Trope: Forensic Phlebotinum

“Phlebotinum: an impossible or imaginary device which is used to move forward the plot of a TV show, book or film, especially in science fiction and fantasy. It’s science, it’s magic, it’s strange things unknown to science or magic. The reader does not know how Phlebotinum would work and the creators hope he or she doesn’t care.”

Forensic Phlebotinum – This is a device used in storytelling to “explain” to the non-science professional how they have solved the crime.

Great examples of Forensic Phlebotinum are such things as “bitter almonds”. This is considered the only possible way to detect cyanide poisoning on a corpse in a story – despite the fact that in real life very few people would have ever smelled bitter almonds – a different smell to that of sweet almonds, but difficult to tell apart to the untrained nose.

Another example you may have come across is the “enhance button”. A device where, no matter how grainy or blurry the original video or photograph, the super enhanced version is perfect quality, much higher definition, and able to identify a subject by the weirdly unique pattern of ear hair they possess. Clearly, a pixel is a pixel, and not much can be done to “enhance” one other than make it bigger.

More of this garbled version of real life can be found when a character stumbles across evidence of a super-rare bird feather that could only possibly have come from an area one square mile across on that particular part of that specific country. Or the dirt on their shoe can only be found in the front gardens of that one and only street. Or maybe they found pollen that is only transferred by bees from that one farm so the crime must have happened there… While there is a certain amount of truth in this, Phlebotinum exaggerates this to ridiculous proportions.

So there you have it, Forensic Phlebotinum can be a great device in storytelling, but tread lightly and do your research first before using, or believing it!