The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Time of Death From Body Temperature?

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Television crime dramas often include a scene where time of death is predicted based on body temperature and cooling rates. Is this an accurate method?

After death, metabolic processes that make heat in the body stop. The body begins cooling. Cooling and cooling rates were first recorded in 1710, when English physician John Davey first used the new invention of the thermometer in a human body at autopsy. Davey’s experiments took place in the high heat of Malta, rendering measurements only good for that environment. Later pathologists who followed Davey’s published descriptions did not place the thermometer inside the body, but in the armpit. Publications of their inaccurate information of cooling became widely popularized and passed from school to school.

Cooling does not follow predictable time intervals as once thought. Cooling is often too imprecise to estimate time since death. It turns out that the widely held dogma that body temperature drops at a precise and steady rate of 1.6 degrees an hour (later rounded to 1.5 for ease of calculation) was never the case.

Inaccuracies and things that were never true have been found to be printed and reprinted in medical books, repeated by instructors who heard it from their teachers. Be careful of medical "facts" learned in school untested.

More forensics posts on Fitness Fixer:

For all movie and TV health posts on Fitness Fixer so far:
  • Click the label "movie/media fitness" under this post.

For more on "the chill of death" (algor mortis), more forensic myths, more body and fitness myths, how to change unhealthy exercises that were never healthy, and how to have healthy activity as a natural part of your day:

 

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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