boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
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11/7/05

CSI...

If you know me, or if you've perused this blog a few times, you know that my favorite t.v. show right now is CSI. It's about a team of forensic scientists who are part of the Las Vegas crime lab. You probably already know that, since it has been the most watched show for the last several years and has spawned two spinoffs. I'm not really much of a scientist. I don't have the interest, acumen, or temperament for the scientific field. Yet, you don't need to be a science-nerd to groove with the show. It is consistently the best-directed television show, it has good acting, cool musical accompaniment, always interesting (often bizarre) storylines, and you usually gain the satisfaction at the end of an episode of having a crime solved and a "bad guy (or gal)" on the way to jail. But, I love the show mainly because I like the characters and the way they interact.

At the same time, there is one aspect of the show that drives me crazy, and it's related to character interaction. Now, it doesn't really bother me in a substantial way. It's more like the way a good friend might have an idiosyncracy that annoys you but you wouldn't really want them to quit it because it would change who they are. Anyway, the thing is that the makers of the show know that most of the people who watch on a regular basis aren't professional forensic scientists. In fact, I'd venture to say that the average Thursday evening television viewer (including me) is fairly scientifically ignorant. So, in order to help us goobers understand what these scientists are doing and talking about while solving crimes, the characters are forced to have these absolutely inane conversations about scientific facts and processes. I don't know if you've noticed it; I didn't at first. But now that I have, it sticks out like a sore thumb. No real people, especially knowledgable scientists, would have conversations like these. Basically, they explain to each other things like laws of physics, properties of thermodynamics, or how DNA comparisons work. Usually these conversations involve each character finishing the thoughts of the other, thus showing us that both are knowledgable about the topic. In real life, though, these people would just assume that the other one possesses the requisite knowledge to do their job and they'd get on with their life.

I don't know if I've explained what I'm talking about in a comprehensible manner. So, I'm including (below) an excerpt of a transcript from an episode where a particularly bad occurrence of this phenomenon takes place. By the way, I found the transcript at this site, which is pretty cool if you like that sort of thing (as I do). [FYI: "Grissom" is the lead character of the show and supervisor of the team; "Neil Jansen" is a bit-character, apparently portrayed as an "expert" on fingerprints.]



[INT. CSI - LAB -- DAY]

(Grissom walks into the lab.)

GRISSOM: Neil, you got a minute?

NEIL JANSEN: I don't think I have any work pending for you.

GRISSOM: I need your expertise.

NEIL JANSEN: Matchbook print. Everybody's talking about it.

GRISSOM: Well, good. Scientific discoveries arise through discourse. Now ...
ninhydrin works by reacting to one end of a protein chain to form ruhemann's
purple ...

NEIL JANSEN: Which makes fingerprints visible.

GRISSOM: Protein chains are made up of a series of amino acids, sometimes a
hundred units long. But only one end of the chain has the h-n-H ...

NEIL JANSEN: The n-terminus.

(Quick flash of: the end of the protein chain. Resume to present.)

NEIL JANSEN: It's the only part of the protein molecule that interacts with
ninhydrin.

GRISSOM: But fingerprints are subjected to bacterial degradation, which causes
the proteins to break down into smaller amino acids.

NEIL JANSEN: Upping the number of n-termini.

GRISSOM: And making the fingerprint more visible. But because new fingerprints
are sometimes composed of fully intact proteins, you could spray ninhydrin, and
not see a result for months, yes?

NEIL JANSEN: Or in rare cases, years -- depending on the rate of degradation.

GRISSOM: My matchbook print was inside a plastic evidence bag. That could
affect the rate.

NEIL JANSEN: Let's see ... plastic ... plastic traps in heat and humidity.

(Quick flash to: Extreme close-up of the protein chain and various reactions.)

NEIL JANSEN: (v.o.) Bacteria would continue to break down over time.

(End of flash. Resume to present.)

GRISSOM: So theoretically, the bag was acting as a humidifying chamber.

NEIL JANSEN: I'd say you were processing a print in slow motion.

GRISSOM: Thank you, Neil.


Did Neil and Grissom really need to have a discussion about how proteins work to form fingerprints? No. But the show has to prove how smart it is and they have to create a way to cut away to cool computer graphics of protein chains and chemical reactions. So, I'll continue to be annoyed by these awkward patronizing conversations. But, I'll keep watching too.

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G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."