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We've had a few questions where answers state, to a lesser or greater degree, "humans would investigate this ability to figure out how it works" in another creature with abilities not readily scientifically explainable and in-universe explained by magic - for example here and here.

For the purposes of this question, on one side we basically have humans as we know them, on a planet very much similar to Earth (not necessarily humans on Earth, but it could be) and at a technology level similar (but not necessarily identical in every respect) to our own present-day level; and on the other we have creatures that:

  • are sapient, intelligent, biological creatures
  • are predatory, though not necessarily (and most often not) of humans
  • are essentially wilderness-dwelling with minimal to no interaction with humans, and while the odd exceptional individual exists, for their part are generally happy to remain that way
  • rarely (but sometimes) encounter humans, mostly humans who voluntarily venture into said wilderness
  • have little (think perhaps medieval level at most) to no technology, and generally see no need for technology, though they have command of fire; some trade with humans their services for some items of non-electrical technology, while some shun all forms of contact with humans and human technology
  • tend to live in extended family groups, normally made up of anywhere between just a mating pair and a few mating pairs plus their offspring of varying age
  • are voluntary shapeshifters, with one animal-like1 and one human-like form, though the human-like form is distinctive enough that they cannot pass as "humans" except possibly in a tiny number of cases. How they evolved this capability is beside the point of this question (for the purposes of this question, just assume they've always been around and always had this capability).

The creatures in question are intelligent and communicable enough to be able to choose representatives to speak for them as a species, perhaps in the United Nations general assembly or a similar forum, and negotiate with humans. They are also good enough hunters and fighters that for one of most of them to kill one of most of (unarmed) humans is trivial to easy, and few other species of animal pose much of a problem to one or more determined hunter(s) among them. Both of these capabilities are for the most part independent of the current form of the individual; when shapeshifting, they remain the same individual (personality, memories, experiences, physical size, most physical abilities, etc.) but take on a different physical form. These abilities make them great hunting or guarding companions for humans, when they are willing to offer their services to humans. Humans recognize these abilities in them, though few have actually encountered one of these creatures in either form; think perhaps like penguins in the wild and humans.

I want these creatures to (more or less) peacefully coexist with humans, the humans generally accepting that the creatures want to be left to live their own lives, without the humans trying to analyze them apart or restricting them to fenced-in zoos. (The creatures could, however, use their ability to negotiate to enter some sort of worldwide truce including some land, something like one or a few country/countries of their own.)

Without straining suspension of disbelief too much, how can I explain that humans would be leaving such creatures more or less alone, rather than trying to capture them and try to figure out how the shapeshifting works, or trying to simply use them for their own gain?

1. I know that technically humans are animals, even though most humans do not consider themselves to be animals.

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    $\begingroup$ Name one thing currently on earth that humans have decided they do not want to investigate. As a species, we want to know everything about everything. You'd have better luck asking what motivators would deter humans from investigating they want to investigate. $\endgroup$ – ShemSeger May 28 '15 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ Something people often disregard when dealing with other intelligent species: What makes it that we are the ones putting them in zoos, not the other way around? Mutual attempted exploitation could cancel out. I'm picturing each species trying to build a single fence to enclose the other, but they can't curve it inward so they just keep building straight out. $\endgroup$ – evankh May 28 '15 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ @knave That's their general desire to maintain the situation of minimal or no contact with humans. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 28 '15 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ What about giving the creatures sufficient ability to resist capture (with ill effects for the would-be captors proportional to the aggressiveness of the attempt) that people realize that attempting to capture the creatures is a bad idea? There need not be anything preventing attempts at passive analysis; indeed, having such attempts yield some limited measure of apparent or genuine success might add interest to the story. $\endgroup$ – supercat May 28 '15 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Wrap it up in a religion and impose harsh restrictions on 'heresy'. Worked for centuries. $\endgroup$ – Dancrumb May 28 '15 at 19:18

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It's just not realistic for a human-like species to not investigate something like this.

Curiosity is, in many ways, a required trait or byproduct of intelligence. It's needed to explore, learn and push the bounds of knowledge. People study and examine everything they can lay their hands on. Another species that shows intelligence (even disregarding what we perceive as supernatural abilities) is just too tempting of a subject for people to leave alone.

Of course, this would be a divided issue. There would be pro-creatures-rights groups and pro-human groups (advocating for the advancement of the human species through further understanding of these creatures). In today's society, I can imagine the popular opinion being for creature-rights, while the behind the scenes story is secret installations filled with creature test subjects. Even the laws and tabooness suggested in other answers would be violated, perhaps not publicly, but it would happen.

In the end, humans are just not advanced/peaceful/mature enough as a society to respect the rights of another species.

