Coroner gives reasons for disliking CSI

January 30, 2009

In a filled lecture hall at Indiana State University Tuesday (Jan.27), Vigo County Coroner Dr. Roland Kohr spoke frankly and used crime scene photographs in his discussion of actual crime scene investigation work.

"Personally, I hate 'CSI,'" Kohr said in beginning his talk, which was part of the Biology Seminar Series: "From Molecules to Ecosystems" about the CBS television show and forensic science. "The only reason I've watched it is because my wife watched it."

As a comparison, he asked the students how many watched the television show "Saved by the Bell." As he watched the hands go up across the room, he then asked, "How many of your high schools were like that?" Hands immediately went down to general laughter.

Kohr quickly worked through his top 10 list, counting backward, of his reasons for disliking the show beginning with the workload of the television forensic scientists.

"They only have grisly, bizarre murders. There are no simple murders," he said. "The actual number of homicides we do is very small."

Of 290 autopsies conducted in 2008, Kohr said 50 percent were from natural deaths. Only 4.5 percent were from homicides.

He took umbrage with the terminology the show uses for number nine on his list.

"What does COD mean?" he asked.

"Cause of death," a student called out.

"How many syllables does it have?" he said. "It has three syllables. How many syllables does COD have? It has three syllables. You abbreviate something to make it shorter."

For number eight on his list, Kohr said the speed of testing on the show isn't the same in real life.

"They have a fancy black box that they stick a sample on and 30 seconds later they have answer," he said.

Instead, such tests take 15 to 30 minutes, and that is if it is an extremely urgent case that comes to the emergency room. For toxicology results, two weeks would be a fast turnaround, and very often such tests take six weeks. Also, he said, one never sees actors on CSI using dental testing to identify a person.

"It's not as exotic or glamorous as DNA, but it works a whole lot better," he said.

Number seven for Kohr's reasons of disliking CSI was the range of testing that the one lab on the television show does including toxicology, DNA, ballistics and fingerprinting.

"They do it all on their own and they don't need any help," he said. In reality, samples are sent to different labs for different types of testing. Also on the show, everyone confesses to his or her crime and none of the criminals ever seem to go to court, while other crime dramas on television show all of the cases going to court, he said. Another issue that he takes with the show is that the scientists also handle the interrogations and make the arrests while in reality there is a division of labor.

Number two on Kohr's list was the actor David Caruso who stars on "CSI: Miami." "If he irritates me imagine what he would do to a jury," he said. However, Kohr's number one issue with the show was the characters' use of flashlights instead of just turning on the lights. Colors and fine details matter which a person cannot adequately see in a darkened room lit only by a flashlight.

Kohr then took students on a visual walk-through of different cases in the Wabash Valley.

"Cases are not always in a nice, neat setting," he said as he showed a photo of numerous open cat food cans filled with roaches, which was part of an investigation into a death.

In closing his talk, Kohr said that common sense and logic are often more important than sophisticated science before issuing a final word of advice. "TV is not real," he said.

Upcoming guests in the biology speaker series are: Craig Nelson, professor emeritus of biology at Indiana University and a Carnegie Scholar, at 4 p.m. Feb. 3 in Room 12 of the Science Building. His presentation is titled, "Evolution, Creation or Both," Big Macs, Double Elimination Tournaments, and Bowling isn't Football: The Scientist's Lot is Not a Happy One- Or is it?" In conjunction with the upcoming Darwin Day, the movie "Inherit the Wind" about the Scopes trial is scheduled to be shown in the Cunningham Memorial Library on Feb. 9. Then on Feb. 10 as part of Darwin Day, Tom Seeley from Cornell University will speak on "Honey Bees and Effective Decision Making."

The series, sponsored by the ISU department of biology and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College science and math department, brings internationally recognized research scientists to speak to students and community members. For more information, visit http://www.indstate.edu/darwin/ or call 812-237-2501.

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Contact: Rusty Gonser, Indiana State University, assistant professor, at 812- 237-2395 or rgonser@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jennifer.sicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/462982873_Sx3ZT-D.jpg

Cutline: Dr. Roland Kohr, Vigo County coroner, talks to Indiana State University students about why he hates the CBS television show "CSI." ISU Photo/Kara Berchem