Prey 2017 Part 11: Chief Executive Villain

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 22, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 147 comments

After several hours of distractions and detours, Morgan finally reaches Deep Storage. She’s here to get her arming key, so she can set the station to self-destruct.

As she enters, Alex calls her up. He’s locked the door behind her, sealing her in. 

This is actually an attempt at protecting Morgan. On one hand, Alex really doesn’t want his sister to blow up the space station and destroy all of their work. This place is new to memory-wiped Morgan, but this place is home to Alex. The two of them have spent the last few years studying the Typhon and unlocking fantastic new technologies. From Alex’s point of view, his sister has gone a little crazy due to her personality drift and is acting irrationally. 

But while he doesn’t want her to destroy the station, he also doesn’t want to see her get hurt. He’s actually helped you out at a couple of points during the adventure. As much as he wants to see your quest fail, it’s even more important to him that you survive.

I love Alex. He’s one of my favorite villains.

Cringe Executive Officer

They didn't bother putting the boring villain on the movie poster. Which makes sense, since he's a sad uninteresting weasel that drags this middle-brow action drama into lowbrow B-movie cringe.
They didn't bother putting the boring villain on the movie poster. Which makes sense, since he's a sad uninteresting weasel that drags this middle-brow action drama into lowbrow B-movie cringe.

I recently watched the Netflix original The Old Guard. I liked the premiseA small group of immortal people, who use their long lives to try and do good in the world by taking down madmen and tyrants., but the whole thing was ruined by the childish cartoon villain at the center of the story. He was the typical strawman corporate tycoon, constantly talking about how much he wants to make more money. He was pure cringe.

That’s not how corporate leaders talk! Most corporate leaders aren’t nakedly motivated by money like this. If you got to know them, you’d probably discover that their real goals are more likely fame, personal glory, sex appeal, expensive hobbies, or social standing, and making shitloads of money is simply a means to that end. 

Even if they really only care about money for its own sake, CEOs don’t brazenly say so in front of other people. People criticize Mark Zuckerberg for being a weirdo alien lizard robot, but even with his particular social handicaps he still knows better than to walk around talking about how awesome money is. Maybe deep down a CEO just cares about money, but on the surface they’ll talk about things in terms of saving jobs, serving customers, creating new technologies, and solving large-scale societal problems. 

The CEO Villain

Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg was a silly, campy villain. But that's okay, because he was part of a silly, campy story. My problem is when writers put Zorg-style villains into stories that are meant to be taken seriously.
Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg was a silly, campy villain. But that's okay, because he was part of a silly, campy story. My problem is when writers put Zorg-style villains into stories that are meant to be taken seriously.

As our society has become more technology-oriented, tech CEOs have become popular villains, occupying roles previously reserved for politicians and crime bosses. That’s fine. Stories need to change with the times. My problem is that Hollywood has no idea how to write this sort of villain. CEO villains end up being strawman loonies who will shove puppies in a blender to make an extra 1%. That’s not interesting, and it doesn’t feel genuine.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson is a heartless jerk that cares nothing for the art of videogames, the artists that create them, or the audience that consumes them. His decisions are entirely focused on direct short-term profits. He is the stereotypical money-chasing CEO, and even he has the wit to avoid saying so. He doesn’t go around talking about how much he loves money and wants more profits. He always frames his obnoxious decisions in terms of “giving consumers what they want” and “innovating”. 

This is why I like Alex Yu so much. He’s a villainous CEO who doesn’t talk like a Ferengi at a shareholders meeting. He’s a bad man, but he’s bad in a lot of understandable ways. He does evil things, but he didn’t set out to do evil. He drifted towards evil through a long series of personal compromises. 

This is NOT Caveman Science Fiction

Click for the whole thing. It's really good.
Click for the whole thing. It's really good.

I really dislike the trope known as Science is Bad. The story takes the rhetorical position that curiosity is hubris and we shouldn’t meddle with things we don’t understand. You can see the trope parodied in the Dresden Codak comic Caveman Science Fiction

Stories need some sort of challenge for our protagonists to overcome. We can do the action story thing and have some evil jerk doing nefarious deeds. That’s fine if you’re writing a good guys vs. bad guys story, but if you’re a fan of the sci-fi genre then you’re probably more interested in the science and less interested in villains and their motivations. If you’re trying to write a story about Science Stuff then Dr. Damien B. Nefarious is a distraction and his various machinations are a waste of page space. 

But if we’re here for Science Stuff then the economics of storytelling suggest that it’s better to ditch the evil antagonist – or reduce him to the role of a Pandora-style catalyst – and have the mystery and danger come from all the cool Science Stuff that the book is about. At the same time, “Scientists invent a Cool Thing and everything is fine” generally makes for a boring story. We want stories to feature science, and stories need conflict. So we write stories where science-things go horribly wrong and create lots of thrilling danger for our protagonists to overcome and mysteries for them to solve.

A single story like this is fine in isolation, but across an entire culture this constant flood of fictional scientific disasters begins to feel anti-science. Authors need to be careful with their messaging or the whole thing can come off as embarrassingly pro-luddite.

The first Jurassic Park movie falls into this trap with Professor Jeff Goldblum constantly reminding us that there are things we just shouldn’t mess with and things we weren’t meant to know. A more sensible message might be, “Maybe you shouldn’t revive apex predators from millions of years ago and then put them on display for thousands of clueless civilians.” But instead the writer takes the more shorthand approach and suggests that it’s foolish to even experiment with this branch of knowledge.

A lot of popular culture science fiction has this sort of thing going on. Aside from the yucky implication that this can frame ignorance as virtue and incuriosity as wisdom, there’s also the problem that it generally makes for a predictable story.

Prey sort of splits the difference. Sure, Alex Yu is undone by hubris, but no character in the story ever suggests that it was fundamentally wrong or foolish to study the Typhon. Alex is driven, reckless, and casual about the horrific sacrifices he’s willing to force others to make for the good of mankind. When things begin to unravel he’s optimistic to the point of self-delusion about his ability to regain control. 

The message here isn’t that science is bad, but rather that bad science is bad. I can get behind that.

Alex Yu Bad Guy

This line of dialog from the beginning of the game is one of those details that takes on new meaning for your second play-through.
This line of dialog from the beginning of the game is one of those details that takes on new meaning for your second play-through.

I like Alex Yu because he feels real. I imagine that Alex justifies a lot of his reprehensible actions by saying that he has “no choice”. And in many cases he’s right! He is indeed trapped in “damned if you do” / “damned if you don’t” situations. The problem is that he’s trapped in those circumstances because of poor decisions he’s made in the past. He’s spent years spreading lies of omission, cutting corners, and making moral compromises in the name of some eventual  greater good. He didn’t realize it, but he’s gradually created a world that runs entirely on lies and secrets. He can confess the truth and his kingdom will unravel when everyone turns on him, or he can continue his lies and the kingdom will self-destruct due to its own ignorance. 

The thing is, Alex really is onto something with this neuromod technology. The ability to share knowledge and skills like this would literally change the world for the better. This would be the biggest boost to human potential since the printing press. This technology is indeed worth risking lives for. The problem with Alex isn’t the risk-taking, it’s the dishonesty and literal human sacrifice. 

Alex doesn’t tell the people aboard Talos 1 about the Typhon. If he was honest with people, then the people on the station could be educated about the risks. Everyone would have a predetermined plan to follow in the event of a containment breach. People that weren’t up for that sort of risk could quit and go back to Earth, and it would be trivial to replace them with people who were willing to embrace the job, risks and all. Heck, we have people right now that are willing to go to die on Mars with no way home, just because that’s the next big leap for our species. Instead Alex has built a world where there are no fire alarms, no fire drills, nobody knows what to do in the event of fire, nobody knows what fire looks like, and everything is made of wood. 

Alex hides the truth from everyone, which means he also needs to hide the problems from everyone, thus forming a feedback loop of escalating secrecy and coverups. His secrecy is inherently self-destructive.

Alex doesn’t tell people that neuromods are based on the Typhon. Maybe this would make people wary of using them. That’s fine! Everyone could decide for themselves how much risk they were willing to take on. Most sane people would pass on the early neuromods, opting to let someone else take the first leap. The thing is, the promise of neuromods is incredible. Regardless of the risk, some people would jump at the chance to use them. Which means Alex would always have a pool of willing volunteers. He could use that eagerness to set up a proper test with sensible safeguards. “Hey, you can have this neuromod that will let you play guitar like Steve Vai. But you need to agree to live in quarantine for X months while we observe you.” (Or whatever. I don’t know how to run a proper scientific / medical study, but I’m pretty sure smart people could devise rules and guidelines for how you ought to do this sort of thing.) If anything went wrong and their brains melted, the blame wouldn’t fall entirely on Alex, because he would have the informed consent of the test subjects. 

But instead Alex keeps everything a secret, which means everyone is randomly jamming neuromods into their face, unaware of the possible risks. In this case Alex is lucky and the neuromods don’t seem to cause serious problems.At least, not until the containment breach. Which is good, because if there were problems it would have necessitated a massive cover-up.

(Actually neuromods might cause long-term problems. The story isn’t clear on this. There are reports of some people exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and paranoia, but I couldn’t determine if this was a problem with early-gen neuromods, or if it was a result of working with the technology in the Psychotronics lab. Or maybe it was the result of living on this spooky space station for extended periods? Or maybe it’s a problem with living in close proximity to the Typhon for too long? This topic didn’t get a proper study before the station fell. Also there’s the problem of Morgan’s personality drift. Maybe that’s a long-term problem with neuromods, or maybe that’s just a side effect of installing and stripping out mods again and again. These are all important things that need to be studied openly, but that doesn’t happen because Alex is in a constant state of denial and cover-up.)

Alex hides security lapses. That spares him from scrutiny and criticism, but it also prevents everyone from taking proper steps to correct those lapses.

At several points in the game we find people who learn “too much”, and freak out. Alex is forced to silence these people to protect his secrets. At one point a researcher finds out that neuromods contain Typhon cells and he freaks out, saying that he needs to “tell everyone”. Alex replies somewhat ominously: ‘Calm down. Don’t do anything rash. I’m sending someone to help you.’ Stuff like this wouldn’t be a problem if everyone already knew.

The story never explicitly states that Alex has anyone killed, Er. Aside from the “volunteers”. I’ll talk about them in a minute. but he very likely takes these people and memory-wipes them by removing their neuromods. I’ll bet he hands out free neuromods to every manager arriving on the station, just so he has a way to wipe them if they learn something they shouldn’t. 

Morgan’s actions were more overtly evil. Her tests where she fed prisoners to the Typhon were deeply, profoundly immoral. There was no ambiguity in her actions. Alex was complicit in these crimes, but Morgan was the chief instigator. 

But despite Morgan’s overt evil, in the end it was control-freak Alex who did the most damage. Morgan’s heinous tests killed a small handful of people, while Alex’s aversion to accountability placed the entire station – and indeed the human race itself – at risk. 

