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What is Forensic Science?


Criminal and Forensic Science

In recent years, forensic science has attracted attention both on the small screen and in the real world. While hit shows like CSI and Bones garner record ratings, so too have forensic science graduates. That’s because television has only begun to scratch the surface of a rich, complex field with a number of career possibilities – careers which, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, are expected to have above average growth in the coming decades. So with that in mind, in this article, we will try to address some fundamental questions about studying forensic science, starting with:

What is Forensic Science?

Forensic science is the combination of two different Latin words: forensis and science. The former, forensic, relates to a discussion or examination performed in public. Because trials in the ancient world were typically held in public, it carries a strong judicial connotation. The second, of course, is science, which is derived from the Greek for knowledge and is today closely tied to the scientific method, a systematic way of acquiring knowledge. Taken together, then, forensic science can be seen as the use of the scientific methods and processes in crime solving.

Despite its ancient etymology, forensic science is anything but old-fashioned. Branches of forensic science are rooted in almost every branch of science and many other aspects of modern society. Because of its ability to find and present objective evidence from areas as diverse as chemistry and accounting, today it is recognized as an essential part of the judicial system.

Essential, why essential?

Because when it comes to cases of life and death, objective evidence is crucial. While key evidence in criminal cases may have come from witnesses or other subjective means in the past, forensic science allows for objective evidence. That means that forensic evidence, based as it is on the scientific method, is seen as more reliable than even eyewitness testimony. In a judicial system which maintains that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, evidence gathered by forensic scientists is now regularly used by both the defense and the prosecution in many court cases.

Forensic Science: A Diverse Field

While CSI may have gathered a lot of attention in recent years, if autopsies are not your thing, don’t worry: there are a number of subspecialties in forensic science. Some of the most prominent are:

  • Forensic Psychology
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Forensic Odontology
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Digital Forensics
  • Criminology

To learn more about these and other career possibilities, be sure to check out our article on careers in criminal justice and forensic science. »

Because of this diversity of subspecialties available within the field, forensic scientists can be involved in solving a crime at almost any stage in the criminal justice process. While Forensic Toxicologists, for example, might work most closely with law enforcement or the courts after a crime has been committed, Forensic Psychologists (commonly known as Profilers) can come into play even before a suspect has been identified in order to help prevent future crimes.

Studying Forensic Science

If you are interested in finding out more about the exciting possibilities that forensic science has to offer, contact the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. They offer Bachelor, Master/JD, and certificate programs in a number of fields within Forensics including Forensic Science, Forensic Psychology, Forensic Law, Forensic Mental Health Counseling, and Digital Forensic and Cybersecurity programs.


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