hardly fitting with the cold, data-driven facets of science. Yet, even despite the differences between forensic science and true crime narrative, we see a remediation between these two styles in David Owen’s Hidden Evidence, which produces a new type of crime narrative that has science play a more prominent role in solving mysteries.
As fire and explosive-related crimes do an incredible job in distorting or destroying physical evidence, the visual aftermath of these forces predominates observation and investigation. Nevertheless, there are underlying chemical and physical properties at work. The construction of models and other representations thus becomes integral in making scientific research in characterizing these properties applicable to modes of forensic inquiry. In their book on visualization, scholars Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright describe the escalating importance of scientific visualization as “encompass[ing] the acoustic and tactile world with the increased availability of digital rendering and display mechanisms” (349). As humans tend to rely on sight more than other senses, the growth of modern visualization technology becomes crucial in understanding and applying science to forensic investigation. The “Fire and Explosives” chapter by Owen reflects that desire to see the unseen through his abundant ‘techno-babble’ and descriptions of precise modern scientific experiments, coupled with their specific forensic utility regarding fire and explosions.
Posted in Fires & Explosives
Tagged Cartwright, David, David Owen, Evidence, Explosions, Explosives, Fire, Forensic Science, forensics, Halttunen, Hidden, Hidden Evidence, Murley, Owen, Panek, Science, Sturken, True Crime
by Kendrick Fitzgerald and Steven Yarmoska
DNA. The foundation of our genes. What makes us unique.
These claims are not articulated in an epic introduction to a Nova special on deoxyribonucleic acid, but they are two essential points science journalist David Owen offers in Chapter 14 of his book, Hidden Evidence. In his text, Owen describes in excruciating detail the structural make-up of DNA and, more importantly, how it is discovered, collected, and employed in forensic investigations. What he omits from his narrative, is information about how DNA evidence can fail, fall short, or undermine a criminal case.
After reading Chapter 14, a reader might be tempted to adopt a mindset similar to that of CSI viewers: that DNA evidence is present at every crime scene and, once found, it can be easily analyzed but never disputed. This assertion is rooted in the constant presence of a self-evident chain of connections between collection, analysis, identification, and employment. True crime literature submits to a similarly rigid structure, as Professor Jean Murley categorizes: “murder/background/trial/execution” (44). Further exploring this comparison, one can relate Owen’s non-fiction narrative to other elements of true crime and detective fiction stories, most notably the juxtaposition of mystery and clarity.
DNA is not infallible because it is interpreted by humans; and as long as it is, DNA is only as good as the people who manipulate it. That is to say, the investigators that find it and the scientists that determine to whom it belongs. DNA, on its own, cannot tell a story. There needs to be circumstance as well as DNA, and this is a fact that Owen manages to dodge in his presentation of DNA in “DNA: The Ultimate Identifier?”
Posted in DNA: The Ultimate Identifier?
Tagged Cartwright, CSI, David Owen, DNA, Duke, Duke University, forensics, Hidden Evidence, identifier, Kendrick Fitzgerald, Murley, Owen, Panek, Peelo, Steven Yarmoska, Sturken, Turow, ultimate
By Nick Gubbins and Funmi Osinubi
According to NRA bumper stickers plastered on the backs of countless American vehicles, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The gun is an instrument with which a murder is committed as opposed to an independent force. Yet throughout True Crime analyst David Owen’s chapter The Smoking Gun, the gun is represented as the concrete scientific factor within a case; the gun is the objective force that overrides any human emotion. Investigations revolve entirely around looking for scientific evidence, as opposed to the former focus on the psychological aspect of criminal and witnesses. In his composition of this chapter, Owen concentrates on the gun in the text, images and the case study of “Sacco and Venzetti”, offering little human interaction. Through analysis of these three factors (text, visual language, and case study), the emphasis on forensic science and technology supersede that of the human element.Owen neglects the human aspect of a case in an attempt to remove any possible subjectivity from the science. The only human contact we get within the pictures are of scientists carrying out experiments, as seen on page 116. This forensic scientist is one who lies outside the realm of emotional distortion; while working he cannot let any of his feelings influence his work. He must follow the formulas to find out the scientific, indisputable fact and that is all. Once there is an objective scientist, science can be an irrefutable tool for finding evidence, and ultimately “securing a guilty verdict” (Owen 127). Continue reading
Posted in The Smoking Gun
Tagged David Owen, Funmi, Gun, Hello, Murley, Nick, Owen, Panek, Peelo, Sacco and Vanzetti, Turow