Brandon Royal’s photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Patricia Cornwell.
Brandon Royal’s photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Patricia Cornwell.

Solving Crimes with Science, with Patricia Cornwell

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Patricia Cornwell. Photo Credit: Brandon Royal.
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Brandon Royal’s photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Patricia Cornwell.

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About This Episode

On this episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson investigates the world of forensics and solving crimes scientifically with crime writer Patricia Cornwell. Patricia is known for her best-selling novels that follow medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta as she solves mysteries all over the map. In-studio, Neil is joined by comic co-host Matt Kirshen, forensic pathologist Dr. Rebecca Folkerth, MD, and neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, MD.

You’ll learn how Patricia’s interest in science was first sparked and how her years working at a morgue impacted her writing today. At the morgue, she also went through a cognitive shift she calls the “underview effect.” Find out how this is similar to the “overview effect” – a cognitive shift astronauts feel when they come back from space.

We explore the integration of forensic science into pop culture with shows like CSI, Bones, and Patricia’s novels. Patricia tells us why she thinks her books sparked so much public interest in forensics. Discover more about DNA and how it’s used in the forensic process. You’ll also discover what methods were prominently used before DNA sampling was invented. Rebecca explains how the invention of DNA sampling was at the forefront of remains identification after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Patricia shares what it was like to visit “The Body Farm” – a research facility where scientists can study how bodies decompose in many different ways. She tells us why one particular decomposition situation has stuck with her ever since she saw it. Patricia also explains why engaging with the world is the only proper way to tell a story about it.

Matt devises a plan to pull one last comedic bit on the coroners responsible for his body after he dies. We discuss all the different ways you can donate your body to science. We ponder eternity, the perception of the soul, and what awaits us after we die…if anything at all. Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, MD, stops by to help us understand more about neurotheology – the relationship between religion and neuroscience. We also answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries about artificial intelligence, the afterlife, and ghosts, and Bill Nye offers up a little bit of forensics history. All that, plus, Patricia tells us about her new series that involves solving crimes in space, and, we explore her involvement in the unsolved, mysterious case of Jack the Ripper.

Thanks to this week’s Patrons for supporting us:
Dan Yoder, Roy Hill-Percival, Eric Schwartz, Ted Shevlin, Andrew Olguin

NOTE: StarTalk+ Patrons and All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free.

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