The Neuromod Conundrum

Does this really need to go through my EYEBALL? Have we tested any other routes to the user's brain matter? Like, did anyone try going through the nose?
Does this really need to go through my EYEBALL? Have we tested any other routes to the user's brain matter? Like, did anyone try going through the nose?

Earlier I talked about the virtuous potential of neuromods. If we have a way to download and share knowledge as easily as we share music and books, then this creates the potential to turn humanity into a species of brilliant scholars and innovators. What if anyone could become a brilliant surgeon or physicist in just five minutes? Just imagine the boost to innovation if researchers could be masters of multiple disciplines at once. Someone trying to create anti-aging treatments is likely to find progress easier if they can master genetics and biology and chemistry and internal medicine before age 25. Someone with the energy of youth but the knowledge of the old would be really good at pushing scientific progress forward.

On the other hand, neuromods come from Typhon creatures, and the only way to make those creatures is to feed them humans. You could argue that this means neuromods are inescapably immoral, regardless of any possible boon they might offer humanity. They are based on human sacrifice, and therefore they’re inherently evil.

Maybe that’s what the author intended to say, but I can’t escape the impression that perhaps we can find a way around this problem. For example, what happens if you feed the Typhon a bunch of lab rats? The Typhon feed on “consciousness”, and maybe the mind of a rat is too simple for a Typhon. Or perhaps Typhon are limited by the minds they consume, and therefore feeding them rats would yield a bunch of useless dum-dum Typhon that aren’t sophisticated enough to be made into neuromods?

I don’t mind that the author never answers this question. If we can’t make more Typhon with animals, then fine. What bothers me is that I can’t find any evidence that anyone tried.

What about willing donors? Instead of harvesting death-row inmate “volunteers”, what if we used actual volunteers? Perhaps there are terminally ill patients that are willing to donate their last few days of life to further the cause of neuromods. Maybe they’d do this in exchange for money, or maybe they’d do it as a “fuck you” to cancer. I’m not an ethicist and I don’t know how the general public would react to this proposition, but I can imagine a world where people regard this sort of thing as morally equivalent to (say) organ donors. It sounds creepy to me here in 2021, but organ donation sounded really creepy to people 100 years ago, and we’re basically okay with it now.

The point I’m getting at is that there could be other routes to making neuromods that are less obviously evil. Maybe you could do it with animals. Maybe you could do it as a form of hospice “care”. We can make hamburgers without killing animals these days. If we’re willing to go to that much trouble for a sandwich, then maybe we could figure out a way to make neuromods without needing to kill people. 

The problem with these routes is that you’d need to have an open and honest conversation about them. Alex is unwilling to allow other people to judge him or second-guess him, so he can’t allow that conversation to take place. Thus he’s trapped himself in this situation where it’s either direct human sacrifice, or nothing. 

I’m Just Doing my Job!

This is from a recording of Alex and Morgan together. We'll see this video later in the story.
This is from a recording of Alex and Morgan together. We'll see this video later in the story.

Another thing I love about Alex is that he shows genuine enthusiasm for his work, which you don’t often see in villainous scientist types. He isn’t doing this for personal glory. He isn’t doing this because he wants to show the world they were wrong to doubt him. He’s not in it for money, or power, or to impress a girl. He really is excited to unlock all of this human potential. He loves his sister and he likes working with her. Also, while the story doesn’t delve too much into his upbringing, I get the impression that he feels he has something to prove to his parents. These are all very relatable, non-evil motivations. 

Alex didn’t wake up one morning and decide to start murdering people and wiping minds so he could get rich. He was tempted by his natural curiosity to find out what the Typhon can do and what humanity can gain from them. 

Once he discovered that Typhon cells could be used to copy knowledge, the potential was obvious. And once he and Morgan discovered that Typhon-based technology could grant people literal superpowers like telekinesis, he couldn’t just walk away. Eventually they ran low on viable Typhon specimens. At that point it’s easy to see how he talked himself into his current behavior. “Hey, these inmates are horrible people that have killed and tortured others. And they’re going to die anyway, right? Why not use their deaths to help humanity? We could save countless lives with this technology. They kinda owe it to humanity anyway. I’m actually doing a public service!

Of course he couldn’t tell people he was doing this, so he was obliged to lie about it. And once you start with lies, you’re trapped by them. You need to guard your secrets, which prevents you from asking for help when things go wrong. You’ll need additional lies to cover up the Big Lie, and those lies will require additional supporting lies. Pretty soon your job isn’t doing research, but maintaining an ever-growing deception.

Alex is a coward, a weasel, and a bastard. His quest to bring neuromods to the world is theoretically a noble one, which he pursues by deeply unethical means. He’s arrogant enough to think he can do things alone and that arrogance eventually leads to the fall of Talos-1 and the death of nearly everyone on the station. But he made these mistakes for understandable reasons that come from his personality and upbringing. 

All of this makes him so very human to me. His decisions are so much more interesting than the antics of another buffoonish strawman tech billionaire obsessed with “profits”.

 

Footnotes:

[1] A small group of immortal people, who use their long lives to try and do good in the world by taking down madmen and tyrants.

[2] Heck, we have people right now that are willing to go to die on Mars with no way home, just because that’s the next big leap for our species.

[3] At least, not until the containment breach.

[4] Er. Aside from the “volunteers”. I’ll talk about them in a minute.



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147 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 11: Chief Executive Villain

  1. John says:

    I have nothing to say about Prey, unfortunately, but thank you very much for the link to Caveman Science Fiction. I saw it or another cartoon very like it a few years ago and have been trying–admittedly not very hard–to find it again ever since. I usually love science fiction, but one of my great frustrations with the genre is that some of its most popular works are so obviously inspired by contemporary fears rather than a sense of possibility or curiosity about the future.

    1. Zekiel says:

      Yeah, thanks for the Dresden Codak reminder. Haven’t been on their site for years.

      I see Dark Science is still going – having begun in 2010 and now at issue 109. Amazing series, glacial release schedule….

  2. BlueHorus says:

    So very true.
    Even the things I really hated about Alex (the controlling attitude, actively suppresing knowledge of the Typhon despite being shown repeatedly just how dangerous they are) just…fit. He’s an actual human character.
    While it might be head-canon, I got a sense that a lot of Alex’s decisions came from a desperation of sorts – either to outshine Morgan, or to impress their parents, be the first to claim the potential of the Typhon or a dozen other things.
    Like Danielle Sho, I get Alex, even if I don’t like him.

    And he’s 1000% better than a cackling caricature of a callous CEO.

    (Interestingly, there is a game series that has done callous corporate villany well: the Shadowrun Returns games. What they did was present the corps as giant, faceless entities rather than having human villains: you really get the impression that any given executive doesn’t truly matter. Any CEO who fails to be ruthless enough – or gets stopped by someone – is going to be swiftly removed by the dozens of rivals waiting for their chance.)

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      “It’s a series of conspiracies, conflicting agendas and petty jealousies, all building upon, feeding upon, and excreting into an unending web of drek that people wade through every day and call it Life. If there was one Dark Lord controlling everything and we could drive a magic sword through his heart to free the world, that would be grand. Such clarity! Such focus! Alas.”

      –Harlequin

      1. eaglewingz says:

        + 100

    2. Rho says:

      Shadowrun as a whole is a bit of an odd duck. You’re partly correct in that the corporate world is portrayed as being pretty ruthless. There are millions of managers and executives trying to one-up each other and the strongest, smartest and most ruthless tend to rise to the top. However, those who do are often borderline sadists, narcissistic, psychopaths, or much *worse*. These tend to rise up until they self-destruct, because (like Alex and Morgan) they over-reach until someone or someTHING bites back. One of the frequent themes is in fact relatively ordinary humans tempted to use power they don’t understand (generally Magic in Shadowrun, but maybe advanced AI or whatever) in ways they can’t control, and it inevitably demands a price they aren’t prepared to pay or corrupts them into a moral or literal monster.

      Prey is actually a pretty Cyberpunk-ish game in in the broad intellectual themes, if not the specifics of style. From the setting in a dysfunctional, corrupt corporate hole that goes to great lengths to appear proper and decent, to the concept of enhancing ones-self with dangerous tools that make you less human, and more.

      1. Coming Second says:

        There are millions of managers and executives trying to one-up each other and the strongest, smartest and most ruthless tend to rise to the top. However, those who do are often borderline sadists, narcissistic, psychopaths, or much *worse*.

        So it’s an accurate portrayal of the corporate world then?

        1. Freddo says:

          It’s almost like government, except that corporations tend to value smart a bit more, and government prefers unquestioning loyalty.

          1. stratigo says:

            You haven’t worked in many corporations have you?

      2. Chad+Miller says:

        To what degree Shadowrun runs on “the world is a tough place and perverse incentives create perverse outcomes” vs. “some people are evil” depends on the writer, but the Returns trilogy in general definitely tends toward the first camp. While my Harlequin quote earlier is the most direct expression of it, you also have things like the optional conversations with Aljernon about The Adversary. Glory interpreted The Adversary as literally Satan, something Aljernon calls a reasonable interpretation, while also insisting that The Adversary itself still isn’t a pure force of evil or entirely bad. No one is The Devil, not even The Devil.

        1. Rho says:

          Well, this goes into Shadowrun lore, but while Totems specifically are not definitively good or evil, there are most certainly forces of utter corruption in the Shadowrun world. They’re just not likely to be human things, or at least not anymore.

          As for Prey, well, there are the Typhon. They might not be “evil” – it’s hard to tell exactly because they display very little intelligence, but what is there seems entirely malign and predatory. They go out of their way to destroy even when there is no specific gain for themselves. Consuming everything in sight is the end in itself.

          I’m not sure whether or not Prey intended there to be a comparison between the Yu family and the Typhon. If so, it’s not a very clear one. Morgan was motivated by Science!, cold and impersonal, but not devouring. Alex wanted to continue everything as it was, but wasn’t specifically about constant expansion until collapse. It’s just that the Typhon escape happened in a certain way.

          [Spoiler stuff omitted, because Shamus did too.]

          1. Mattias42 says:

            That interpretation of Satan as The Adversery being a force not only for pointless destruction and for rebellion for chaos own sake, but ALSO the truest hope-bringer and strongest rebel against even the most hopeless but noble fights is straight out of real-world Satanism, though. It’s real symbolism, if admittedly, of a not exactly fondly looked upon fringe religion.

            Honestly, I really like that about Shadowrun. It’s one of the few settings out there that has the, if the expression is pardoned, balls to actually take the whole ‘all myths are true’ to it’s pretty horrific logical conclusion:

            Basically, even in the heavens, ALL OF THEM, there are no good or bad guys. Just that idea of ‘our terrorist are your freedom fighters’ writ in the scale of the very freakin’ stars itself. Because even in those ethereal halls of glory, blood and power speaks more then ideals sometimes. And that’s a TERRIFYING thought.