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    $\begingroup$ It's absolutely realistic for a human-like species to not investigate something like this, if everyone who tried to investigate wound up mysteriously dead, or if the species promised if we dug too deep, they'd blow up our planet (and it looked like they could make good)... curiosity is an extremely powerful emotion, but so is fear. For that matter, so is greed. $\endgroup$ – neminem May 27 '15 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ Can you give an example of something today that people don't investigate because of fear? I mean, we make weapons of mass destruction. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse May 27 '15 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ We do, but what are we afraid of there? I would argue we make weapons of mass destruction out of fear. We're the ones saying, "we have these nukes, so if you launch nukes we will too". Nobody is saying "stop researching nukes or we'll kill you"; if anything, the opposite. If aliens dropped by and said that, and it looked like they were serious, I imagine we'd see a lot less nuke research. $\endgroup$ – neminem May 27 '15 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ @neminem The fear argument works both ways. We'd be researching them because we're afraid of them. If humans are afraid of something that much, they're not just going to give up and leave it alone. They investigate, probe for weaknesses. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse May 28 '15 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'd go one step further: It is just not realistic for a human like species to not investigate everything. No matter the perceived or actual danger, no matter the difficulty or even the possibility, or even the very existance. $\endgroup$ – Thaylon May 28 '15 at 14:50
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This is similar to PipperChip's "compact" answer - I'd recommend a formalized treaty.

The creatures agree that, in the absence of a treaty-breaking event, they will obey human laws when interacting with other humans - so no murder, eating, stealing, etc. Treaty-breaking events would be something like:

  1. Breaking a human law against a creature.
  2. Studying a creature.

Humans who break the treaty are now under creature law, and will be hunted/killed.

Governments who break the treaty will be penalized. The exact penalties will depend on your story setup, and could range from a simple boycott, to sanctions from other signature governments, to outright guerrilla warfare.

Presumably the treaty would also be symmetrical, so a rogue creature would be hunted by their own and handed over for human justice (if possible).

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  • $\begingroup$ Say an offspring of the creatures goes missing suddenly. This may happen without the humans having done anything - but in this case a government has captured it. As the government takes time to study it, maybe the creatures find that someone (from this government's society) captured it! The government claims no involvement and "helps" the creatures catch whoever would have done this terrible thing. In the end they only find the offspring, dead - and no information about who had done it. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble May 28 '15 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble Maybe the creatures would then established their branch of CSI and would then investigate the cause of the offspring's death? Those messy humans' fingerprints are bound to show up somewhere... $\endgroup$ – John Odom May 28 '15 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ It's perfectly easy and realistic to prevent most humans from studying the creatures and most of the creatures from being studied at all using a setup like this. It's actually quite difficult to prevent all of the creatures from being studied by any human, though. There are a lot of humans and, presumably, quite a few of the creatures too. And there's a decent chance that some tiny fraction of the creatures that would consent to being studied, which just makes the whole thing more difficult and complicated. $\endgroup$ – Saidoro May 28 '15 at 19:06
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Some simple methods to prevent inhumane study:

  • It's taboo. The human's culture and/or religion is such that these creatures simply ought not to be studied as we would other critters. Research which studies this ability is shunned, not used, as it is unethical/taboo.
  • It's too dangerous. These things can control fire, and while they do not generally eat humans, there is no telling what harm may come to you as you attempt to study them. Alternatively, the danger could come from the environment these creatures live in. (Such as a malaria-like disease, or some man-eating beast.)
  • There is a compact forbidding this. (Similar to a taboo, but with more "oopf".) These creatures respectfully request that humans do not treat them as animals, and humans actually do this. People who do not have forfeited their lives; the creature in question know that it's okay to fight back violently against people who would treat them as animals. Decent folk help any such creature who is treated as an animal. It would be akin to some international body bestowing "human rights" to these creatures.
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm... good ideas. I really like the idea of a compact as you explain it. It goes well in line too with these creatures being intelligent enough to actually negotiate with humans. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 27 '15 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ Researching the human anatomy used to be taboo but look where we are now. $\endgroup$ – Nit May 27 '15 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Nit OP never asked for this reason to withstand the test of time, just a good reason not to. There are still subjects, areas of research, and methods which are anathema. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip May 27 '15 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ Considering that the creatures apparently share the planet with the human-likes, any compact would have to stand the test of time (or it already has), since the human-likes are in the present day. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse May 28 '15 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ I really dont think, that a 'taboo' would work globally, and in modern circumstances. And there is huge profit to gain if you can figure out how some of their abilities work. $\endgroup$ – openend May 28 '15 at 11:57
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Keep the power mysterious.

Public demonstrations or otherwise broadcasting that these creatures can do this seemingly magical thing will only incite hunger for a scientific explanation. As I said in a loosely related question, you're not going to get people to simple not study something that's clearly worth studying.

