Volume 11, Issue 1, April 2014


Shawn H.E. Harmon *


Cite as: S Harmon, “Graphic and Novel: an Arts and Law Project”, (2014) 11:1 SCRIPTed 132 http://script-ed.org/?p=1452


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DOI: 10.2966/scrip.110114.132


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Science has both
encouraged instrumental changes in the way we interact with the natural world,
and facilitated paradigm shifts in how we understand that world and our place
in it. These changes, like science itself, can be accelerated or slowed,
facilitated or hindered, entrenched or reshaped through regulation.[1] The complex
relationship that exists between science, regulation and change means that both
science and regulation are not only appropriate subjects for socio-ethical
consideration, but are only justified when they have been subject to
such consideration. Importantly, that consideration must not be limited to
policy or academic settings, but must include wider publics. Indeed, Susan
Greenfield, former head of the Royal Institution, once suggested that the
engagement of the public in science, and the expression of scientific ideas in
ways that can be understood, is a key scientific challenge.[2] Of course,
the same observation is applicable to law, and, importantly, to law as it
relates to science.  In the Graphic and Novel Project (GNP),[3] we used graphic
speculative fiction (SF) to articulate some of the legal and ethical issues
around the development of the biosciences and their governance, the aim being
to develop a tool that might facilitate legal education and encourage
meaningful social discourses around science and law. In the course of developing
our tool – an illustrated SF novel – we explored the often troubled history of
public engagement around science and its governance and the often ambiguous and
contested relationship that science has with SF.[4]
In this report, I outline the process by which we crafted the Phase I output of
the GNP – a near-future, illustrated SF novel called Fever Medicine
and how such a project might be undertaken differently the next time round. I
conclude by identifying some plans for its use.


Developing the
Illustrated Novel


Of course, one
might at the outset question why we thought it useful to develop an illustrated
novel.  First, it is claimed that the visual aids learning,[5] and this is particularly
so where science is implicated.[6]
Second, it is claimed that graphic narratives can promote traditional literacy
and critical thinking through a rich variety of story-types.[7] Third, it is claimed that
literature generally is a useful and interesting platform for engaging with
publics about socio-ethical issues around innovation.[8] Accepting these claims,
graphic narratives might also be used to promote an appreciation of science and
law and their interrelationship, and to do so for audiences not normally
reached by traditional academic publications. Our ambition within the GNP was
to publish a full colour and visually stimulating, digital and hardcopy SF
story which engaged with a range of contemporary legal and ethical issues
around the life sciences innovation and public health. The following paragraphs
articulate how we achieved that objective.


Fever Medicine
proceeded as an exercise in scenario-building, which drew on multidisciplinary
encounters. The first was a roundtable workshop attended by Edinburgh-based
experts from science, industry, social science, ethics, law, and illustration.
Using an open format, we explored current scientific capabilities, trajectories
and ambitions, technical hurdles to shared ambitions, business models and
industry challenges, ethical concerns, and the role of regulation. The second encounter
was a project-team tour of the new MRC Regenerative Medicine Centre, where we
talked informally with scientists, facility users, and science communication
experts. This visit proved particularly useful to the artists. The insights
gleaned from those events informed our ‘world-building’.


In crafting the
world of Edinburgh 2050, I drew on existing scenario-building scholarship from
the field of synthetic biology.[9]
Consideration was given to driving forces, major uncertainties, and primary
actors. Driving forces are those social and technical phenomena that are in
flux and rapidly advancing as at the time of writing. Such phenomena were used
to help shape the characters’ perspectives and experiences. The driving forces
taken into consideration were:


  • Technology Convergence: DNA sequencing and
    synthesis technologies will advance, and will increasingly integrate with
    information and communication technologies.


  • Popularisation and Commercialisation:
    Bioscientific knowledge will progress and pressure around associated
    commercial activities will increase.


  • Consumption: Energy demands will rise, resources
    will dwindle, and human-generated environmental stress and climate change
    will impact on living arrangements and food security.