            Honestly? I think that idea of every Totem having a pure and noble, and rotten and vile side really fits a setting where hope is so rare and fleeting—and often despoiled—as in Shadowrun… but yeah~, kinda gets why it gets glossed over a lot. That’s the sort of controversial philosophy idea that can lead to Full Contact LARP-ing at the game-table, so to say.

            1. Rho says:

              Shadowrun emphatically does *not* say that, and it does not treat all myths as true, althoug it allows for both muyth shaping reality and vice versa. In fact, it doesn’t make much in the way of metaphysical claims at all. To a degree you can argue that it’s presenting Moral relativism, but the degree to which even that is true varies widely across editions and stories. There absolutely are completely evil beings in the Shadowrun universe, who are animated by malice and selfishness. They simply aren’t totems.

              1. Mattias42 says:

                Hmm…

                I must admit I stand by what I said above as my interpretation of the symbolism I’ve seen and read in Shadowrun… I mean, some of the magic or totem spirits are outright local. Like how the Feng-chei way to work magic will ONLY works in Asia, where there’s a strong capital B Belief in that stuff working, for instance.

                But~ I’ll also admit my main exposure to Shadowrun is the video games, not the source books or novels. And I’ll admit they might have gone for a different vibe on, or even intended interpretation of that stuff compared with the P&P systems. So~ I’ll admit I might have missed something where there’s some strong but hinted at implications that some stuff is ‘truer true’ then other stuff.

                So… agree to disagree?

                1. Rho says:

                  I don’t think we’ll agree, but we don’t have to argue if that bothers you.

                  My statement is that Shadowrun is, despite having fantasy element, fundamentally a Cyberpunk game. It takes place wihtin a modern setting where there are no easy solutions. Characters within the setting disagree (vehemently) about metaphysics and right and wrong, and there is no definitely “Correct” answer. It’s not like most DnD settings, where you can literally go visit the Heavens and Hells. There are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Taoists, Dragon Cultists, and more. The game doesn’t say any of them are definitely right or wrong, or settle on the wishy-washy “they’re all partly right”.

                  The game does, however, show that evil exists – even primal, supernatural evil that goes far deeper than physics. Like the Yama Kings, and it doesn’t stop there.

    3. Melfina the Blue says:

      Having just read the winners of the (attempts to remember the name, fails) Best British Sci-fi Novel from 1969 to a couple years ago, I kind of agree. The books that blew my mind were Stand on Zanzibar and The Jagged Orbit, both by John Brunner, and the fact that he got SO DAMN CLOSE to America today was amazing and kind of terrifying. I’d suggest both if you like this kind of sci-fi, he really did get racism dead on. Sure, he didn’t get the influx of Asians and Latin-Americans right, but specific TV channels for both (African-American and white) races, towns where one lives and the other isn’t allowed? Entrenched racism? Gun marketing that increases sales by scaring the crap out of the whites and gives their slightly-out-of-date tech to African-Americans? Pew! Mind blown!

      (Hopefully I’m not being too political, but honestly, those things are all in the books and I’m not trying to draw any lines between current politics and the above, just I grew up with this “racism is getting better” idea that the last few years have shocked out of me, and John Brunner’s stuff is the first older sci-fi I’ve read that created a future America where race matters, A LOT)

      I can think of more than a few works of sci-fi that have tackled sexism in one form or another, including a recent sci-fi/horror one that just doesn’t have men, or come to think of it, races, and it’s not until they encounter an ancient lost colony ship that does still have both races and sexes that it’s pointed out. If I could remember the name of that one, I’d recommend it, it’s got an alien species that can take control of humans by eating part of their brain, a HUGE lost colony ship with different standards of living (primitives who’ve gone mad and cannibalistic and a few people who still remember what the ship was when it was first launched from Earth as one of the first in a large colony fleet and then got wrecked,) plus the old ship is romanticized just like a lost ship would likely be and you get a nice look at a modem ship and society in contrast. If anyone knows this book, let me know, I don’t want to spend hours trolling through Kindle Unlimited trying to find it.

      On a less icky note, there’s also Tales From Cave Support over on Reddit if you loved Caveman Sci-fi and want more. I believe it was inspired by the Caveman comics and, it’s a spoof of Tales from Tech Support, more or less. It’s dead now, but there’s still some funny stories to read. Now, let’s see if I did the spoilers and link tags right…Nope, it’s spoilers in greater than/less than signs right, and slash spoilers to end? Okay, I’ve tried 4 different ways and none are working and I’m almost out of editing time, so sorry, I tried, and all spoilers are in the marketing material, so they’re not awful.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Stand on Zanzibar was one of my favorite scifi novels growing up, but I find it hard to re-read these days. It’s not that its technically so bleak, but the vision of society shown in it is just….well, in many ways obviously not where we are or heading, but in other ways we’ve already passed the point used as a cut-off for how horrible it would be in the book.
        But if you’ve never read it, yeah, it’s definitely a great book and deserves a lot more praise and recognition than it ever got.

      2. Smith says:

        Gun marketing that increases sales by scaring the crap out of the whites and gives their slightly-out-of-date tech to African-Americans?

        Is that why there’s so many new non-white and other minority gun owners, and the flurry of articles complaining that gun manufacturers aren’t just marketing to right-wing white men anymore? Why so many pro gun Yanks I see repeatedly say guns are for everyone?

        Your average AR-15 has basically been the same for fifty years. There’s not much advancing gun tech has done lately, unless you count 3D printing. There’s nobody in counters at gun stores doing the paper bag test to see if someone can buy an ACOG.

        It’s not gun makers who are rioting and smashing up black neighbourhoods for months. If anything, they’d be marketing to black people more.

        I’m not sure where you’re getting your misinformation.

  3. Eichengard says:

    Off topic, but welcome back! Assuming you are back and this isn’t just a scheduled post. (In which, boy am I going to regret this comment!)

    1. Mr. Wolf says:

      Shamus died and it was tragic.

      But the blog kept posting.

      WooooooOOOOOOoooooo! Spooky!

  4. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Another fun spin of the caveman science fiction is medieval black mirror

  5. Abnaxis says:

    On a phone, so I can’t post the full thesis of my gist here. However, I feel the need to point out, as an (ex) medical researcher who worked on vaguely similar stuff to what’s portrayed in Prey (it even had neuro in the name of it) there’s an absolutely 0% any certified/recognized ethics board would ok any of the “how you could do it open and honestly” suggestions you give. There’s probably no chance Alex could get official approval for any of his research under the constraints of the technology the way it’s been presented in your retrospective under any change in approach.

    1. Awetugiw says:

      In real life, no. In the game’s universe… maybe. The game does take place in a corporate dystopia.

      No one seems to have any issue with “all these prisoners are shipped to a space station, and none of them ever come back”, after all.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        At least some of the volunteers came back. You can find an earthside interview with one in one of the documents. One can assume that the rate of release is specifically calculated to be just enough to create plausible deniability, with the excuse that “some sentences are longer than others” and “accidents happen” meant to explain away the ones that disappear.

        That said, there’s also one instance where someone claims that everything they do is legal because Talos doesn’t fall under any earthly jurisdiction so they do consider themselves above the law to a degree.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        Not even all the Talos 1 employees know about the prisoner experiments, it seems like a safe bet that they’re the product of top secret national security deals. I forget if the prisoners were from all countries or just the USSR, but the Soviets never had trouble disappearing people.

      3. Abnaxis says:

        I mean, in real life death row inmates have lawyers, family, and advocates who will miss them if they die to wanton experimentation and/or inhumane manufacturing practices. Everyone knows IRL if you REALLY want to get away with some hardcore exploitation, you hit up third-world countries for political dissidents and chronically poor people.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          There’s evidence to suggest that this exact thing is happening in the game with the “volunteers”. It’s never 100% proven, but there is one case that claims he was only imprisoned because he ran afoul of organized criminals with enough pull to get him imprisoned on trumped-up charges, and another whose only stated crime is opposing the Soviet powers that be. The psycho Cook from an earlier entry was likely some sort of terrorist (he knew how to improvise bombs before ever showing up on Talos), and cases like his may have helped provide cover for the less violent or questionably innocent prisoners.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Well yes, but to be clear in real life ethics boards are full of obstructionist bureaucrats who will sometimes veto a survey. The practice of medical ethics isn’t merely strict, it’s also kind of just insane.

      A topical case: vaccine challenge trials where an informed person consents to get the vaccine and then be deliberately infected with the disease to test that the vaccine works, were blocked by ethics boards, despite challenge trials having broad public support.

      1. Kincajou says:

        “… Are all full of obstructionist bureaucrats…”

        Boy! That brush you’re painting with, it’s mighty broad, don’t you think?

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Normally when people use quotation marks it’s to indicate that all of the words within were used by the person quoted.

          1. Kincajou says:

            My bad, you didn’t put “all” in there,

            nonetheless I stand by my point that in my opinion your statement is much too broad and thus comes across as more absolute than I feel is warranted (or you may have intended?).

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              I am quite comfortable with the broadness of my claim.

              1. Kincajou says:

                By all means.

                I didn’t mean to assume any intention either way on your behalf , my apologies if it came across the wrong way.

                In all cases at this point it’s probably worth clarifying my thoughts :

                In essence I feel that in some cases you are right, but from my experiences there are also a lot of people involved in ethics committees that do their job properly and in the purpose for which the committees were intended.

                1. Ninety-Three says:

                  The fact that no one managed to get a vaccine challenge trial approved is the kind of thing which gets me to my current stance. There wasn’t just some guy who put in an application and got it vetoed by one insane obstructionist, this is something that people all across the Western world tried really hard to do and no one got past the ethics boards despite both popular support and an incredibly strong consequentialist case. We can observe that ethics boards are systematically prone to obstructing challenge trials, repeat across enough different cases and I’m inclined to call it a general pattern.

                  Although as a cynic I don’t actually disagree with your last sentence: if you view the job of ethics boards as “preventing our institution from getting in trouble” and notice that no trouble occurs as a result of blocking harmless things just in case, they are indeed serving the purpose for which they were intended.

                  1. Geebs says:

                    I literally cannot think of any reasons why a medical ethics board might not want to approve a study protocol based around deliberately infecting participants.

                    1. Ninety-Three says:

                      Breaking: Ethics boards to block rocket science after hearing about the V-2 program.

                    2. Abnaxis says:

                      I believe that there are compelling ethical reasons to turn down a challenge trial.

                      However, giving examples of egregious breaches of ethical standards that aren’t really related to a consented challenge trial is a strawman, a red herring, and borderline Godwinizing. The existence of Josef Mengele does not mean ethics boards are always right.

                    3. Geebs says:

                      @Abnaxis

                      It’s not Godwinizing if the entire historical background of modern medical research ethics can be summed up as because literal Nazis.

