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Sherlock Holmes and Forensics

Sherlock Holmes and forensics had a connection. Sherlock Holmes was a fictitious detective who is thought to have been born in the mid to late 19th century though his true birth year can be attributed to 1887 when Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought him to life in his first Holmes based story.

Sherlock Holmes worked as a consulting detective in London with his partner Dr. John H. Watson, who moved in with Holmes to help pay the rent.  Holmes was a freelance detective as well as a forensic scientist, the first of his time.  Holmes is unlike anybody we would find working in forensics today because of his disciplinary crossing reach.

Holmes worked as a detective and as such used his sharp mind to “reason backwards” or to see the conclusion of a criminal act and be able to reason backwards to find the motive and the culprit.  But Holmes was much more than just a detective.

Sherlock Holmes also worked in the chemistry lab of a hospital, making him a forensic chemist.  Holmes “discovered” a test to detect hemoglobin, and hence blood, he did this in Doyle’s mind 13 years before it happened in the real world.  Holmes commented on the uniqueness of typewriters three years before any real life document examiners did the same. He is considered a pioneer in the use of forensic science.

Today forensic chemists do not do detective work in the field and detectives do not spend time in the laboratory examining evidence, these are two separate arms of law enforcement.  Sherlock Holmes was a genius at both as best described by Doyle’s quote from Holmes’ mouth expressing both processes in one eloquent statement:

The process… starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support

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