Criminal Profiling – Fact or Fantasy?

In the field of criminology, real-world practitioners are sometimes intrigued by the gullibility of human perceptions. Of which, later on, we see the development of alleged expertise, purporting some new invention. Gee whiz gadgets and gizmos of feel good “psycho-babble” interfere with the realistic practical applications. These dreamlike conjectures typically involve replacing fact with fiction. Pseudo-science that hasn’t met the reliability of bone fide experiential authenticity. Usually, this impulse to speculation derives from sensational news reports. Television dramas, talk show “experts” or creative movie scripts fund the urban legends of criminal behavior theory. Careers are established, books are sold and movies unfold. Sooner or later, cottage industries are born. Instant “experts” invent themselves. Set up websites. Write stories about “serial killers” they’ve known. This is legerdemain of cunning tactics. Intellectual fortune telling at its finest. Because such things are tied to the commercialization of product over principle. So, it is remotely conceivable we’ve been duped by the duplicity of “dangerous minds”. And, that danger wears the black suited, dark sunglasses conformity of shadowy self-interests. They reside in the hallowed sanctity of ivory towers and high level government offices. Places that produce the “serial” everything. From “serial” arsonist, to “serial” bank robbers, bombers and “serial” killers. Are the real “Men in Black” those who capitalize on the fears and frets of simple minded naiveté?

Sometimes, agencies of governmental systems fabricate academic theory into social policy. A process wherein the fallacy of inference leads to hasty generalization. Then, at some point, pursued by the entertainment industry, “scientific credibility” circumnavigates the factual reality. Transformation occurs, and before you know it, the surreal has become the real. Two dimensional duplicity infuses thinking with fanciful enchantments. Some Politicians, the press, college professors and priestly manifestations, are often very good at sleight of hand tactics. Thrilling adventures manifest the spurious notion of figuring out the criminal “mind”. Unfortunately, it is all too frequent that assumptions become models for implementation. Supposition, disguised as truth, end up influencing our criminal justice systems.

As if such things were so simple when dealing with human thinking. Myth, legend and fable garner the headlines and excitement of “solving” real-life criminality. This comes in particular regard to the abundance of media driven fascinations with alleged “criminal profiling”. Not to forget either, the pleasured ecstasy of becoming a “psychic profiler”. And, the growth industry that surrounds it. Or, the careers developed as “criminal profilers”. From academicians to non-practitioners of all types, the enthrallment seems endless. Regardless of attendant observations, perceptions clutch the grips of fantastic assertions. Yet, human motives, intentions and libidinous proclivities go unresolved. People do not fit into clean cut categories affixed with clever labels. Ideas, motives and emotions are complex and unique to each person. Integration of neural networks link mysteriously intricate connections. People are extraordinary in the secrecy of their multifarious inclinations. We alter actions, correct mistakes, set priorities and evade detection. It is difficult to quantify a individual suspect in simplistic templates. Personal curiosity, ambitious risk taking and immoral decision-making remain hidden in the secrets each of us harbors.

The “mind” is a potent Alice in Wonderland hallucination of the brain. Its illusions are quick to seize, size up and perceive essential data. At the same though, the psychic realm also renovates a recreation of that which it receives. Subject to the vulnerably of imagination, mental assessment are prone to power of suggestion. We know better though. Why else would we so readily think an unknown criminal could be signaled out like a “psychological fingerprint”? Materializing some fanciful notion, like magic pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Misleading information, purportedly based on “scientific research”, over time, compounds the deception. Reporters quote official sources. Academicians cite other academicians, including news reports. Politicians use obfuscated phraseology to double speak critical situations. From “leading questions”, to “suggestive comments”, the propaganda complicates the matters at hand.