                      The point being: imagine if you’re on an ethics board, you’re being asked to review a protocol where all your Serious Adverse Events aren’t even going to be Unexpected, and the first and second comparisons the media are going to come up with when somebody – inevitably – dies are going to be ol’ Joseph and John Cutler. I wouldn’t call that risk averse, I’d call that not being a complete loony.

                    4. Ninety-Three says:

                      Godwin’s Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

                      This discussion has, unambiguously, been Godwinned.

                  2. Richard says:

                    It’s a classic case where apparently reasonable incentives produce perverse results.

                    The reason ethics boards exist is because the institution may get into serious trouble and may be closed down if the the funding bodies (or the public) decide that some research protocol was unethical.

                    If an ethics board denies a trial, there is no immediate or obvious detriment to the institution.

                    The same is not true if an ethics board approves a trial that the funding body later decide produced bad publicity or huge protest.

                    Perhaps some research should be done into better incentives for ethics boards…

                  3. Abnaxis says:

                    Notwithstanding that A) whether a study has “popular support” really shouldn’t matter to an ethics board and B) “consequentialist” is a very relative term (COVID-19 is still only the third top killer of 2020, remember these boards have to apply the same standards to people doing research on the top 2 causes of death so any exception made for COVID-19 has the potential to open some very ugly floodgates).

                    Coming at it from my own personal background (5 years as a medical researcher who had to deal with IRBs, currently working as a researcher in computer science, married to a biostatistician for ten years and counting) I disagree that it was wrong for ethics boards to turn down challenge studies.

                    The problem with challenge studies–in fact, the problem with almost every hypothetical solution to Alex’s conniving Shamus came up with in the article–is that there’s a assumption that it doesn’t matter if you infect people, the end result is worth it. Underlying this, I think, is a popular conception that clinical trials are much more successful than they actually are.

                    I was goin to just fire off the top of my head that, in my experience, you rarely have better than 50-60% odds at completing trials at Phase 3. However, rather than rattling off numbers based on my own anecdotal experience, I looked up a study that pretty much matches my own experience almost exactly, which is actually kind of weird. TL;DR: about 60% of trials advance from Phase 3 to approval, with only 10-20% going all the way from Phase 1 to approval.

                    This is why your average IRB will have a long, HARD look at any “potential benefits” section of an IRB proposal. The actual success rate of medical research is dismal, your average “benefits” section should be practically blank.

                    This is important, because NOBODOY BUT ETHICS BOARDS are really willing to look at that fact in an objective way. I can tell you from experience that your average medical researcher is not in any way interested in wasting their time on pointless research. Your average media portrayal of double-blind studies frames them as “the group that gets the placebo,” and “the group that gets the cure that we know works but we need to cross our t’s and dot our i’s,” so your average test subject goes in thinking they’re going to be part of something big, making the cure to the big disease when they’re more than likely going to be a single data point in a failed experiment.

                    When you’re giving informed consent, you have to be very clear and up-front with subjects, that they’re NOT going to see any benefit from participation (unless you pay them, then they get monetary benefit). However, in my experience this never actually sinks in during the consent phase. My lab in particular–which was working with fairly benign technologies, nothing that would cause serious threat of injury or death–we would have a subject show up for one or two sessions then nope out after it finally sank in that they weren’t going to get a magic cure from us and that our work was very experimental and they might not ever see any benefit from it at all.

                    Out of dozens of test subjects I only ever knew one who stuck it out, and it as only out of an idealist sense of duty to humanity as a whole that he did it. It takes a very particular person to let you perform an experiment on them while fully accepting that it might be a waste of time and they certainly won’t see any personal benefit.

                    The problem with challenge studies, is that when 95% of the people you infect come back later to back out after they realize “no, this actually is research we don’t know what we’re doing that’s why we need to research it,” you can’t un-infect them.

                    I would argue that ethics boards aren’t just being obstructionists because they’re worried about actual ethics, not because they’re worried about “our institution might get in trouble.” Consent forms ALWAYS have to include a “you aren’t forced to participate in this study, you can discontinue at any time for any reason” clause for a reason–MOST people want to back out when the reality hits them of how medical research actually works. Challenge studies pre-empt that, and I’m actually glad that there wasn’t a board that caved to popular opinion.

                    1. kincajou says:

                      Thank you for your thought out and informative reply, i learned some things and you also articulated some of my thoughts in much better ways than i could have

                      in particular whilst as a chemist i knew that drug development is more faliure than success (the medicinal chemists in my university courses had the saying “if you see a single one of the molecules you work with duting your entire life make it to stage 3 clinical trials, you can consider it a major career success”) it is nice to see the actual numbers and have the insight from a professional that works closer to this particular field than i do.

                    2. Gethsemani says:

                      I want to echo kincajou’s thank you. You’ve outlined many of the reasons why Ethics Boards need to be obstructionist bureaucrats, because their job is to ensure that people don’t suffer, get hurt or die simply because some researchers are pretty curious about something. As the collective conscience of Academia they need to be the uptight people that will refuse for seemingly insignificant reasons, because if they do not other people risk getting hurt.

                    3. Richard says:

                      Thank you very much indeed

            2. Dotec says:

              I don’t know what Ninety-Three does for a living – and I am no industry expert by any means – but as somebody who has performed oversight on clinical trials, I have seen IRBs reject proposed changes to the color of a button on a web survey (so potential subjects don’t overlook it) on the grounds that it was a form of psychological manipulation. Which… sure? In an extremely broad sense you could say it is, but then what wouldn’t fall under that umbrella?

              I assume there are generally good reasons for our rules and regulations, and not having them is potentially worse than the inconveniences they produce. But if the kind of person who rules against changing a button’s color from blue to green isn’t an “obstructionist bureaucrat”, I don’t know what qualifies.

              I don’t say that with any hatred or anything. These kind of people crop up in any sufficiently organized industry, and I think we have all encountered organizations and persons more interested in performing up to the letter of their job requirements while being completely unhelpful – in this case, delaying a study for close to half a year based on a bizarre interpretation of reasonable safety requirement. I can only imagine somebody was trying to justify their paycheck, or did not give crap about anything beyond the paper submission on his desk, several inches away from their face.

              In any case, complaining bout IRBs is like our equivalent to retail workers crapping on customers. It’s based on experience, but should be taken with a grain of salt.

              1. Fizban says:

                Uh, pretty sure there are tons of studies showing how colors absolutely can and do have statistical influence on people’s choices. Red team is more aggressive than blue team, etc. Green means go, so a response with a green button is going to get clicked slightly more often due to, as they put it, psychological manipulation. And when the whole point of a survey is to get responses to questions, and one answer is subliminally weighted more than the others. . . Now, if it’s just the “next question” or “submit” button, I can see how changing that to green would be a weird thing to deny.

                1. Dotec says:

                  It was exactly the situation you described at the end of your response. We would never color individual responses on the questionnaire itself, and we would even randomize the order of questions and their associated responses to minimize any potential biasing that could be introduced by any specific order of queries.

                  The hold-up was over the ‘Next Page’ and ‘Submit Responses’ buttons. Because the webforms could span multiple pages and potential subjects would lose enthusiasm around page 3 out of 8 (I don’t blame them), it was suggested to use a more ‘engaging’ color to break up some of the monotony and subtly encourage completion. We would have never bothered if we knew what it would entail.

                  Is it psychological manipulation? I guess we are ‘manipulating’ you into filling out a potential eligibility form, which is well in advance of being properly screened and enrolled in a trial. You’re several months out from anybody even being given the opportunity to stick something in you, assuming you make the cut or don’t drop out. Now, maybe the IRB has a really good precedent for being this concerned and vigilant over something like this. But I hope it’s understandable that to anybody working on the project (clients, partners, clinics, and even subjects), this is inanity!

                  Subjects also get paid. ‘Nuff said on manipulation.

                  1. Geebs says:

                    I mean, if your investigators were silly enough to admit that they changed a button specifically to manipulate their potential study participants and didn’t bother to fill in the section of the form about the use of psychological tricks because “it’s well in advance”, that’s their own damn fault. It’s actually encouraging to hear that somebody on the board bothered to read the study documents in detail.

                    It’s also quite plausible to me that the board had already seen several other errors in the document and that specific point is where they just decided to can the whole thing. Protocols with one dumb mistake in them often contain plenty of others and it’s not the board’s job to proofread your stuff.

                    1. Dotec says:

                      That is plausible. It’s also not in evidence and never will be on this site, since you did not work on my project and I don’t actually work at an IRB or any organization performing ethics reviews. We’ll treat this as the hearsay it is.

                      It’s also plausible that there was no actual problem with the submission and the particular reviewer was just bad at his job. Or maybe he did exactly what he should have and I can go pound sand. From an outside view, I cannot tell. Obviously nobody working on such a survey ever actually talks about these things in terms of ‘manipulation’. That was the IRBs language, and my point was that it’s a charge that could be true in the most technical sense, but would come off as ridiculous to many reasonable people*. And it would be totally okay if it could all be resolved with a quick correction/retraction. But you are often stuck in extended waiting periods for approval, and that’s assuming your IRB isn’t functionally out to lunch for several months before their next review session.

                      These are voluntary sign-ups with full disclosures. There is no deceit or attempts to sucker subjects into enrolling. You have to be informed of the trial before you can even voluntarily agree to attempt the survey. I have already said that I prefer a world of slow-moving safety regulation with all its irritations than one without. Perhaps the Investigators and study team should have been experienced enough to know better. But I have very hard time believing that any ethical or moral principle is being violated by changing the color of a button on a form that required your vigorous consent to even look at. And I’m fine considering the reviewer who rejects it to be a Jobsworth. They can consider me an ignoramus. Whatever.

                      *We can skip the argument about what constitutes reasonable.

                    2. Syal says:

                      It suddenly strikes me that the real question is why they had to ask. Do they always have to lay out all the trivialities like how many millimeters each chair will be from the near wall, or did they have to specifically ask to change the button color because it was previously decided the button color had a noticeable effect?

                      What I’m asking is if the Ethics Board can play dress-up with the scientists. “Today you have to wear the light green wool sweater with the light brown socks and tapioca-coloured trousers. SO SAYS THE ETHUCS.”

                    3. Abnaxis says:

                      It suddenly strikes me that the real question is why they had to ask

                      Because that’s literally their job? I’m sure they didn’t explicitly ask what color the buttons were, they asked for a copy of the survey, and required that any subsequent changes to the survey be approved before they could be implemented. The only reason the color of the button was ever looked at that closely is because it was a subject of a change request after the form itself had already been approved–which again, literally their job to review proposed changes.

                      As for this particular issue, I would again note that a fundamental of ethical human studies is that participation must always be VOLUNTARY. Bold underline and italics because it’s SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT that subjects always know they can back out of the study whenever they want, for any reason, with no negative repercussions. IME the quickest way to get shut down hard by an IRB is to even give them a WHIFF that you are making subjects feel obligated, pressured, guilty, or socially awkward if they back out of the study at any point in time.

