Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I Wonder What Jane Goodall Would Say

My wife and I have been enjoying the new series Eureka on Sci-Fi, although my personal favorite this summer season has definitely been Who Wants To Be A Superhero (probably more on that later). Last night's episode was no exception, but it did raise some questions in my mind.

For the uninitiated, the premise of the show is that Eureka is a town secretly set up by the USG to be the site of all really advanced technological research, leaving Princeton or Area 51 in the dust. In other words, it's a town full of mad scientists; the pilot involves someone breaking the space-time continuum. And our primary protagonist is the new sheriff in town, formerly a US Marshal.

One major plot thread of last night's show, which I won't spoil in detail, involved a demonstration of a new technology using chimpanzees as test subjects. Again, I won't say exactly what was supposed to happen to them, but it wasn't good.

So, here's my question - do any of the research establishments in Eureka have ethics committees? I mean, sure, the research in question appeared to be for military application, and that frequently means somewhat looser standards than in civilian research - just look at what the Navy's always being accused of doing with dolphins in the name of mine detection. But still, even in those cases they supposedly try to look after the animal's welfare to some degree.

If the test in question had been successful, it seems like most of the animals would have been injured or killed. Yet nobody even seemed to question whether this was the best way to test the technology, whether it was ethical, or even just how many members of an endangered species they were prepared to sacrifice. Okay, it's no Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (Google it if you've never heard of that one), but it still doesn't seem like the writers are aware of the standards scientists in the real world are expected to meet. Any university or other institution doing any kind of human or animal experimentation generally has an ethics committee or review board that would nip this sort of thing in the bud.

Or maybe that's the advantage in being a town of *mad* scientists. It's all supposed to be ultra-secret, so they don't need to worry about being picketed by Jane Goodall, although since scientists are as varied in political/social viewpoints as any other group, you'd think they'd have some internal PETA-type problems at least. Only if they're that cavalier about animals, I wonder just how long it can be until the sheriff's morals run up against some type of experimentation they're doing on humans.

Actually, that would be a pretty good plotline, come to think of it.


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