Forensics or forensic science is the application of science to questions which are of interest to the legal system. For example, forensic pathology is the study of the human body to determine cause and manner of death. Criminalistics is the application of various sciences to answer questions relating to examination and comparison of biological evidence, trace evidence, impression evidence, drugs and firearms. Forensic odontology is the study of the uniqueness of dentition, and forensic toxicology is the study of drugs and poisons, and their effects on the human body.
The earliest account of fingerprint use to establish identity was during 7th century China. According to Soleiman, an arabic merchant, a debtor's fingerprints were affixed to a bill, which would then be given to the lender. This bill was legally recognized as proof of the validity of the debt.
The first written account of using medicine and entomology to solve (separate) criminal cases is attributed to the book Xi Yuan Ji Lu (洗冤集錄, translated as "Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified"), written in 1248 China by Song Ci (宋慈, 1186-1249). In one of the accounts, the case of a person murdered with a sickle was solved by a death investigator who instructed everyone to bring their sickles to one location. Flies, attracted by the smell of blood, eventually gathered on a single sickle. In light of this, the murderer confessed. The book also offered advice on how to distinguish between a drowning (water in the lungs) and strangulation (broken neck cartilage).
The "Eureka" legend of Archimedes (287-212 BC) can also be considered as an early account of the use of forensic science. In this case, Archimedes was able to prove that a crown was not made of gold (as it was fraudulently claimed) by its density and buoyancy.
Sherlock Holmes, the fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used forensic science. Decades later, the comic strip, Dick Tracy also featured the detective using a considerable number of forensic methods although sometimes the methods were more fanciful. The popular television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation depicts a glamorized version of the activities of forensic scientists.
The use of "forensics" used in place of "forensic science" could be considered incorrect; the term "forensic" is effectively a synonym for "legal" or "related to courts". However, it is now so closely associated with the scientific field that many dictionaries include the meaning given here.
Specialities in forensics include:
- Forensic Science Industry Intelligence (http://www.forensic.e-symposium.com) Forensic Science Suppliers, Cutting Edge Industry Coverage & Web Conferences
- Mobile laboratory for forensic investigation (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3757878.stm)
- History of the finger-print system (http://www.scafo.org/The_Print/THE_PRINT_VOL_16_ISSUE_02.pdf)
- Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers. Michael Baden, M.D., former New York City Medical Examiner, and Marion Roach. Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-86758-3
- Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection. Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer. University Press of Kentucky, 1999. ISBN 0813120918.