Things To Know If Your Character Will Be Augmented Or Experimented Upon
Far, far too many stories and backstories where characters are experimented upon or augmented rely on characters doing things that almost no real person with any sort of sense would do in their positions. So here are some things to know and keep in mind about scientists, the scientific process, and a few other things so you can make your own stories more plausible.
Table of Contents
- There is a big difference between an experiment and a project.
- Strange and unique subjects probably aren't going to be tortured and dissected by scientists.
- Needlessly using human test subjects is usually counterproductive.
- Fewer experiments/procedures that might result in powers or enhanced abilities should be performed on those who are dangerously unstable or violent, or on those who are unwilling.
- More organizations should realize that supersoldiers, augments, etc. probably shouldn’t be abused or be killed after "outliving their usefulness."
- So, in summary...
There is a big difference between an experiment and a project.
To put it simply, an experiment is a test intended to result in new or expanded knowledge about something or to verify a claim or suspicion about the way something works or behaves. It isn't about simply doing something you're not sure about and hoping to get a result you like, but is about trying or testing something and learning from whatever results you get, whether they're the ones you hoped for or not.
In fact, learning and progressing from one's failures and mistakes is a huge part of the scientific process. If an experiment fails to produce a desired result, no reasonably competent scientist is simply going to discard the results or the subject. Instead, the results or subject will be analyzed and studied to figure out where and why the procedure went wrong and what adjustments can be made to make it go right (or at least closer to right) in future attempts.
An example of an experiment would be keeping a subject in a controlled environment so the researchers can observe and measure exactly how the subject is affected or changed by what they're doing or did to the subject. Then, they would use the knowledge they gained through their observations to refine their research and try to see what else they could learn, or if the knowledge turned out to be especially useful or groundbreaking, try to apply it to something else such as another experiment or a potentially marketable product.
If a subject is simply intended to be used as, say, a supersoldier or "perfect weapon" if the procedure ends up creating the desired results (or at the very least results close enough to them), then that's not an experiment - that's a project. Even if those who are carrying out the procedure don't know exactly what will happen when they're done, if they aren't doing it to test a hypothesis or don't plan to take what they've learned and apply it to something else after they're done, then it's not an experiment.
Strange and unique subjects probably aren't going to be tortured and dissected by scientists.
The first thing to remember is that even though individual scientists may be doing research for the simple joy of discovery, whoever gave them the money they're using to pay for or build their equipment is in it for profit. Whether it's government, the company that owns the lab, or a private sponsor, they want to get something back for their money. Maybe they're hoping to find something they can use to create a marketable product, or maybe they're trying to prove something they've always suspected, or maybe they're trying to find a cure or fix for something, but the bottom line is, there's something they want - and they want it in a timely manner. If the actual scientists can't produce results they like or find useful on the budget they've been given (and scientists very often have less than optimal budgets to work with) in the time their sponsors want it, then they risk being out of a job and paycheck when they're fired or when the project gets shut down.
This means that most scientists would be trying to figure out how to get the most results and knowledge for the least amount of time, money, and effort. Going straight to torturing or dissecting a rare or one-of-a-kind alien, superhuman, or supernatural subject is going to be counterproductive in this regard, as it would simply diminish or destroy the potential for future experiments. A dead body can't show you how the subject moves around (such as if it's a humanoid with wings or a fish tail) or how its metabolic processes work, and you can't get an EEG reading off a dead brain. And unlike a common lab rat, a rare or unique specimen cannot easily be replaced if it's dead or too traumatized to function.
As far as getting a look at the subject's insides goes, there are numerous ways to do this that don't involve dissection, including X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, EEG scans, and vein cameras. If your story is set in a world with even more advanced technology than ours or magic that can easily outstrip most of our tech, then it's reasonable to figure that they have even better non-destructive scanning techniques than we do.
One thing that scientists will want to do is get some baseline readings on the subject - IE, what the subject is like biochemically and mentally under normal, unstressed conditions. Pain and fear will cause biochemical reactions that will mess up any attempt to get a reading on those. Today, it's also generally understood that locking a creature into a tiny cage or empty room with no enjoyable stimulation is a great way to mess up a subject - such subjects become depressed, anxious, and even self-destructive, which again is not conducive to giving proper baseline readings or keeping the subject alive and functional for future experiments.
If, for example, it came time to test a fear response, scientists would try to go for something that is unlikely to cause permanent damage. This would mean showing the subject something like a scary movie rather than turning it loose with a dangerous animal (which in itself would be needlessly difficult and expensive to use).
In any case, the simplest and least effort- and money-intensive methods of gaining information tend to be tried first. Yes, you could hook up a bunch of sensors to a mermaid to find out how she gets oxygen both in water and on land... or you could just ask her and she'd probably just tell you - and when she doesn't know or isn't sure, then reach for the expensive scanning equipment.
Needlessly using human test subjects is usually counterproductive.
Animals like mice, rats, and fruit flies are used for good reasons. They're small, so they don't take up much space or eat a whole lot. They mature and breed quickly, so they're easy to replace or use to conduct multi-generational experiments or experiments that require the subject to age through all or part of a lifecycle. On the other hand, humans are none of those things, plus they tend to have much more complicated needs.
Even if your scientists are amoral monsters who just don't care whether they hurt or kill people along the way, they should at least care about getting results. While they might get a kick out of torturing people, it's not going to put food on the table or encourage their sponsors to send them more money.
