C3RI Research Seminar - 'Dr Thorndyke Intervenes', Fictional detectives and the making of forensic science with Professor Alison Adam
Speaker: Professor Alison Adam, SHU
Alison Adam is Professor of Science, Technology and Society in C3RI. She has published extensively in information systems, particularly gender and IT and computer ethics. She is currently completing a book on the history of forensic science in the UK.
Title: 'Dr Thorndyke Intervenes', Fictional detectives and the making of forensic science
Several commentators have noted the influence of Sherlock Holmes' 'scientific detection' on the development of a scientific approach towards detection in the early years of the twentieth century. But Holmes wasn't the only fictional scientific detective and he wasn't necessarily the best, at least when it comes to using convincing scientific analyses. A number of less well known fictional detectives of the early twentieth century were influential in educating the public and the law enforcement authorities about the possibilities of forensic science and the delineation of professional roles. Detection fiction does not (just) hold up a mirror to society.
At a time when the discipline which would become known as 'forensic science' was forming in the UK, in the early years of the twentieth century, authors of scientific detective fiction were exploring the potential of forensic techniques, many of which were very new and untested. They were warning against the dangers of trusting some newly accepted forensic technologies such as fingerprinting and the use of bloodhounds and were exploring the development of professional roles for the forensic scientists and the division of labour between scientist, technician and police officer. Chief amongst the new breed of fictional forensic scientists was Dr John Evelyn Thorndyke, a remarkably modern forensic scientist with a range of convincing forensic techniques at his fingertips.