                      From that context “psychological manipulation” is likely shorthand for “if a participant decides against participating in this study when they get to the end of the survey this color change will make them feel like they’re doing something wrong.” ESPECIALLY if anywhere on the application for the color change the idea “encourage participants to click submit” was suggested in any shape or form.

                      Or, it could be there was a member of the board who was bad at their job. There’s a lot of context missing here that could lean it toward either “incompetence” or “misunderstanding,” but I find Syals conclusion of “cynical malice from a bureaucrat justifying there position” unlikely.

                    4. Syal says:

                      I’m sure they didn’t explicitly ask what color the buttons were, they asked for a copy of the survey, and required that any subsequent changes to the survey be approved before they could be implemented.

                      But if they never explicitly asked what color the button was, why was the color on the original survey? If you just say “there’s a button to advance” and don’t specify the color, it’s not a change to the survey to change the button color, right? So who put the color on there, and why?

                      I find Syals conclusion

                      I don’t have a conclusion, I’m genuinely interested in why that button’s color was on there to begin with.

                    5. Abnaxis says:

                      I’m sure they had an ACTUAL COPY of the survey, button and all, either in screenshot or print-out form. Like, a verbatim virtual- or hard-copy exactly as it would be given to the subjects.

                      They would know the original color of the button was blue because the copy of the survey in their hands had a blue button. They would know it changed from blue to green because any and every deviation of the final survey from the copy they have in their hands as part of the original proposal would have to be documented or risk audit, along with another updated copy of the survey that had a green button.

                      I don’t have a conclusion, I’m genuinely interested in why that button’s color was on there to begin with.

                      Sorry, didn’t realize you weren’t the person I was talking to before, apologies for putting words in your mouth.

                    6. Geebs says:

                      @Syal

                      There’s some important context I think I should expand on:

                      1) the people who sit on Ethics boards aren’t bureaucrats. Most of the board are usually themselves researchers. As Abnaxis mentioned in another comment, they have to judge a wide variety of factors about a study, including factors which are habitually ignored as part of the study delegation process – for example, it’s supposed to be the study Sponsor’s responsibility to determine whether the person doing the research is sufficiently competent to produce something valid and publishable at the end, but they generally seem to be of the opinion that anybody they employ is automatically competent.

                      2) it may very well have been the lay member of the board who influenced the decision. Lay members are members of the general public who embody the public engagement that is vital to ethical research. If that’s the case it’s not some faceless bureaucrat refusing to sanction the project, it is The Public.

                      3) the reason why getting refused ethical approval is considered a major setback by researchers is broadly that it usually takes a long time for another board to be convened. If the board were all faceless bureaucrats this wouldn’t be all that difficult. In reality, you have to get (usually minimum 7) highly competent, highly motivated professionals to align their very busy schedules to give up half a day (plus reading time) of their extremely valuable time for free.

                      4) as a result of all the time taken up, the forms are highly structured and applicants do need to fill in all of the boxes. There is usually a specific box to explain any psychological manipulation used and deity help you if you decide to skip that one.

                      5) you’re quite right, learning to heavily imply that you’ve specified the button’s colour *without actually doing so* is an important skill in writing a successful ethics application ;-)

                    7. Syal says:

                      I’m sure they had an ACTUAL COPY of the survey, button and all, either in screenshot or print-out form.

                      …Oh right. That would make perfect sense.

                      It also makes initial approval a black box, instead of illuminating the denial process like I thought it would. So, so much for that idea.

    3. Coming Second says:

      Indeed, which is why he’s led into creating the web of deceit that he does. Explaining how neuromods get made and seeking out some reasonable way of continuing their manufacture would tie up TranStar for decades, perhaps indefinitely (unless it turns out you can make them from rats, which seems unlikely).

      He’s also clearly someone who hates conflict and would sooner lie and obfuscate to keep on keeping on than bring something painful out into the open. It’s a painfully accurate portrayal of a nerd who would like to be left alone to continue his very interesting research thank you, and in his own soft way bends everything towards that.

    4. Mye says:

      I dunno, the technological progress that neuromod represent are so much more advanced than anything we do in real life that it’s hard to properly compare, especially once they prove that it works. I think it could get the go ahead, maybe at most it would require moving to another country. If you were to promise, say, a millions dollar in exchange for becoming typhoon food to dying people (Joe versus the volcano style) in poor overpopulated country I imagine plenty of 3rd world country government would okay it, if only just so they’d get some hard currency flowing in. The closest comparison I could see would be surrogate mother, except with far far far far more valuable outcome. I imagine from there some people in richer country would also take the deal (by travelling to the other country) and government would become more open about the idea, especially since the country that first okay the research would probably see plenty of positive beyond the money.

      There’s been plenty of human trial run over the year (they just did some for Covid) and the possible benefit for those were, comparatively, puny and insignificant.

      1. Richard says:

        Several countries still have the death penalty.

        I can absolutely see a state approving “Typhon exposure” as a valid means of execution, and if Transtar pay for the privilege of undertaking the executions (because it makes them huge profits), it would replace all other methods basically instantly.
        (It would also make all the current “death row” issues far worse, as state coffers would swell as people were executed rather than the current high financial cost of going through with it.)

        The canon fluff does go down this route, but it seems to be a top secret arrangement – or possibly even lies to soothe Psychotronics staff.

        1. Mye says:

          Actually I just remembered that Typhoon can be used to increase life span (by +80 years iirc) I think for that alone every level of government would stuff an ethic board with “yes man” to make sure the typhoon research would move along as fast as possible. Even rich country you’d only need the most modest of veneer of ethical research (pay dying people who will soon die anyway) for it to get the okay.

    5. Dues says:

      I don’t want to get too deeply in to politics due to Shamus’s policy, but there is genuine argument whether the current US ethics boards are killing people by being too cautious.
      https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/adumbrations-of-aducanumab

      So I don’t think it’s too far a stretch that in a sci-fi alternate timeline things might be more lax. Also keep in mind that the alternative to the US studying Typhon is to let the Russians study Typhon without the US. I’m being the way hawks would vote for a slight loosening of standards in that case.

      But the point you are making that the government might be pressuring TransStar to keep quiet about ethics violations is a good point. (I’m sure Alex would say that’s not his fault\he has no choice as well).

      1. Abnaxis says:

        There’s a pretty big difference between the FDA and your average IRB ethics boards. Like, apples and oranges for the issues they deal with.

        1. Aevylmar says:

          The same author’s experience with IRBs: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/29/my-irb-nightmare/

          1. Shamus says:

            Oh how interesting. I have to admit that at first I didn’t get where Ninety-Three was coming from at the start of this thread. I sort of assumed I was seeing the reaction of one person who accidentally got caught in the teeth of a bureaucratic device and walked away with a grudge. But no, it looks like this is a growing line of thought, informed by years of experience.

            I should have known. This is a pretty classic regulatory problem. The balance between “Everyone is allowed to drive through the suburbs at 100MPH while watching YouTube on their phone” vs. “Everyone needs 50 hours of certifications and consent forms signed in triplicate to be allowed to sit in a parked car” is a constant back-and-forth whenever you have human activity operating at scale.

            “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” – George Carlin

            1. Geebs says:

              I promise I will shut up about this topic forever after this but: please don’t take home the message that the problem is regulatory. The problem is that the blogger doesn’t know what he is doing and is blaming the system for his own incompetence.

              You know how people love to bitch about how health and safety in the workplace without realising that humans are depressingly reactive and the reason there’s a rule is usually that something really bad, and really avoidable, actually happened to somebody? This guy sounds exactly like he’s mad about not being allowed to prop the fire doors open because some asshole went and got themselves burned to death.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                Yeah, I had a big long tirade about that article that got eaten by the spam filter.

                For the best, maybe…I got REALLY long winded about it.

                I would characterize the author’s problem less as someone complaining about propping a fire door and more like a hobbyist programmer flaming on Stack Overflow about loops because copy/ paste works just as well. His problem is he’s ignorant, his study design is genuinely terrible and half-assed, and there’s no one in his immediate vicinity to tell him that so the only check on his ignorance is an under-resourced “research department” run by a single under-trained staff member in the basement of his hospital.

                He complains about his IRB being obstructionist, when in fact he shouldn’t have even gotten as far as he did with just how bad a job he was doing justifying and running his study.

      2. Geebs says:

        I have a great deal of difficulty assessing the claims of “regulatory agency is too cautious” articles in the context that exactly 100% of the op-eds you read in the press about “death panels” and “postcode lotteries” turn out to be PR plants made by the manufacturers of the drug in question.

        I would point out, though, that the person linked in the article is mostly talking outside of what appears to be his actual area of specialty, that his assertion that labs shouldn’t need to do QC is extremely dubious, and that the comments include people openly pushing ivermectin.

  6. Tariq says:

    It’s been a while since I read the original Jurassic Park novel, much less watched the movie, but my memory of Ian Malcolm’s objections to what John Hammond was doing wasn’t so much that the technology of resurrecting dinosaurs, or genetic manipulation, or whatever InGen was doing was inherently bad — it was that, to Malcolm, who was a mathematician who specialized in chaos (now complexity) theory, the fact that they had taken these creatures, who were not only the byproduct of their genes but also the byproduct of their environment, some of them who were very intelligent, if not outright dangerous, and expected to package them as a product to be bought and sold, like animatronics in a theme park.

    But they weren’t products, they were living systems, and Malcolm was not at all confident that Hammond and his team’s attempts to mitigate the risks were sufficient, because there existed enough uncertainty in their safeguards, and Malcolm knew, through his specialty, that enough of a small deviation from their safeguards could blow the park wide open and endanger not only the people on the park but the whole world.

    That being said, it turns out that the real danger was relying on one guy to make sure that the park worked well enough, and then not paying him enough, but I think “The best way to create a dinosaur park was to focus on labor relations” would have sold very well to an audience who felt that they had triumphed over Communism and had not had the effects of late-stage capitalism impress themselves into them very much yet.

    1. Henson says:

      From what I remember, this is accurate. The movie, however, adds on a layer of ‘this is a bad idea because it’s unnatural‘ woo. That dinosaurs shouldn’t be recreated because “nature selected them for extinction”.

      Also, in the book, while Nedry is certainly a significant failure point, Malcolm does prove that Hammond has lost control before Nedry even turns off the power.

    2. The+Puzzler says:

      Putting animals in a zoo without them eating people is a problem we’ve pretty much solved. Keeping a T-Rex would only be a bit harder than keeping an elephant or crocodile or bear or gorilla or tiger.

      Jurassic Park failed because it was run with reckless incompetence and then sabotaged, not because of hubris and the inevitability of chaos.