A common trope in stories involving augments or experimentals has essentially random people kidnapped off the streets by scientists. But in most of these cases it would realistically be a very risky move - when there are people who'd notice if someone went missing (and there are often more people who'd notice and care about a disappearance than most people realize), those people will start doing things like filing missing person reports if they can, which leads to investigations. Furthermore, the more conventionally attractive and "innocent" the victim looks, the more media attention missing person will typically be given. And finally, a string of disappearances will definitely attract attention.
Having the government or some other shady powerful organization sanction kidnappings doesn't really fly for most cases, either - if they're the ones funding the project, then they'll be expecting useful results ASAP. If they aren't getting results fast enough for their liking, they'll definitely be looking in to find why, and when they find out that the lab has been wasting time and money by needlessly using human subjects they won't be amused.
Even making the kidnappers rogue scientists who are independently wealthy has its problems - the scientists would likely spend money faster than they could replenish it, and if they're bribing people to look the other way their money will only be drained even faster. (And bribing is nowhere near as simple as many people imagine.)
One instance where large numbers of unwilling human test subjects can actually occur is when a totalitarian government with little regard for human rights has more prisoners than it otherwise knows what to do with. In these cases, forcing them to undergo cruel and dangerous experiments isn't just a way to further scientific knowledge, but also doubles as a convenient way to ultimately get rid of them. Basically, they are experimented on because they are perceived as disposable and replaceable, not because they're perceived as rare or unique. So if you really want humans to be experimented upon as if they're common lab rats, you first need a government that considers them vermin.
Fewer experiments/procedures that might result in powers or enhanced abilities should be performed on those who are dangerously unstable or violent, or on those who are unwilling.
Because if the procedure actually works like it's supposed to, they're going to be left with someone who is very likely to use those powers or abilities against them, making all of the time and resources they poured into the project a colossal waste. It's better to have a hundred normal soldiers who will follow orders 99% of the time than it is to have one supersoldier who will follow orders 80% of the time and spend the remaining 20% trashing your own assets. And of course, a supersoldier who might immediately use those new powers to destroy you and your work, or immediately runs away to join the enemy, or is even just a general pain in the ass to keep under control, is the last thing you want.
More organizations should realize that supersoldiers, augments, etc. probably shouldn’t be abused or be killed after "outliving their usefulness."
Mistreating or abusing one's augmented assassins or supersoldiers would be the worst and ultimately most self-destructive thing an organization could do. It would give the augmented individuals pretty strong motivation for defecting and joining up with the enemy, which would mean that the side who created them would have nothing for all of the hard work they put into the project while the enemy had the fruits of their labor for free.
And while we're here, organizations would be shooting themselves in the foot by making deadly or sadistic exercises part of the augments' training program. The point of any training isn't to weed out the weak so that only best make it or the strongest survive, but to teach them how to be as good at what they're supposed to do as possible - and they can't learn if they're dead or too traumatized to function.
Also, using potentially-deadly combat encounters in the hopes it will whittle your trainees down to the best of the class is no guarantee you'll actually end up with the best: it could simply leave you with the ones that kept their heads down when the others were getting killed, the ones that knew when to run and hide, or the ones that simply got lucky.
As the U.S Navy’s experience with Operation Rolling Thunder (which lead to the creation of the famous Navy Fighter Weapons School during the Vietnam War) has shown, having instructors that can teach students to analyze their mistakes and learn to fight smarter, rather than harder produces far better results (at significantly less cost) than simply throwing one's pilots or soldiers into combat figuring they’ll either sink or swim and expecting the best of the bunch to come out.
Even those who flunk out out can be useful in other ways: as regular rank-and-file soldiers, advisors, consultants, experts, or training assistants for other candidates that are more up to expectations. Putting them onto other work keeps them useful without wasting all of the time and money that was poured into them - for example, someone with a supersoldier's stamina could still be useful getting anything that required a lot of legwork done, and someone with enhanced strength could be useful loading and unloading cargo.
Making a policy of destroying supersoldiers or augments who have "outlived their usefulness" because the crisis they were created to face has been resolved is a pretty bad move, too. For one thing, it gives them a pretty strong motivation to defect. For another, there are most likely any number of jobs and tasks they could be assigned to until a serious problem cropped up again, and it'd be easier to have them on hand than create all-new ones. Finally, people might be pretty interested to know what the long-term effects of augmentation are, and just one or even a few isn't going to give you a large enough pool to draw any meaningful data from.
So, in summary...
- There's a difference between an experiment and a project; the terms are not interchangeable. Experiments are tests. A project uses data collected from those tests to create the desired product.
- Torturing and dissecting a subject isn't generally worth it because you're going to end up destroying or damaging your subject beyond use.
- Needlessly using humans is usually counterproductive for many, many reasons; fewer characters should be using human subjects just for the heck of it or get away with using human subjects for the heck of it.
- Using unstable, violent, or unwilling subjects for experiments or procedures likely to grant enhanced abilities or powers is a bad idea, because it's likely to cause a lot of trouble that could have been very easily avoided.
- Abusing your subjects or augments is also a great way to motivate them to turn against you. Even if your scientists and doctors are amoral monsters, they should at least care about producing results that are useful to the people paying them to do the research, or if they don't and only care about satisfying some sadistic curiosity or other, they should end up fired or even imprisoned when investigations show that they are behaving unprofessionally.
Also, check these out:
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