Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gunnerkrigg Court takes on animal research ethics

I think I chose a particularly fortuitous time to highlight Gunnerkrigg Court, because it's just started taking on one of my favorite themes, and I think it's being handled very well so far.

First, read the last two pages of the comic: one, two. You don't need much context to see what I'm talking about.

Figure 1: Rock on, Paz.

Now, if I remember correctly, Paz is a character we haven't seen much of yet (her first appearance is basically as an extra), and I'm looking forward to seeing her developed in more detail. I'm very glad to see she's taking (or at least professing) a sensitive, ethical attitude toward animal research. Realistic, too -- I'd swear that Tom Siddell has read the NIH Guidelines. I admire the fact that Paz aspires to reduce or even eliminate the use of animals in her research. Per fantasy conventions, all of these girls are stunningly mature and knowledgeable compared to the average high schooler, but I'm still very impressed by her attitudes and opinions.

(Plus, I'm pleased that she's apparently not white and not a native English speaker. I'm not terribly well informed about racial/identity politics, but nothing about the way she's portrayed jumps out at me as being problematic.)

I will be very interested to see how this plays out. In particular:

  • How will the teachers and other students at the Court react to the presence of animal research at their school? Will they even find out, or do they maybe know already? Will we see a range of attitudes, from "Animal welfare is not that important" to "All animal research is morally reprehensible"?

  • How will the supernatural entities in the forest react? Will their reaction be shaped more by opposition to the Court in general, or by the fact that many of them are (at least in some sense) animals themselves?

  • What is Paz doing, and who is she working with? How did she come by her research assistantship? Is she doing largely self-directed work or is she being used as a pawn by some unscrupulous adults? Is she aware of the broader implications of her work, whatever those turn out to be?

  • Is this research actually justifiable/ethical or not? Right now all we have is Paz's word, and we have very little idea what they're actually studying.

I have faith that all of these questions will be answered, if not in as much detail as I would like. Gunnerkrigg Court wouldn't just introduce a subplot like this without exploring it in quite a bit of detail.

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