      Even if we released a thousand T-Rexes into the wilderness, they’d probably be hunted to extinction within a few decades. If Nature always found a way, then all the megafauna we wiped out would still be around.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I’ve both read the book and watched the movie (though it’s been years since either), and I think in both cases containment failed when the electricity went off, right? (No more electric fences.) Which was always an accident waiting to happen no matter how good the backups were. There’s a reason zoos use non-active containment methods (i.e., walls rather than electric fences), and if you can’t build a wall strong enough to contain a T-Rex (which we probably easily could), just stick it on an island surrounded by a sufficiently wide and deep moat, or put it in a large hole with an embankment too large to jump.

        1. Richard says:

          In the book the dinosaurs had actually started breeding and escaped in notable quantities quite a long time before the visit. Some had even swum to the mainland and started eating babies!

          InGen hadn’t noticed because they told the park systems to count the N dinosaurs they had released – then stop.
          When they removed the limit, it started reporting a few hundred more…

          Nedry’s actions merely triggered a more spectacular failure – in reality, it had already failed.

          There were several other good examples in the book – eg the triceratops regularly got sick every few weeks (6?) and they couldn’t figure out why. Dr Sattler points out that they swallow stones to grind their food, and are taking in poisonous berries by mistake.
          How often do they need new stones? Every six weeks.

          The film skipped all that. Which was a shame.

    3. JH-M says:

      Another part I can remember from the book was ignorance of how the control systems worked (2 examples: the surveilance stopped counting the animals when the number reach the maximum of cloned animals, leading to extra animals hatched naturally being ignored, and they overlooked part of the emergency power system, causing to a break-down) leading to overconfidence about the control of the situation, and these mistakes leading to new mistakes, and so on.

      “Science is bad” is another way of saying “Curiosity killed the cat”, so I like the reframing “Curiosity was framing, Ignorance killed the cat”, as it provides a clearer picture.

      1. Fizban says:

        Yup- a hefty dose of hubris in automated systems to reduce personnel requirements, immediately wrecked by systems that didn’t work and most of the personnel that did exist, didn’t understand.

        The newer Jurassic World movie has some stuff that really ticks me off, but one thing I do like is that the revival was clearly running along just fine. Say what you will about the ridiculous Umbrella style bio-weapon experiments that lead to its collapse, it’s pretty dang clear that it was those experiments (and some of the dumbest personnel ever, opening absolute physical containment because a sensor stopped reporting, what the actual fuck?) which tipped things over. As long as the park is run properly, yeah it ought to work.

        1. Joshua says:

          The problem with Jurassic Park and the logic is the whole Anthropic PrincipleAnthropic: The stories are (generally) about humans who genetically recreate dinosaurs, and despite their best efforts at containment, the dinosaurs get out and eat people.

          It’s pretty hard to do this without ending up with a “science is bad” or “humans have too much idiocy/hubris” theme, just like how so many of the Alien films end up with the theme of “Humans are the real villains!”. I’ve never read the book, but it doesn’t surprise me if it had a lot more nuance that made for more deep thought that a fortune cookie aesop of the film. I did read Timeline by Chrichton, and its film adaptation was very, very dumbed down.

          1. Fizban says:

            I read several of Chrichton’s books after Jurrasic Park, and while I liked them I can definitely see why they get made into movies that are a bit dumber, for lack of a better word. They’re sci fi, and that includes some thinkyness, but they’re still very digestable fun/thrilling sci fi, which you can easily see getting made into a movie, and by the nature of the medium they’ll just have less words to say on the subject. Malcom in Jurassic Park is also kind of a whole thing- the ensemble cast and. . . larger number of moving parts? combined with the constant hammering on blah blah chaos theory (it gets a little tiring) definitely gives him an almost Marty Stu-ish “this guy is right about everything oh woes that no one listened and he is injured!”. Goldbloom’s performance, while having only the most superficial of technical explanations, just knocks it out of the park in how the character feels.

            Or so I recall. It has been quite a while since I last read the book or watched the movie.

            1. stratigo says:

              I am afraid to ask what books, cause oh boy did Crichton write some yikes stuff

              1. Fizban says:

                Prey, Sphere, the one with the guy with the electrodes in his head, the one with the isolated disease research team (that would be The Terminal Man and The Andromeda Strain- and of course The Lost World). After I ran out of stuff in easy reach I think that’s when I switched to Dune, which gets to its own yikes of course.

                It seems my confusion at seeing his name on books after I was sure I’d read he’d died was due to some posthumous releases- I have to admit Dragon Teeth as a title is quite compelling, though I don’t think I actually have a copy laying around that I never got to. What stuff was yikes?

          2. Cubic says:

            IMDB tells me Jurassic Park the movie was written by David Koepp (presumably with input from Steven Spielberg). Just so we don’t needlessly blame Crichton for odd stuff. Like when it’s not in the book but is in the adaptation.

  7. Chad+Miller says:

    Re: Alex and not being entirely adversarial; I think this is another point where the silent protagonist decision comes back to bite the narrative a bit. Because, yes, you can rationalize locking Morgan in Deep Storage “for her own good” in the general case, but I really feel like the Technopath in Deep Storage changes the calculus enough that I didn’t really buy it in the moment. This is one of the strongest enemies in the game, and while it’s not particularly likely that this is Morgan’s first confrontation with one, it’s not impossible either. I feel like, say, Solid Snake would have no reservations about hopping on the Codec for a “WTF” about trapping him with something this bad. And I think the worst kind of video game plot misstep is the kind that results in a difficult obstacle that may require reloading a save multiple times or even starting the entire game over.

    It doesn’t help that Deep Storage is one of the few areas without a full security station. Most zones in this game have a security booth near the entrance with shielded windows, locking doors, and a terminal capable of sending email so if Deep Storage had one of these you could reason that Alex expected Morgan to bunker down and wait for rescue. But the Deep Storage entrance is more like a boss arena and the Technopath can just wander into the entryway without effort.

    This probably contributed to Deep Storage feeling like one of the most videogamey parts of the game for me. When I think of the Crew Quarters I remember the Cook and Morgan’s apartment and the tabletop gamers. When I think of Deep Storage I think of a Technopath and two Weavers, and how depending on what sidequests you did it’s either “difficult monsters” or “difficult monsters that you’ve already seen”.

    1. Coming Second says:

      I suppose Alex’s reasoning is that it’s a box with one entrance, so more Typhon are unlikely to get in once the lid is on, and he just gambled on there not being too many powerful ones in there already. There aren’t many other places on the station where he could have pulled it off. Morgan’s office springs to mind, but I think she has the authority to override that door.

      1. JH-M says:

        First of all, the technopath is literally made to mess with technology, maybe it spoofed the sensors?
        Secondly, Morgan’s office have a second entrance in the service corridor behind the looking glass screen.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          Morgan’s office doesn’t even lock from the inside. I had a Nightmare follow me in there once and kill both Mikhaila and Dayo

          I brought up the silent protagonist annoyance specifically because TranScribes are implied to be a two-way communicator. Even if Alex didn’t know what he just did to me, there’s no explanation given why I can’t call him and chew him out except that the mechanics for doing that aren’t programmed into the game.

          1. Zekiel says:

            Presumably this iteration of the Morgan personality just hates talking?

            1. kincajou says:

              How cool would it be if Morgan was actually mute in canon?

              Now i want some game dev to have their “silent protagonist” use sign language!

              get on it boffins!

              1. Coming Second says:

                In reality ‘Morgan’ likely doesn’t have human mouth parts. That’s the reason she doesn’t talk in-game, and why, when trying to get your consent, Alex just offers you his hand. So canonically she is mute.

              2. Chad+Miller says:

                The South Park games actually use the PC’s silence as a gag, going so far as to make your character agree to things because you can’t say “no”

                Coming Second actually has a valid point about this game, but it refers to something that the player absolutely isn’t supposed to know about yet.

                1. Kincajou says:

                  I hadn’t actually thought of south park, that’s a good example.

                  And coming second’s point is quite fair too!

                  Nonetheless I feel they do not assuage the yearning I had this morning about a really mute character, I mean I can’t explain exactly why but… I’m still dissatisfied

                  1. Fred Starks says:

                    I know Cross Code was a recent indie that went the way of having an actually mute, actually signing protagonist, if that assuages your sudden yearning.

                    1. Syal says:

                      I don’t think Lea uses sign language though, she’s just stuck behind her tiny word options.

                      …oh dear god, I just remembered.

                      There is a game with a silent or near-silent protagonist, who actually uses sign language.

                      A… Quiet Man, if you will.

  8. Alex says:

    The Yus have an additional motivation to keep their work a secret: the threat of hostile actors. Remember that in Jurassic Park the dinosaurs didn’t escape because they were somehow uncageable – they got out because Dennis Nedry sabotaged the park as cover for industrial espionage. If rival states and corporations don’t know about the Typhon, they will not be tempted to establish their own Typhon breeding program.

    1. Asdasd says:

      It turns out humans were the true dinosaurs all along.

  9. Lino says:

    I haven’t read the article yet (later tonight, probably), but I hope this means your surgery went well! Of course, this could just be a scheduled post, and you aren’t out of the woods yet, in which case – fingers crossed :)

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Considering that last week there was no post, I doubt he’s scheduling them.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      I see Shamus commenting down below so he is definitely back. Speaking of, welcome back Shamus!

      1. Lino says:

        I also see him commenting, so Hell Yeah, welcome back Shamus!

        1. Zekiel says:

          Welcome back! Hope it all went ok.

  10. RamblePak64 says:

    I don’t have anything of value to say, other than wondering what would happen if they fed an intelligent creature like the octopus to the Typhon. I just wanted to note that I enjoyed reading this for the greater commentary on the villain tropes and how science can play into fiction. The writing really does seem to be the stand out feature of Prey.

  11. Artanis says:

    One big issue I have with Alex is that if you break into his office, he mentions how he broke his sister’s arm on purpose when they were kids. Comes out of nowhere and really shocked me.

    1. Fizban says:

      Yeah. He’s got some serious issues under the surface, envious competition for their probably not-so-great parents’ attention, etc.

    2. Redrock says:

      That’s one of those things which either gets more or less weird depending on whether you play as a female or a male Morgan. The line remains unchanged, but I’d guess that for most people a boy breaking his little sister’s arm would be way more alarming than when the same situation happens between two boys. Boys will be boys, and all that. To be clear, I’m not here embracing this idea – just pointing out that this is how most people would instinctively react. A guy breaking his kid brother’s arm, without additional details, doesn’t necessarily scream “sociopath”. With a girl there’re instantly additional alarm bells.

    3. Cannongerbil says:

      The way he said it its more like a childhood scuffle gone wrong rather than a deliberate act of malice

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Interesting. I got the opposite impression of that – to me it sounded like a premeditated revenge on Morgan.
        But then again, by that point I was very willing to believe the worst of Alex, so…

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    Not sure labeling Alex as a “villain” is the proper word to use. I think “antagonist” is the more adequate term.

    The first Jurassic Park movie falls into this trap with Professor Jeff Goldblum constantly reminding us that there are things we just shouldn’t mess with and things we weren’t meant to know.