The collusion of myth over authenticity confuses what might be true and what might be false. Deception lurks closer to edges of certainty more often than not. As opposed to what is actually credible scientific data, based on replicated proof. In police work, this is potentially disadvantageous to serious investigative processes, such as homicide. For the police officer, it’s all about the evidence trail. Not the rabbit hunt. Scientifically verifiable confirmations of forensic applications remain crucial. Instead of a magic wane waving an instant “profile”, we should focus on crime scene analysis. What does the physical evidence tell us? That cause-effect relationship between the crime scene, the victim, witness and probable perpetrator. Yet, the public’s scope of entertainment has become mesmerized by the alleged “scientific” approaches. These are steeped in the pop culture of fad, fashion and flashy sexiness buff actors. In the long run, we confuse junk science with real police work. Criminalisitcs, in verifiable replications of credibility, take time. And, we’re about immediate gratification. Usually, this has a political agenda attached.

The television exploitation of the heroic “criminal profilers” masks the reality of the hard working real-world police officers, lab techs and criminalists. Even though that’s the entertainment business, the public, the press, politicians and some professors, transform fables into real life scenarios. Conjure up studies, theories and myriad speculations. Such fallacies of inference misguide us from the veracity of realistic authenticities. More often than not, we find the communal imagination captivated by “getting inside the criminal mind”. As if that were a place easily accessed. Imagine climbing inside something that’s an illusion created by neural networks. How do you get inside smoke and mirrors? You simply find a conduit, which appears to bridge imaginative notions between scientific methods and magical psychic abilities. Like the grinning Cheshire cat, you here one minute and gone the next.

Essentially, credible relevant data are woefully deficient when it comes to the contentions of “criminal profilers”. Not only that, but also the weight of significant scientific studies to support such claims. So, the question is asked, is criminal profiling fact or fantasy? Personal agenda or what? Our attraction to the crimes of murderers lures us to realm of homicidal misconceptions. Multi-murderers are very popular in all kinds of genre. Non-practitioners are very creative when it comes to the fictionalization of killers. From which, we sometimes forget the horror of real tragedies and complexities of police investigations.

Instead of the seductive fascination with the so called “serial killer”, suffice it to say their essentially multi-murderers. Whether they’re despots who commit genocide, demicide or ethnocide in the name of the nation-state. Or, the lone gunman, who murders several people at once. Each killer remains basically the same type of criminal, a murderer. Regardless of his or her motives, which may remain hidden. Killing another human is still murder. Yet, with “serial killers” for instance, these multi-murderers often get top billing. Summon the most “expert opinion” you can find. In response to such, we seem to relish in our dark side. News reports or television dramas provoke the fascination with these killers in repetitive depictions. The mental matrix of the audience becomes lured by the darkly appealing enticements. As the tales spin, the pseudo-sciences of sociology and psychology, equivocate theoretical constructs. The entertainment continues. And, some intellectual potions strongly influence our criminal justice systems. Subsequently, social policy emanates from hasty generalizations, unproven conjectures and spurious notions.

Chief among the pseudo-sciences, criminology borrows from other fields of alleged scientific inquiry. From which stem the theoretical conjecture of possibilities, along with infectious shortcomings. Nothing within the field of the “social and behavioral” sciences should be considered as any scientific. Understanding, defining and investigating various modes of human behavior rests upon theoretical structures. Good guesswork defines are comprehension of criminality. Speculations run the gamut of both bad and good intentions. At the same time, practical applications call out for a degree of veracity in the certainty of a logical conclusion. The truth begs for realistic credible ownership, reinforced by solidification of innovative forensic evidence. By way of distraction, conjecture of opinion does not bear witness to the reliability of proof. In the scheme of “criminal profiling”, or “psychic profiling”, linguistic sleight of hand often conceals the crystal ball of sociological trickery. Commercial exploitation by such “psychics” and other fortunetellers, interfere with effective law enforcement tactical operations. Forsaking the sanctity of relevant facts, evidentiary necessities and forensic analysis compete with apparitions of easy solutions. This provokes a leap to conclusions early in an investigation. Contradictions abound with the support of ambiguous assertions. Illusions of fact, supported by believable fictions, have much in common with palm readings and other divinations.

