Why we need case studies of research ethics in graphic novel format

Steve Simon


I was asked to provide some justification for a project I am working on, case studies in research ethics using a graphic novel format. Here is what I wrote.

There is a strong need for educational materials about research ethics and research fraud. Many researchers just starting out their careers are only vaguely aware of the situations that they are likely to confront. The saying has been used too much, but it still applies very well “Those who don’t read history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

I want to develop a series of case studies. These studies would be available as PowerPoint presentations that teachers could use in their classrooms, as web pages that researchers could use as self-training, and in a book form that would be an excellent supplementary text for courses on research methodology.

I want to use an unusual format for these case studies: a graphic novel format. The graphic novel format is unfamiliar to many, and the common tendency is to treat them as if they are comic books for children. Graphic novels, however, are targetted at adults. While this is predominantly a format for fiction writing, there are notable exceptions. “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale--My Father Bleeds History” by Art Spiegelman recounted the story of a survivor of the Holocaust. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Another prominent non-fiction writer using the graphic novel format is Larry Gonnick, who has written “The Cartoon Guide to...” in various scientific and historical areas, including chemistry, genetics, physics, and statistics.

The graphic novel format is ideally suited for case studies in research ethics because:

  1. it makes the stories more accessible. A graphic novel format is easy to pick up and read.
  2. it shows the range of human emotion better than text can. The stories involving research ethics issues involves serious suffering: in some stories emotional and in other real physical suffering. Illustrations combined with text can convey this far better than text alone.
  3. the target audience for these case studies, young people starting out their research careers are a demographic group that are already heavy consumers of this type of publishing.

I propose to illustrate an important case study, the TGN-1412 trials, and make it available on my web pages as a PowerPoint presentation and as a series of web pages with questions at the end. The web pages would satisfy an immediate need for more ethics training opportunities for CMH employees. These case studies would add some variety and offer a break from all the traditional didactic lectures that I others currently offer.

More importantly, having a single well-illustrated case study would allow me to seek funding to support work on additional case studies. Having a particular case study in graphic novel format will make it easier to “sell” the idea for additional funding.

If I were able to attract funding for this project, this would be a high visibility example that would enhance Childrens Mercy’s reputation in the research community. The potential audience for this type of work would be huge.

The initial investment to produce a single case study would be fairly minimal, but there is potential to attract funding and produce a valuable product that has high demand and which would greatly enhance the visibility of CMH.

You can find an earlier version of this page on my original website.