    It’s been a while since I watched the movie, but I’m pretty sure Malcom was objecting not to anyone messing with these things, but specifically to Hammond, who was clearly lacking proper care, couldn’t see the ramifications of his actions and was unprepared to deal with the consequences. The whole thing is made evident by showing that Nedry only betrays Hammond because he pays him too little and doesn’t particularly respect him. Things could have definitely gone different if he had.

    Alex is driven, reckless, and casual about the horrific sacrifices he’s willing to force others to make for the good of mankind. When things begin to unravel he’s optimistic to the point of self-delusion about his ability to regain control.

    Yup. This is who Hammond is supposed to be. He lies and manipulates the truth all in pursuit of his dream yet he refuses to see how things could go wrong because all he can think is how amazing it will be when he reaches his goal. He refuses to keep guns stocked in the park because he doesn’t believe dinosaurs could escape, even though they already have. Every time a problem shows up he quickly patches it up and moves on instead of trying to figure out if there’s an underlying problem with his approach. As a matter of fact, the book shows the dinos had not only escaped but reproduced and managed to stay undetected long before Nedry cut the power, and not because they were “playing with powers they didn’t understand”, but because they didn’t properly take the time to consider the consequences of their actions.

    It’s made explicit that Hammond doesn’t just want profits, he wants people to be wowed. I know the book makes all these points more clear, as in fact shows that the park was already in shambles behind the scenes before Nedry did anything and without any of the scientists noticing. But note that even in the movie once things get though he helps everyone around instead of caring exclusively about the profits. A normal “evil CEO” type villain would absolutely no doubt putting people in danger to protect his investment, but he doesn’t. Though the movie version is, I gotta say, much more likable than the book’s.

    If anything, though, the whole “Life, uh, finds a way” thing is exclusive from the movie. Malcom is, after all, a mathematician and not a naturist. I suppose it’s just a simpler way to get the point (hubris is bad) accross than it would be if personalities were more ambiguous like they are in the source material.

    1. Rho says:

      Let me hone in on one aspect of this that Shamus alluded to as part the Caveman bit. The problem is not exploring something you don’t understand. The problem is *playing* with it. There are a lot of things in the universe which can of immense benefit but you cannot treat them like toys or tools.

      Radiation, for instance, is not just a Bad Thing that Man Was Not Meant to Know. But it’s dangerous and in the not-so-distant past people have at times treated it casually, disregarding the dangers. Fiction often uses Genetic Engineering now, but nuclear used to be the go-to idea.

    2. Shamus says:

      To be clear: In the article, I was referring specifically to the movie and not the books. (I assumed that would be clear when I name-checked Jeff Goldblum, but clearly this is not the case since multiple people have assumed I was talking about the book / both.)

      I read the book back in the 90s, but I barely remember it now. The only detail I can recall is how differently things turned out for Hammond. IIRC, in the book the disaster was mostly over and Hammond was walking around thinking to himself how he could totally try again, and then blundered into a swarm of smaller dinos that ate him. No sequel for Book Hammond.

      1. Chris says:

        I don’t think people mistake you for talking about the book, but just want to chip in that the book does things differently/more intelligently. So jurassic park the movie saying science=evil is because holywood writers dumbed down a book.

      2. Dreadjaws says:

        Yeah, I understood that. I’m simply pointing out that the book does things a bit differently just for the sake of mentioning it, and also to add the fact that I don’t think Hammond fits the “evil CEO” role as well, since you were mentioning JP in that context.

        [You about Hammond:] in the book the disaster was mostly over and Hammond was walking around thinking to himself how he could totally try again

        [You about Alex:] When things begin to unravel he’s optimistic to the point of self-delusion about his ability to regain control.

        I mean, don’t these two sound similar to you?

    3. Henson says:

      It’s been a while since I watched the movie, but I’m pretty sure Malcom was objecting not to anyone messing with these things, but specifically to Hammond

      I don’t think that’s true, since MovieMalcolm says “This isn’t some species that was obliterated by deforestation, or the building of a dam. Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction.”

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Yeah, again, haven’t watched it in a while, so you might be right, but in context this could also be simply Malcom reasoning that Hammond shouldn’t treat the dinos as normal animals, which is the point he makes in the book.

        1. Syal says:

          He could still be objecting to just Hammond, but the language comes off as “this is always a bad idea.”

          “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”

          1. Dreadjaws says:

            Yeah, I guess the movie does take it into this direction. Which is odd, because it absolutely makes no sense for the character of Malcom. But to be fair, Alan gets in it too, and it doesn’t make any sense for him either.

            1. Fizban says:

              I always read (or rather heard since it’s the movie) it as him just styling, it’s one of those “ha, knew I could turn that phrasing into gold, I got you good” lines. Except the later “nature selected them for extinction” does lean to a Nature bent, which is particularly odd because he should know that the leading theory on the dinosaurs extinction was. . . a sudden meteor that was just as outside their ability to adapt to as human deforestation/dam building/etc. And if he didn’t, Grant should have schooled him. But the table remains silent, because they’ve all been coming to bad conclusions already.

    4. Philadelphus says:

      It’s been a while since I watched the movie, but I’m pretty sure Malcom was objecting not to anyone messing with these things, but specifically to Hammond

      I didn’t get that impression when I watched the movie, but I like that interpretation better. As a mathematician it makes more sense that he’d be pointing out specific problems with the approach rather than going all anti-science moralizing. I’ll keep it in mind if I get around to watching the movie again.

      1. Fizban says:

        If you haven’t read the book, I’d highly recommend it (or audiobook?). While the broad plot is similar, almost all of the actual events are very different, many characters act differently and different ones die, etc, to the point that it’s its own story. As noted above, the book makes it very clear that Hammond and other people making bad choices is the problem, and none of us seem to recall it feeling like anti-science moralizing.

        1. Henson says:

          Audiobook? With all the graphs and charts in that book? Do they just summarize those, or skip them entirely?

          1. Fizban says:

            Good question, no idea. Just thought I’d mention it ’cause they’re a thing that exists but using the word “read” can cause people to lock on to not feeling like reading- ergo, if you want to suggest someone “read” a book, mentioning audiobooks may increase the chances.

          2. Dreadjaws says:

            I actually have the audiobook and went to check. It skips the graphs, but purely text-based charts are read. It’s still all perfectly understandable.

        2. Philadelphus says:

          Oh, I have read it, thanks, before watching the movie in fact, I just neglected to mention it since I was focusing on the movie interpretation. I agree that the book felt much more like a documentary of events happening without passing (much) judgement (and then more on individuals than science as a whole).

    5. Mr. Wolf says:

      “Malcom is, after all, a mathematician and not a naturist.”

      Thank god. I don’t think I could handle naked Jeff Goldblum.

      1. bobbert says:

        This has to be my favorite slip of the tounge all week. :)

  13. Ophelia says:

    One aspect about Alex that I liked was the sense that Morgan was really the one pushing him down this dark path to begin with. Quite literally leading him on a road to hell. I can’t fathom how alone Alex has got to feel after Morgan helps him make so many moral compromises and then essentially abandons him to handle the lies and deeds once Morgan is in the simulation (and then emerges from it attempting to destroy everything). It’s gotta feel like being talked into a murder and your partner in crime just vanishes once the cops are knocking at your door.

    1. Fizban says:

      I have to say I never got such a strong impression that Morgan was to blame for the badness- is there are particular cutscene or email that gave that impression which I didn’t pick up on?

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I assume this references the recording of Morgan personally overseeing the experiment where one of the prisoners is fed to the Typhon. Unless there’s more that I don’t remember though I don’t see it as hard evidence that Morgan was the “corrupting” influence in this duo and I personally (though mileage may vary obviously) never got the vibe that Alex perceives that Morgan has abandoned him. I’d agree with Shamus that he’s more worried that his sister is unwell, possibly unsure how to approach this person who is both his partner in the entire enterprise and at the same time this stranger who is driven by entirely different motivations.

        Of course the post-credits scene puts almost everything in the game in a different light but I suspect Shamus will want to devote a separate post to that twist.

      2. Chad+Miller says:

        The same video Shamus showed a frame from in this article also implies that Alex was to at least some degree hesitant about the Typhon research at first; Morgan gleefully demonstrates the success of Typhon neuromods (she’s using Lift Field in that screenshot) while Alex expresses his worries that she’s losing herself in the experiments. He also says as much in dialogue later (I don’t remember if it’s actual conversation or in one of the recordings like his “last words” if you loot him). In the beginning, Morgan was enthralled with the possibilities of their research while Alex was worried they were toying with forces they didn’t fully understand. The switch took place during the simulation research/memory loops and probably resulted from Morgan’s personality drift + visions of the Apex

        All of that said…I’m not sure there’s any direct evidence that Alex ever had a problem with sacrificing the volunteers. His objections seem more on pragmatic “this could result in disaster” grounds and not “the ends don’t justify the means” grounds.

  14. sofawall says:

    I just happened to notice, footnotes don’t work great when they’re right at the edge of a narrow monitor. I was reading this post on a portrait-style monitor (1080 pixels wide) and because the art at the sides gets cut down, the footnote has no space to open in. This is happening to me in Chrome.

    Obviously easy for me to work-around and possibly hours of hair-pulling for you for an edge case, but I thought I’d let you know.

  15. Vladius says:

    It’s easy to be dismissive of the concept of science going too far, but it does happen a lot. You mentioned the luddites. The luddites were workers who had to deal with losing their jobs to automation or working in horrible dangerous factories. They had very legitimate concerns about what “progress” and “science” meant in real terms for them. They didn’t hate knowledge or education or whatever and they probably didn’t even hate science. Yes, factories and manufacturing equipment were more sophisticated and efficient and produced more goods, and they were developed by some of the smartest minds. But this came at a human cost.
    There are countless examples of unethical medical experimentation in just the US alone, not to mention the horrors of Nazi Germany or WW2 Japan. The biggest example of course is atomic weapons, but you could also include chemical and biological warfare.

    You can argue that these cases were all about science being misused or people not doing science the right way and that if it were just used properly everything would go fine. Okay, but that’s what the science fiction stories are also about. There are certain areas of knowledge that are inherently unethical or dangerous to study and there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I disagree, but do not want to start an argument about it, as this seems like it could very easily become political.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I’m still uncertain. I mean, we probably could find some example that is Doom’s “let’s tap into literal hell to siphon energy”* but I think in many cases fiction takes a general stance of “this type of science should not be done ever”, whether it’s nanomachines, AI, teleportation or something, where it becomes the equivalent of “we should not study disease transmission because it could be used in biological warfare”. In fact these actual arguments were used against the study of human genome: encouraging eugenics, genetically targetted bioweapons, potential for genetic screenings and so on.

      The relevant TvTropes would be Science is bad and For Science.