  • Growth: Growing and aging populations, combined
    with growing infectious disease threats and sharper divisions between
    haves and have-nots, will create untenable pressures on national health


Major uncertainties
are phenomena of uncertain trajectory at time of writing, and so permit broad
scope for creativity. Some of the uncertainties that I identified and used to
help shape the narrative included the following:


  • the developmental trajectory and
    ultimate capabilities of regenerative medicine;[10]
  • whether regenerative medicine will
    ever fulfil its promise;[11]
  • whether intellectual property law
    will shift and transform approaches to science;
  • whether access to certain
    biotechnologies will become restricted; and
  • whether geopolitical realities will
    realign and dramatically alter security concerns.[12]


The idea of primary
actors refers to who we might anticipate will be first-movers in the world of
2050. In this regard, an arguably conservative approach was adopted with the
result that:


  • national governments were assumed
    to be unevenly subservient to private multinational entities, including
    research institutions;
  • open science researchers would
    become more strident as social inequalities sharpened; and
  • bio-activists and bio-terrorists
    would be relevant.


Of course, the
caveat is that it is near impossible to accurately predict the evolving
preferences of these first-movers; this again then offered scope for


Given the nature of
the output, consideration was also given to the role of graphics. The
text/image interaction in Fever Medicine was shaped by both the time
that the artists could invest and our (in)experience with comic design/layout.
This pushed us toward an ‘illustrated’ rather than a ‘graphic’ novel, though an
illustrated novel with more images than is common for the genre. But in keeping
with the genre, the text preceded the images, specifying the story world and
giving direction to the features and elements of the images. The images, for
their part, were meant to make the story and its characters come to life; by
depicting the world and its people rather than abstract ethical or legal
issues, the images give greater context to the city, the characters, and their
capabilities. And while some of the scientific kit was faithfully depicted, the
imagery is more in the nature of ‘art-science’ than ‘science-art’.[13]


The result is a
magnificently illustrated SF story about illness, ambition, ambivalence,
exclusion, injustice, and reconciliation. Within the context of a richly
rendered postmodern dystopia characterised by darkness, uncertainty, and
morally ambiguous characters, Fever Medicine tries to articulate risks
and highlight conflicting values and expectations, engaging with current
ethico-legal issues such as access to medicines, regulatory burden,
uncertainties around regulatory demands, and the role of commercialisation in
biomedical science, while simultaneously explaining in an accessible manner the
scientific method and the current state of regenerative medicine. Ultimately, Fever
is an exercise in ‘Mode 2’ knowledge production whereby the arts
are not used to transmit science to publics for the purpose of assembling those
publics for the benefit of science, but rather to contextualise science
and to render it more accessible and so more accountable to publics.[14]




Whereas the
development of Fever Medicine was largely internal facing in its
knowledge exchange, it is our hope that it might be used by secondary and
post-secondary educators interested in exploring techno-ethico-legal issues, or
interested stakeholders desiring a tool to assist in their deliberations, or
science communicators in bespoke participative events. In addition to
showcasing the creative talent of the artists, it might challenge ideas and
encourage discussion. To this end, a range of classroom and public uses will be
designed in cooperation with knowledge-exchange practitioners and users, the
ultimate purposes of which are to: expose different cultures to one another in
‘controlled’ engagement environments; encourage the sharing of ideas and the
examination of assumptions; and open up minds and debates around science
trajectories and decisional frameworks. In this respect, the GNP draws
inspiration from a range of art-science experiments.[15] In short, it is a
deliberative tool, aimed at posing and discussing questions, not generating
answers to be offered to publics. It is publics that must come up with
the answers.

* Lecturer in Regulation & Risk,
University of Edinburgh; Deputy Director, J Kenyon Mason Institute for
Medicine, Life Sciences and Law; Research Associate, Innogen Institute; Joint
Editor-in-Chief, Medical Law International.

