Showing posts from September, 2014

What Can Investigators Really Tell From Gunshot Residue?

The relationship between fiction and reality, whether in a book or a screenplay, is strong, making it critical that authors and screenwriters stay as current as possible on the scientific and technological advances in their selected fields.  In this case, ammunition types and criminology are advancing just as fast as in other fields, which shouldn't be surprising since most of the scientists who have ever lived are alive and working today.

Are we getting close to the day when gun fire residue can be analysed on site?  Perhaps.  But this new method cuts valuable time off the analysis of fire arms residue, and can identify the chemical make up of residue either identifying or eliminating ammunition types used in a crime.

Here's the story:

Real-life CSI: What can investigators  really tell from gunshot residue?
The popular TV series "CSI" is fiction, but every day, real-life investigators and forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence to determine what happened at crim…

The True Causes of Crime

In the U.S., we use a crime and punishment model that incarcerates convicted criminals in the hope that this will discourage both them and others from committing crimes.  Yet our crimes rates remain high compared to other countries, to the point that the homicide rate in the U.S. is five times higher than in Europe despite our having the death penalty - which is not used in Europe.

Obviously, something is wrong with this picture.  We spend far more per capita in this country on "corrections" with far less to show for it.

According to this study, our energies and money would be better spent helping people fit in socially, while ensuring that potential criminals have economic opportunity.  The authors point out that crime is a cycle between social and economic opportunity and crime.  i.e., if a person feels they have a place in our society and the opportunity to earn a living, crime will decrease.  If a person feels they don't fit in or belong, and, that they lack the opport…

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes: The friction of banana skins, Jesus on toast, Baby poop in sausages and more

It's the best weekend of the year for scientific research geeks.  It's time for the annual 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes awarded Thursday night, September 18th, 2014 at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.  To quote the Ig Nobel Prize website, "The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then makes them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology."

The First Annual Ig Nobels were created in 1991 by Marc Abrahams, editor and co-founder of the journal, Annals of Improbable Research, with ten prizes including the Nobel Prize categories of physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace, but also other categories such as public health, engineering, biology, and interdisciplinary research.

So, are we ready?  Hope so.  Remember, you've been warned.

The 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes:

What is the coeffecient of friction betwee…

Scanning babies' fingerprints: Tracking Health Care. Building a Global Database for???

If you, like me, enjoy watching the many true-crime shows on television, you know that there have been some pretty amazing advances in the technology of criminology. Fingerprinting has become a staple of investigations, used to identify both suspects and victims. 

According to this story just released by Michigan State University, efforts are now underway to use the fingerprints of infants to track their immunization history.  Obviously, such a database would have other uses, including identifying criminals.  

For those concerned with civil liberties, this database will undoubtedly cause concern.   From a scientific viewpoint, we don't need to be branded with "the mark of the beast."  We already carry such marks through our individually unique DNA, retinal patterns, fingerprints and so on.  What is lacking is a database that catalogs these characteristics along with functional information such as where we live and work.  It's even possible a mega-data base could be dev…

Perfectionism a Major Factor in Suicide

If in your story you have a character with a strong urge to be perfect, living in a story arc where he or she experiences pressure from those around them to be perfect in all ways and things, you need to ask, what effect will this have on them? 

According to Professor Gordon Flett of York University in England, this character has a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions than others.  Worst yet, their drive for perfectionism causes them to project an image of perfection to the world around them, while their self-talk is filled with frustration and expressions of failure because they feel they are living a lie.  These are the people who surprise everyone around them with a suicidal act.  "I never saw that coming," is a common refrain.

It's this realistic detail that creates believable characters and carries your reader or viewer along in your story.

Here's the report:  

Perfectionism is a bigger risk factor in suicide than we may think, says York University Psycholog…

GUEST POST: Aggressive Sports and Domestic Violence

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When the body is trained to compete aggressively, should we expect a higher legal penalty?

Domestic violence has recently made national headlines again because of a slew of NFL players who have been accused of abusing loved ones and partners. Domestic violence is still a very prevalent social problem where the victims are disproportionately female.  