      *And even here I would argue that a case can be made that it’s the application because the study of whether other dimensions exist and if they are accessible could in itself be innocuous or beneficial.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        bah, typo in the email

  16. Redrock says:

    I have to ask, is the “Science is Bad” trope quite so prevalent? To me, the Caveman Science Fiction cartoon seemed like a bit of a strawman. Most stories that one might put into the “Science is bad” category, up to and including Jurassic Park, are actually about ethical and methodological compromises movie scientists make ostensibly in the name of science. Eschewing procedure and safety measures, running dangerous experiments without proper oversight, often experimenting on themselves (insert “I’m something of a scientist myself” Dafoe meme here). And those are all things that actual scientists would likely condemn. I think the trope would be more accurately called “Exciting science is Bad”, which, yeah, it kinda is. Good science is boring as hell, it’s all about moving in tiny increments and going back to the drawing board just as often as you manage to inch forward. It’s a painful, mind-numbingly dull process to actually produce a worthwhile peer-reviewed scientific publication, and I’m speaking from experience here. While Doc Goldblum’s argument can be read as “You shouldn’t have even attempted it”, I’ve always seen it as more of “You shouldn’t have even attempted it before spending several decades figuring out all of this on paper with graphs and models, before moving on to making maybe one or two dinosaurs and observing them for several decades more”.

  17. Bubble181 says:

    I find it very hard to not make things political when you’re bringing up moral and ethical points, because, especially in the USA, many people very closely align their moral system with their political stance – according to studies, more so than with their religion, which is the more common main basis for moral stance in other parts of the world.
    Having said that,

    You could argue that this means neuromods are inescapably immoral, regardless of any possible boon they might offer humanity. They are based on human sacrifice, and therefore they’re inherently evil.

    This is a point that’s…very hard not to equate with how some people look at monoclonal antibodies, any type of medication created or tested on stem cells, and many other modern medical techniques. The comparison isn’t even in any way subtle.

    1. Coming Second says:

      That’s an absurd comparison. Monoclonal antibodies are not made by feeding live and aware humans to alien monsters.

    2. Redrock says:

      You’re comparing slaughtering living thinking human beings to, what, extracting antibodies from mice and using clusters of a couple hundred human cells to extract stem cells? Because those are not even remotely comparable. What an odd thing to say.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        I’m personally all in favor of using stem cells for research and development.
        I’m not saying they’re comparable *at all*.
        I’m saying some people ALREADY equate certain scientific developments to human sacrifice. Not that I agree with them.

        1. Shamus says:

          Okay, so you’re complaining that it’s hard not to get political because the topic I brought up bears some similarity to real-world political controversies? And so you feel the need to inject this controversy, even when it’s not germane to the discussion and it’s not even a position you agree with?

          Like yes, you COULD bring up stem cell research, but I don’t see any reason to do so? What’s your game plan here? You just trying to start a fight because it’ll be fun to watch?

  18. stratigo says:

    I do want to counter the idea that no real CEO talks about how much he likes money with the existence of Martin Shkreli of “Raise the prices of life saving medicine by 5600 percent” fame

    Pharma bros can very much be this soulless and cutthroat. It’s difficult to self justify in nicer terms raising the price of a good that, uh, you take or die.

    Also, it’s regularly used as a defense, both rhetorically and legally, for actions of executives when they have negative externalities. The “Well, I am legally obliged to focus on making profit” is a common defense.

    Just saying, people in real life can out cartoon real cartoons sometimes.

    1. Shamus says:

      I will counter your counter with the following:

      Pharma Bro is a…

      1) Universally hated
      2) failed leader
      3) who is now a convicted felon.

      So yes, he’s a counter-example to my assertion, but he’s also nothing like the successful, powerful CEOs this post is about. If I said that university professors are generally non-violent people, and you point out the Unabomber was a math professor, then perhaps you’re just helping to set the record straight on the violent tendencies of professors, or perhaps you’re just haggling over a minor footnote exception for the sake of pedantry. :)

      Actually, I’m not even sure Pharmbro is an actual counter-example here. I never said that CEOs were nice. I never claimed they didn’t want money. I just claimed that their desires were generally more sophisticated than simple cash. And even the ones that DO fixate on money are smart enough to pretend otherwise.

      1. kincajou says:

        As a tangentially related note and more food for thought than counter argument,

        would it not be possible to relate the more “one dimensional” evil of many media (especially film) antagonists to the inherent nature of the media?

        In the sense that, IRL humans receive an immense number of stimuli which are filtered and selected based on Brainlogic(TM) which decides what is or isn’t important. Now often when a story is being told, a filter is already applied to existence to allow the “user” to focus on the important elements (or rather, not get lost in side elements) and for the story itself to shine.

        (incidentally for me this is the underlying point of chekov’s gun, because “user” attention is at a premium and you want to control their focus, one should make super sure that all elements introduced in the narrative have a purpose. Thus leading to the gun on the wall not just being there “for fun”)

        So, following this, could one not read the “dumbing down” and simplifying of corporate CEOs as a narrative necessity/choice to keep the viewer’s focus on different elements of the story?

        so maybe in a story like prey where we’re telling a tale of hubris it fits to create an antagonist that has more depth than a straw man because he *is* a crucial element of the hubris and of “how it all went wrong” whereas in a story like dark waters (i haven’t seen “the old guard” so i cannot talk about that) painting DuPont as cartoonishly evil may serve a purpose because the focus of the story is the struggle of our protagonist(s) against what feels like an unbeatable entity.
        (off the top of my head i couldn’t think of evil CEO single characters from films or media, unless i then argued that Sauron from LOTR fit the mold…but that was pushing it)

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          When we actually hear the orcs speak in the LOTR books, they talk a lot like soldiers, and Tolkien served in the first world war in Europe, so I think Sauron was, if anything, more of a Kaiser than a CEO. But Tolkien also hated allegory, so more likely Sauron is meant simply as he is presented, a second rate Satan (with Melkor being the big bad).

          If you’re looking for examples in fiction though, look no further.

          As to your main point, it’s certainly possible that the simplification is a feature of the story. Though, as in the case of Sauron, a less materialist and more archetypical villain may be called for in that case.

        2. Syal says:

          So, following this, could one not read the “dumbing down” and simplifying of corporate CEOs as a narrative necessity/choice to keep the viewer’s focus on different elements of the story?

          CEOs are a real-life group, and the more you dumb them down the more you’re going to be dragging real-life politics into your story.

        3. Shamus says:

          I think it really depends on the story. What’s the story about? What’s the tone? How much screen time does the villain get?

          If the story is ABOUT selfish evil leaders, then you sorta need to actually explore how those sorts of people work.

          If the story is supposed to be taken seriously, then the villain can’t be a cartoon character.

          If the villain gets a lot of screen time, then they need to be interesting or nuanced enough to justify the time we spend with them.

          In the case of The Old Guard, the villain was a huge fail because he violated all three of these. (Eh. You could argue that the story isn’t trying to be “taken seriously”. It’s not a comedy, but the tone vacillates between hokey and grimdark. I dunno.) He was trying to do medical experiments on these immortal beings because he wanted “profit”.

          Who wrote this? Are they five years old? If you handed Jeff Bezos the secret to immortality, how do you imagine he will react:

          1) WOW. I CAN LIVE FOREVER! *Injects self with serum*
          2) I COULD SELL THIS FOR MUNEE LOL!!!!

          If you really want to tell a story about corruption, power, abuse, and unexamined privilege, then it’s SUPER easy. You have the villain insist that HE should live forever. “Hey look. Society depends on people like me. I ‘create’ all of these jobs, therefore I’m a valuable person. I was behind [taking credit for] the creation of these other valuable products. Therefore, I deserve to have this serum. Not for selfish reasons, but for the good of society! I’m just trying to live longer so I can go on ‘creating jobs’ and helping people.”

          Then we can contrast his ideas against the Old Guard. (It would help if they did more than just running around murdering bad people, but still.)

          But no. He’s excited about the secrets of immortality because he’s excited about having yet another way to make even more money.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            I recently started the Westworld TV show (oddly enough, also based on a Michael Crichton property!) and this provides the basis of one of its better twists, one I feel really silly for not seeing coming. After all, if your entire business revolves around convincingly human robots, to the point that they feel emotion and can’t even themselves tell that they’re robots, then of course someone with enough pull in the company’s going to get the idea to develop an immortal robot copy of himself

  19. Ross says:

    I’m just glad someone on the internet finally gave The Old Guard the review it deserves.

    Terrible movie.

  20. Smith says:

    The first Jurassic Park movie falls into this trap with Professor Jeff Goldblum constantly reminding us that there are things we just shouldn’t mess with and things we weren’t meant to know. A more sensible message might be, “Maybe you shouldn’t revive apex predators from millions of years ago and then put them on display for thousands of clueless civilians.” But instead the writer takes the more shorthand approach and suggests that it’s foolish to even experiment with this branch of knowledge.

    In the book, Hammond was much more of a huckster, and strongly implies his amorality was a major cause. I think the message was “science is a new type of power that needs to be used responsibly, and doesn’t have the inbuilt control of, say, a martial artist”.

    You know what’s wrong with scientific power?… It’s a form of inherited wealth… Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual Guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can’t be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline. Now, what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to his with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won’t use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of the getting the power changes you so that you won’t abuse it.

    But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step… There is no discipline… no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature…

    A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple.

    Hammond: It was simple.

    Malcolm: Then why did it go wrong?”

    Of course, this is also wrong. Your average man can beat a woman to death easily. And your average woman can slip a little rat poison in hubby’s dinner, or light him on fire while he’s sleeping in “self-defense”.

    I’m not making that up.

    Plenty of people who learn deadly martial arts are also abusive jerks. The control that keeps a man or woman from beating their spouse to death may also make their physical abuse extra harmful compared to some rando.

    And old scientists are venerated. Also, ethics are a really, really big deal.

    But maybe we shouldn’t be looking for accurate discussions of morality in airport-rack potboilers and movies thereof.

    1. Coming Second says:

      Yeah the idea that the process of becoming president of a company automatically invests in you self-control in wielding power is similarly extremely dubious.

  21. Mersadeon says:

    I love that you had basically the same opinion about The Old Guard. I think it could be a really fun modern take on Highlander, but you need to either

    1. Have a really fun, over-the-top villain or

    2. Have one that makes sense and behaves like a rational person

    and that villain just is neither of these. Heck, I *literally do not remember what he looks like*. Until I read the pronouns in your sentence, I had forgotten wether it’s a man or woman!

    1. Mersadeon says:

      Also, I always got the feeling that the reason why Alex never even considered doing it all open and honest is because the Yu parents are the real money people, and they will immediately pull the plug on something like that – he felt forced to do it secretly until he can show without the shadow of a doubt that it will make enough money to balance out the lawsuits and inquiries so the older Yus don’t treat him like a medieval fifth child to be shoved off to a tiny German fiefdom to “rule” to be out of the way.

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