I watch Bones. I could say it's because I frequently assign students in my Human Osteology, Bioarchaeology, and Forensic Anthropology classes to watch and critique it, but even when I'm not teaching, I watch Bones. It's a guilty pleasure. The drama of the show is pretty bland and the forensics tends to be far too slick for reality. But mostly it's a kind of academic schadenfreude - I wait for the writers, prop people, and actors to slip up. And they always slip up. I sometimes read a blog in which a doctor critiques House, M.D. With a hat tip for the idea, here goes... some (semi-)regular analysis of the forensics of Bones. (Feel free to post in the comments if I missed something!)
Overall, this was one of the worst episodes in recent memory. The season opener has a lot of work to do. When we left the team, they were all headed for different places: Brennan and Daisy to Indonesia to search for Homo floresiensis fossils, Booth to Afghanistan to train the locals in military practices, Angela and Hodgins to France for some reason I don't recall, and Sweets apparently to play at a piano bar because Daisy dumped him. The conceit that gets them all back is that Dr. Saroyan, the pathologist and medical examiner for D.C., is in trouble. She can't conclusively identify the remains of a child that were discovered three months ago as those of a missing boy. Miss Julian, whose job is fairly elusive, calls the team back from their sabbaticals abroad to help save Dr. Saroyan's job.
Upon their return, the team figures out quickly that the skeleton and the missing boy do not match up. Saroyan first notes that all she can tell is that the skeleton is from a boy. Brennan discovers Harris lines in the tibiae, and Intern Guy notes porotic hyperostosis of the cranial vault, which add up to malnutrition. Angela pokes her head in and says that the eye orbits are really round, and Brennan exclaims that she definitely sees that the skull is brachycephalic. They conclude the child was Asian. Hodgins estimates a much earlier time of death that doesn't fit in with the disappearance of the missing boy. Later, Brennan sees a hyoid fracture on the x-ray, and Hodgins finds a sliver of wood embedded in the bone. Coupled with damage to the sternum, they conclude it was likely an accidental death (from a toothpick or something similar) and failed CPR/Heimlich maneuver. Based on the finding that the twine used to wrap the child's limbs was industrial-strength thread and the analysis of the jacket, which was made from a fabric only manufactured in North Korea, Brennan and Booth look for an industrial sewing operation. They find the only North Korean in the place and confirm that the 3-year-old child choked on a wooden crib nail and CPR did not work, so the mother and great-grandfather buried the boy. To round out the episode, Booth and Brennan find the missing boy, who was with his father all along.
- Why didn't Dr. Saroyan do a DNA analysis of the skeletal remains? If the case was so high-profile, surely she could have gotten the funding to test the kid's DNA. This would have told her that the child was male and, more importantly, that he was Asian, thus saving her job and not needing the rest of the people to come back.
- Cam inexplicably said she knew the skeleton was male, but unless the field has progressed significantly, she has about a 50/50 chance of knowing this from skeletal remains. Brennan did not question this assessment. (However, see here for some new research coming out of neighboring NC State in this regard.)
- Harris lines that are evident on xray show arrested growth of long bones, and porotic hyperostosis is related to iron-deficiency anemia (which can be caused by a host of things, such as malaria, parasites, and nutritional issues). These two issues do add up to malnutrition. The team probably should have noted whether or not there were enamel hypoplasias, which are also generic indications of a disease or nutritional issue.
- Angela's estimation of Asian for the race of the skeleton is pretty ludicrous. Again, I'm not up on the latest research, but a forensic anthropologist's ability to estimate ancestry from the remains of someone so young is marginal at best. The subadult skeleton just has not matured enough for the typical ancestry characteristics to be seen. If anything, they should have looked at the incisors; shovel-shaped incisors could be seen in the deciduous dentition and would indicate Asian or Native American ancestry better than the eye orbits.
- Physical anthropologists don't use the cephalic index anymore. (Side note: I just discovered that Wikipedia's page for cephalic index cites me. Odd.) Brennan's comment that the skull was brachycephalic can refer to the general shape, but again, estimating ancestry in a child is very difficult. DNA analysis would have been a much better way to go here.
- Intern Guy pointed out the lesions on the skull but claimed that he forgot what they were called. No self-respecting graduate student of physical anthropology would forget in the last 7 months what porotic hyperostosis is: it's common and easy to identify, so Intern Guy would have had a lot of experience with it. It was especially unbelievable because he busted out "Harris lines" and "histological profile" immediately after that.
- Speaking of porotic hyperostosis, someone should have coached Emily Deschanel how to say it. I laughed out loud at her attempt, which was something more like, "porotic hyperostotosis." There was definitely an extra syllable in there.
- Is it just me, or was that child skeleton super fakey fake? Was the production budget of the show cut?
- Finally, why were Brennan and Daisy looking for fossils? I think last season the explanation was that Brennan is the best physical anthropologist in the world. But she's not a palaeoanthropologist - she's actually kind of the opposite. She appears to be trained to figure out cause of death, not to do comparative anatomy of hominids. I'd love to find some H. floresiensis bones, but I don't have the training to know what to do with them.
Forensic mystery - D (dead child is sad but not interesting)
Forensic solution - C (the team did an adequate job, but DNA would have been better, and it should have been done months prior)
Drama - D (too much recap, replacing people in their old roles)
(See also the A.V. Club's review of this episode. I don't think they normally do Bones, though.)