Sherlock Holmes as a hero of CSI?

Guy Ritchie`s new movie adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is a huge hit. But what would Sherlock Holmes do today?

Questions:

Do you think Sherlock Holmes would be a really perfect detective also in the reality and why? What was his weakest and strongest point from the point of view of the law enforcement officer?

Answers:

Joe Grebmeier, Chief of Police, Greenfield Police Department, Fan of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes brought a wealth of knowledge to criminal investigations. His powers of observation were legendary. But one must remember that he was a “consulting detective”, not bound by the rules of the police or courts. He conducted searches that would not be admissible in most courts of law.

Another weakness of Holmes was that while his mental powers were great and his power of observation could detect lying, his lack of empathy would hamper his ability to interrogate suspects. Criminals often to do not confess when confronted with the truth. It takes an empathetic interrogator to develop an relationship with the suspect and then to elicit a voluntary confession.

I think that Holmes would be far better working as a Crime Scene Investigator than as a Police Detective, given his strengths and weaknesses. He would also do well as a Criminal Profiler, which many would agree, he was the greatest, if not the first, to bring this to the investigation of crime.

Questions:

Do you think Sherlock Holmes would be a really perfect detective also in the reality and why? What was his weakest and strongest point from the point of view of an expert on history of forensic science?

Answers:

E. J. Wagner, Crime-historian, Author of a book The Science of Sherlock Holmes

As I researched my book, (“The Science of Sherlock Holmes”published by John Wiley 2006), about the history of forensic science, I was fascinated to discover how useful Mr Holmes approach to criminal investigation was. His observation of detail, his meticulous examination of crime scenes, his expertise with chemistry, were all cutting edge police work in the late19th century.

But Sherlock Holmes was a generalist. Forensic science has grown more and more specialized, and today most crime laboratories require specialization in one field- biology, chemistry, death investigation, and so on. One individual can no longer cover all needs. So the very range of Holmes interests might be a problem for him today. Also, he worked largely alone, and police science is largely a team effort.

Given the brilliance of Mr Holmes, I think he could work it out, however. He would be a terrific head of a crime laboratory-just as long as he gave all the orders. His strongest point was a sharp scientific out look-his weakest, in my view, was his unwillingness to follow any rules at all.

Questions:

Did Sherlock Holmes influence a public perception of science in some way? Did he influence also scientists?

Answers:

Laura J. Snyder, President, HOPOS (International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science), Associate Professor of Philosophy, St. John’s University

I have to admit that so far my work on Sherlock Holmes has focused on the transmission of ideas TO Conan Doyle in his invention of Holmes, rather than FROM Holmes. It certainly seems to me–and this is what my article Sherlock Holmes: Scientific Detective in ENDEAVOUR argues–that Conan Doyle was influenced by the different conceptions of Francis Bacon’s philosophy of science that were “in the air” in the early-to-mid-19th century. As for how Holmes may have influenced the public perception of science in general, I don’t have evidence for this but I believe he probably did so. It is certainly the case that the Holmes stories presented a positive image of forensic science in particular, at a time when the science was first being developed and when the public had a negative image of it, due to cases such as the 1859 Smethurst case, in which a leading toxicologist was forced to admit that his previous findings of arsenic in the tissues of a dead woman had been mistaken. That mistaken testimony had resulted in the guilty verdict against Thomas Smethurst on the charge of murder by poisoning, That verdict was later overturned, but it left the impression that forensic sciences such as toxicology were unreliable, to say the least. The Sherlock Holmes stories presented a much more favorable view of forensic science, showing how by step-by-step reasoning criminals could be caught and found guilty.

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