I have to get this off my chest first: I am a fan of the TV show Bones. It’s mostly for the deep life lessons and experiences the show tackles as well as the heart-tugging romance and strong female characters.
However, I cannot ignore the fact that the show often grossly misinterprets the life of a forensic anthropologist (among other specialists) and misrepresents scientific probability and facts.
Before experiencing a glimpse of the life myself last summer, I knew still this about the show but it wasn’t as glaringly obvious as it is to me now.
In season 1, episode 19, “The Man in the Morgue,” Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) is in New Orleans working to identify remains from Hurricane Katrina. Detective Harding brings in a body and within a greeting, Tempe determines sex and age. She does this without even taking the body out of its bag. There is some leathery flesh still attached. In real life, cleaning the flesh off of the body and analyzing landmarks would be necessary, but she accomplishes all this with just a glance.
In an episode of season 2, the team is called to a case where a person was dissolved in a tub full of chemicals. With only fragments of the body to analyze, Tempe gives the somehow perfectly in-tact skull cap to Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin) in hopes the artist will be able to reconstruct the skull. Notice the eye orbits aren’t present in any capacity on that skull cap, yet somehow Angela manages to extrapolate eye shape. At least they knew not to go way overboard with the reconstruction and give us a full skull or something.
Season 3, episode 2 opens with a woman being blown up in her car. Once again, Tempe takes a gander at the remains without moving them or cleaning off the flesh and determines age, sex and even that she’s given birth. And, once again, this is simply not possible. I don’t understand the need for Tempe to have been able to tell the victim had given birth. It’s a wild assumption and something that could have been discovered by straight identification.
In The Master in the Slop, Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) has to identify a set of remains discovered in pig slop. After separating slop from bones, it takes Tempe and her colleague about 30 seconds to identify sex, age and ancestry. The methods they use (greater sciatic notch, auricular surface and tooth shape, respectively) are real methods. But these things alone tell us almost nothing. For example, a woman could have a male-like sciatic notch. You would need to analyze the rest of the sacrum and other landmarks in order to determine this. They identify these characteristics in an insanely short amount of time, showing a lack in proper methods and complete disregard for human variation.