On a recent episode of “CSI,” Nick Stokes waltzed into the lab, gun in holster from a near shooting with a suspect at a crime scene, and proceeded to run tests on a bullet fragment. You can call it poetic license or you can call it fiction. In the real world, lab techs are lab techs, and the field agents investigate crime scenes—period. And to top that off, most don’t carry weapons and are not part of the police force. They spend their days in a lab. And the reality for most forensic investigators is that the equipment is old, a fingerprint takes weeks to get a match, and DNA testing is a wait-in-line process that can take months, even a year. But “CSI” never claimed be nonfiction. The central idea behind the science is generally based in fact, but the writers want ratings, not credibility. Since its popularity from the beginning, the show has inspired thousands of young people to become criminalists, entomologists, and forensic specialists.

Do we, as crime writers, have an obligation to right these wrongs? Can we utilize the same poetic license? The truth is, we can’t write just to sell. Our research tactics have to be accurate. Our science must be correct, and investigative procedures must reflect authenticity. We’re accountable to those professions, because they are our readers, too.

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