* Lecturer in Regulation & Risk,
University of Edinburgh; Deputy Director, J Kenyon Mason Institute for
Medicine, Life Sciences and Law; Research Associate, Innogen Institute; Joint
Editor-in-Chief, Medical Law International.

Regulation means that collection of norms, rules and practices that influence
actor behaviour in a given field, and it includes the law and legal
instruments, where applicable.

M Brake & R Thornton, ‘Science Fiction in the Classroom’ (2003) 38 Physics
ucation 31- 34, quoting Greenfield at 34.

Graphic and Novel: Law, Bioethics and Medical Futures: <http://masoninstitute.org/our-research/#G&N>.

For more on this, see S Harmon, ‘Not Foresighting, Not Answering: Using Graphic
Fiction to Interrogate Social and Regulatory Issues in Biomedicine’ in T
Giddens (ed.), Graphic Justice: Intersections of Comics and Law (London:
Routledge, 2014), forthcoming.

G Yang, ‘Graphic Novels in the Classroom’ (2008) 85 Language Arts 185 –

J Trumbo, ‘Visual Literacy and Science Communication’ (2000) 21 Science
unication 379 – 391.

M Mooney, ‘Graphic Novels: How They Can Work in Libraries’ (2002) 21 Book
Report 18; G Schwarz, ‘Graphic Novels for Multiple Literacies’ (2002) 46 Journal
of Adolescent Adult Lit
eracy 262 – 265; L Grossman, ‘Singing A New
Toon’ Time (NY, 25 August 2003) 56; S Krashen, The Power of Reading:
Insights from the Research
(Libraries Unltd 2004).

M Stern, ‘Jurassic Park and the Moveable Feast of Science’ (2004) 13 Science
as Culture
347-372; R Berne, ‘Science Fiction: A Portal to the Ethics of
Nanotechnology’ in L Pin et al (eds), Nanoethics: Examining the Societal
Impact of Nanotechnology
(Wiley 2007) 10.

S Aldrich, J Newcomb and R Carlson, ‘Scenarios for the Future of Synthetic
Biology’ (2008) 4 Industrial Biotech 39.

M Hopkins et al, ‘The Myth of the Biotech Revolution: An Assessment of
Technological, Clinical and Organisational Change’ (2007) 36 Research Policy

L Orsenigo and J Tait, ‘Special Issue on Evolution of the Life Science
Industries’ (2008) 10 International Journal of Biotechnology
(Special Issue) 389-517 at 404.

J Mittra, ‘Life Science Innovation and the Restructuring of the Pharmaceutical
Industry: Merger, Acquisition and Strategic Alliance Behaviour of Large Firms’
(2007) 19 Technology Analysis and Strategic Management
279-301; J Mittra, ‘Impact of the Life Sciences on Organisation and Management
of R&D in Large Pharmaceutical Firms’ (2008) 10 International Journal
of Biotech
nology 416-440.

Science-art it used to increase the accessibility of complex
or technical information, or to give greater depth to the transfer of personal
experiences or observable phenomena.
The art is
expected to reflect or augment reality so that it is more comprehensible. It is
aimed at aiding rather than challenging the audience. Conversely, art-science
is science that subordinates to the art; the primary driver is storytelling,
creativity, or provocation as opposed to the communication of accurate science.
The art need not precisely reflect, and the artist is not constrained by,
current technical realities.

A Barry and G Born, ‘Logics of Interdisciplinarity’ (2008) 37 Economy
20-49; G Born and A Barry, ‘ART-SCIENCE: From Public Understanding
to Public Experiment’ (2010) 3 Journal of Cultural Economy

ACE Program <http://escholarship.ucop.edu/uc/ace>;
Art/Science Fusion Program <http://artsciencefusion.ucdavis.edu/MissionStatement.html>;
ASCUS Art Science Collaborative <http://ascus.org.uk/>;
SymbioticA <http://www.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au/>
all accessed 1 December 2013.

Graphic and Novel: an Arts and Law Project

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