Thursday, 28 June 2012

Marvelous Scientists!

I stumbled upon this list today which compiles all of the scientists that have featured in the Marvel Universe. I have to agree that Marvel comics has a pretty favourable view of scientists and celebrates them. Pretty much all of their major characters are scientists; Mr Fantastic (that super smart PI), Iron Man (sell-out to industry), The Hulk (postdoc too many) and Spider-man (who is probably the most student/young postdoc- relatable). It's nice that they have this as part of what makes them a hero too and in many cases it's their science that gets them out of trouble (although it's always good to throw a few punches in there too).
In the field of Genetics we also have a lot of experts, most of which reside on the X-men side of the Marvel universe (go figure). These include the Beast, Moira MacTaggart, Professor Xavier (although i think he's more a Dawkins-style spokesman than at-the-bench-researcher - I bet he sticks his name on the end of all of "the Beast's" papers though) and the somewhat-sinister Mr Sinister (who doesn't use the title Dr but there's a good chance his thesis was never formally approved).

To be fair there are also a hell of a lot of evil scientists kicking around in the marvel universe as well; Dr Octopus, Dr Doom, the Lizard and Norman Osborn are obvious candidates. I guess the villainous ones are a bit more egomaniacal as well as they a tendency to insist on displaying their doctorate in their codename (the heroes are far more modest). It suggests I'd be more likely to be evil in that sense.

There is one big difference between Marvel Scientists and real scientists though and that's health and safety. Honestly, there's a reason we don't have the Hulk, Spider-man or the Green Goblin running around our world and that's thanks to the vigilance of health and safety officers. A radioactive (or genetically modified if you roll with Marvel's film/ultimate universe) spider would have been under several levels of containment and no way would a bunch of school-kids be allowed anywhere near it. Radioactive safety is so tight that the only way Bruce Banner would have become unlikeable-when-angry is when some inconsiderate cretin colleague decides to smear the hot lab in radiation and not bother cleaning it up (which funnily enough does bring out hulk-like qualities in me when I discover the culprit).

I've also never considered testing something on myself to "speed up" my research although this tends to be the case in marvel comics - especially the villains. I guess this could be a metaphor for what happens when you try and cut corners in science and make up results - you become a monster (or successful). I'd probably be more tempted to test things on myself if I thought I was going to get cool powers as opposed to an acute allergic reaction or cancer.

Another difference is that Marvel Scientists appear to be far better funded than any of the researchers I know. With the exception of Spider-man (who's only a part-time scientist) most of these guys seem to have labs and lifestyles that would make a Wellcome Trust/ Rockefeller grant holder jealous. They appear to be able to work on whatever they like and live in huge mansions/skyscrapers. Maybe the trick is to make grant proposals that can lead to super powers/incredibly dangerous scenarios?

It does make me wonder though. I've been watching/reading Marvel comic characters since the age of 11. I was mainly an X-men fanatic with a bit of Spidey on the side. What came first though, my love of genetics or my love of  the X-men? Without knowing, has my career been guided by some subliminal hope that I'd turn myself into a super-powered crime-fighter (or possibly villain)? Maybe I'm still planning on creating an army of genetically enhanced super-flies to do my bidding (steeples his hands together and laughs maniacally). Maybe I thought I'd have a better chance of writing X-Men comics if I marketed myself as having 10 years experience as a biologist (you have to have an angle these days!)?

Whatever the answer is, I applaud Marvel's creators for continuing to embrace science as a fun and adventurous thing with positive role models.

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