To be sure, all aggressors in domestic violence situations should be held legally accountable and also provided with psychological/medical assistance to reduce violent outbursts. But there is something about trained athletes (who have conditioned their bodies and trained their minds to be competitively aggressive) that raises questions about the association between athletic aggression and socially unacceptable aggression. 

While I think it would be foolish to suggest that there is some kind of causal connection between aggressive sports and domestic abuse, I am of the opinion that fighters a…

CRIME: Life as a Gangsta is Short-lived

Apparently, there are as many stereotypes about being in a gang as there are about anything else the media covers.  The 30-second sound bite obviously simplifies things down to the point of distortion to the detriment of us all.

This report from Sam Houston State University attempts to clarify several of the issues, and our suggested reading, a biography of a gang member will offer additional insight into the culture of gangs.

For a historical retrospective, the book The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld by Herbert Asbury is one I recommend.  And don't worry, it has nothing to do with the movie of the same name - other than a few of the characters share a name.  One thing I remember from this book is that many of the members of these gangs of he 19th century were adolescents as well.  From what I've read and heard, life in a gang now is not that different than it was 150 years ago in the gangs that led to the Mafia and other groups.

Here's the report:


Introducing CLI-FI: Fiction to Prepare Us for Global Warming

Cli-fi: Fiction that prepares us for  world changed by global warming Climate fiction, or simply cli-fi, is a newly coined term for novels and films which focus on the consequences of global warming. New research from University of Copenhagen shows how these fictions serve as a mental laboratory that allows us to simulate the potential consequences of climate change and imagine other living conditions.

Introducing Cli-fi
"Global warming is much more than scientific data on changes in the atmosphere; it is also a cultural phenomenon in which meaning is being shaped by the books we read and the films we see. And there are so many of them now that we can speak of a completely new genre, cli-fi, says PhD Gregers Andersen at the University of Copenhagen.

"We use these films and novels to imagine what life and society might be like in a future when global warming has dramatically changed our world because, as opposed to numbers and statistics, fiction can make us feel and understan…

1/3 of Hate Crimes Committed by Friends, Care-givers & Family

There is racism, sexism and now disablism combined with the attitude by some friends, family and care-givers that those with disabilities are fair game for acts of verbal and physical violence.

As if that's not bad enough, research out of Leicester University in England reveals that one-third of hate crimes against the disabled come from people known to the victim, either friends, care givers or family.

What is it within the human animal that causes hate crimes?  Why do people feel the need to act this way?  Is it organic to us?  Is it something we learn?

I have to admit there are times I have thoughts and feelings that I'm not proud of, and I wouldn't want people to know about.  Do most people have the same?  If so, is it true that some people can't control their urges and act out in ways that hurt others, especially those not in a position to defend themselves?

Here's the report, something to think about in your own life:

Friend or foe: 'Devastating' number  of…

Domestic Violence Affects up to 75% of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Couples

Domestic Violence Frequent in Same-sex Couples
Domestic violence occurs at least as frequently, and likely even more so, between same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex couples, according to a review of literature by Northwestern Medicine® scientists.

Previous studies, when analyzed together, indicate that domestic violence affects 25 percent to 75 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. However, a lack of representative data and underreporting of abuse paints an incomplete picture of the true landscape, suggesting even higher rates. An estimated one in four heterosexual women experience domestic abuse, with rates significantly lower for heterosexual men.

"Evidence suggests that the minority stress model may explain these high prevalence rates," said senior author Richard Carroll, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Domestic vio…

Climate Change: It's Not All Bad News

For a writer, our changing climate impacts everything we write whether our story is about a love triangle or is a sci-fi adventure in the future.  Our environment is becoming different, with areas near the equator becoming warmer and drier, and areas nearer the poles becoming more habitable.  This is stimulating population migrations north as we see along our borders as farming becomes less possible further south.

As we've mentioned here, this change in food production is a prime mover in what many are calling the growing war between the have's and the have-not's.  

There is no much "bad news" about the ways the global climate is changing our world due to over-population and global warming that it's rather nice to be able to post something that sounds like good news.  Global warming is causing a diminishing of our wind patterns across the continent, which in one way is not so good, but, according to this study, the decline in wind across a farmer's fields i…