Saturday, November 2, 2013

Criminal Science

Arthur B. Reeve offers his views on the technological arms race between the law and the criminal. This article is from THE LITERARY DIGEST (September 23, 1911), archived here.

IS SCIENCE on the side of the law or the criminal? Both may summon its aid. Some of the greatest criminals in history have been men with expert scientific knowledge, but such knowledge is also widely and successfully used in detecting them.
Arthur B. Reeve, who writes on the subject in Popular Electricity (Chicago, September), thinks that the balance-sheet shows a margin in favor of the public.
The successful criminal of to-day no longer has to rely on the strong arm, the black-jack, and the jimmy. He is a scientist, crude and limited, but very practical, and must employ up-to-date methods or go out of the "profession."
He may have a serviceable knowledge of chemistry, physics, toxicology, often microscopy, but most of all electricity.
Science, however, is on the side of the law, nine times to every time it is of use to the lawbreaker, and the new scientific crime pays even worse than the old; otherwise it might be regarded as impolitic to describe the methods of the scientific criminal, as is done by Mr. Reeve.
The expert scientific criminal, Mr. Reeve goes on to say, is exemplified in another direction by the man who tries to defraud or to gain unlawful information by his knowledge of electricity. Such are the devisers of systems for "beating" gas or electric meters, or those who use wireless telegraphy in connection with illegal pool-rooms.
Wireless, of course, may be used with effect in the detection and apprehension of the criminal. The Edison "acoustiphone"—a powerful telephone transmitter—has been used by detectives in attempts to hear the conversations of criminals.
New terrors to the lawbreaker are the telegraphic transmission of photographs and the x-ray. A valuable diamond was recently detected, by this latter agency, in the digestive tract of a thief who had swallowed it. 
Then there are the methods of experimental psychology advocated by Professor Munsterberg, and lately exploited more or less in fiction. Lawyers and judges look askance at these, but the "mental x-ray," as it might be called, has occasionally been used with effect and will doubtless make its way rapidly.
In case the name Arthur B. Reeve is unfamiliar to you, he is most famous for his series of Craig Kennedy scientific detective stories.
Mike Grost has an article about Reeve on his megasite, part of his page on Scientific Detection.

Category: Detective fiction

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