Across the modern landscape of social conformity, we have become so used to “legendary” postulations of “serial profilers”. So much so, that we’ve accepted the thrilling prospect of easy solutions. Instead of maximizing traditional detective processes, in which the crime scene plays a key role. We now want the quick solution by looking for the criminal’s “signature”. Our own sensual nature participates in our flirtation with inventive movie madness. By audacious imaginative claims, today’s detective genre now wants us to “read” motives, proclivities and intentions from the crime scene. Whereas, traditional investigative aspects included careful crime scene analysis. Gathering the facts of the case. Conducting neighborhood canvases. Analyzing forensic implications of physical evidence. Posting bulletins through the media outlets. Using informants, witnesses and so on. All of these are time consuming.

By contrast, we like the short cuts. That gets us into troubled waters. However, consider this point. With all the modern psycho-social aids to criminal investigations, over the last fifty years. Aside from the excellent advances in the forensic sciences. How come our solution rate is decreasing in the realm of violent crimes? Homicide is a good example. And, what about global homicide in general? After all, you’d think with millions spent on “criminal profiling”, violent crimes would become non-existent. And, with the plethora of “experts”, “profiling” career builders on the internet, and “psychic profiling” abilities, we should be ahead of the murder matrix. A lot of investment has gone into solving less than one percent of the crime index. Of which, the gap between clearance and unsolved is increasing. In addition, if you’re rounding up the suspects, following up clues, and assessing factual components. Then how effective is a “profile” anyway? Most of the time, information garnered from the public breaks the case. Solvability doesn’t rest on just getting one or two specifics correct after the fact. It’s before the fact that we need the analytical logic of the gathering significant details.

Often, in these “psychic” excursions, we later discover the unknown suspect turns out very different than the “profile” offered as a guess. Some are older, when thought to be younger. Others surprise us by being African American instead of Caucasian. Still, some are professional as opposed to blue collar. For the police officer, such things aren’t helpful if they’re half right, sometimes right and most of the time highly speculative. If research suggests, as in one study, that “profiling”, at best, only aided in two percent (2%) of the cases. Then our resources, assets and personnel need to be channeled into more productive probabilities. Also, in the proactive investigative process, we need to realize good budgets bust bad guys. That translates into officer training, education, experience, salaries, equipment and so forth. Not just clever typologies, putting people, places and things into convenient categories. Human behavior, and its alter ego, criminal nature, are much more complex than we’d like to believe. By contrast though, make-believe makes better headlines. Especially if you can make your predictions so vague, general and superficial, the inference will work no matter what the outcome. It’s a kind of shotgun approach under the pretext of “forensic psychology”. Whereby you suggest a whole bunch of possibilities. If you’re wrong, in time, the errors will be forgotten. Media attention will focus on what you guessed correctly. So, is “criminal profiling” fact or fantasy? Fairy tales are wonderful entertainment. However, they’re not amusing in the totality of the real-world murder rate and subsequent body count.



Blakeslee, S., Blakeslee, M., “Where the Mind and Body Meet”, Scientific American Mind Magazine, August/September 2007, Volume 18, Number 4, Scientific American, Inc., New York, NY; pages 50-51;

Wade, C., Tavris, C., Psychology – Eighth Edition, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2006) pages 349;

Muller, D.A., “Criminal Profiling – Real Science or Just Wishful Thinking?, Homicide Studies, Vol.4 No. 3, August 2000, 234-264, Sage Publications, 2000;

“The Sham of Criminal Profiling”, an article by Bruce Sneier, November 14, 2007, from Sneier on Security, [;]

Gladwell, M., “Dangerous Minds – Criminal Profiling Made Easy”, Dept. of Criminology, November 12, 2007, The New Yorker,;

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