However, if the subject has an air of mystery around it (even quackery) then it's far less likely to be examined by mainstream science. This is especially effective if the mystery is done with exaggerated drama.

For example, the very best magic tricks are the ones that attempt to clearly demonstrate you're not being fooled. Those tricks done in an open area with clear line of sight make people go "ok, whaaat? how did they do that?". While a trick done with lots of smoke around and quick motions allow people a lot of options for saying "meh, it's just a trick, I bet they did it like [any number of plausible explanations]".

The closest example in our world might be the religions of remote tribes of humans. They might have grand claims made about healing powers or divine communication, but we don't investigate them because there isn't any demonstration of these powers.

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  • $\begingroup$ The shapeshifting alone could maybe be kept mysterious, but their ability to speak and negotiate with humans? People would flip if we found an animal that wanted to negotiate with us, even if it didn't have shapeshifting abilities, we'd want to study it. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse May 27 '15 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Byte56 Note that the negotiations would not necessarily need to be done in spoken form. For example, you could have a sufficiently intelligent animal use a stick to type at a computer keyboard to type out messages. That would also not require showing off the shapeshifting capability. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 27 '15 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Same deal. While he did speak, Alex showed slightly more intelligence in the way of communication than other parrots like him. This made him considerably more interesting and worth additional study. Same situation with other animals people have taught some form of communication to (mostly sign language with primates). Any other species that's able to communicate with humans, in whatever form, above a certain level of intelligence, would draw the same interest from humans. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse May 27 '15 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Byte56 I didn't mean to dispute your point; apologies if my comment came across that way. I simply meant that in order to do these negotiations, they wouldn't necessarily need to show off their ability (if they have it) to actually speak in a human language. They would be showing off their intelligence, but notice that I wrote in the question that humans already recognize several relevant abilities in these creatures including the ability to communicate with humans, so that wouldn't come as any major surprise to the humans involved. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 27 '15 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ No offense taken. I'm just saying that you should consider more than just their shape shifting ability as something humans would want to investigate further. Intelligence, as far as we know, is rare in the universe and certainly worthy of investigation. Even in a universe where only two species have it, it's rare and worth further study. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse May 27 '15 at 21:52
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The first thing to accept is that the human race does not have a single mind. The criteria that helps someone decide not to research these alternate humans will cause someone else to. In other words, there will always be people that want to study them, but there are some countermeasures.

It's inhumane

As a front-line defense, make sure they have similar biology. Very similar. So similar that any attempt to study them would turn up results exactly the same as any human. In this light, media (and social media) would begin to take over. While this is merely a superficial solution, it will at least halt large scale, public research and overall reduce funding towards like studies.

It's illegal

Something atrocious happened half a century ago involving horrible experiments on the species. Over the following years, laws were put in place making the suggestion of trying to understand them highly sensitive. Once it's tied up in politics and made controversial, a great amount of support will be needed to change the status quo.

It's complex

Just make their various abilities too difficult too understand. Maybe the details span with information several orders of magnitude larger. Maybe some as of yet undiscovered scientific principle gets in the way of recording data. Something physically prevents them from grasping their nature.

Or maybe passive telepathy bores all the researchers to death.

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I would go with a Symbiotic relationship

Somehow, humans need those creature for life to go on peacefully. (For example the creatures protect them from certain kind of illness or danger or create resources that are impossible to get otherwise) And the same the creatures are also gaining from doing trade with the humans (a source of food, security etc) and to unbalance that relationship could mean the destruction of one, or both of the race. Or at least horrible consequences.

If the relationship has existed for a very long time (maybe even from before written history) then their relationship is sealed in their instinct... While they might study each other "respectfully" (like developing medicine to help one an other) they wouldn't go so far as disrespecting one another.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem that I can see with the concept of a symbiotic relationship between the species is the fact that these creatures are generally happy to simply avoid contact with humans. It's not necessarily a showstopper, but it would seem to make it significantly less likely for a symbiotic relationship to evolve. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 28 '15 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ Well... it can be a symbiosis that was more important in the past (before technology) but is still essential today (think of our relationship with plants... we need them to create oxygen or we will all die.) They could be "shadow eater" (whatever it would mean) where they feed off some scary and destructive thing. They usually hunt them outside of human settlement but if some shadow are too active in human settlement it does happen that they slip in and hunt them before leaving again. $\endgroup$ – Ryphna May 28 '15 at 21:05
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One option not considered by the other answers already is that perhaps it has already been investigated and fully understood.

You either want to avoid humans catching and subjecting these creatures to experiments; or you want to avoid polluting your human culture with shapeshifting tech, right?

So if the creatures were happy in the past to work with humans to investigate this, and the answer is now completely understood... and yet utterly useless to humans... (requires a circulatory system with toxic unobtainium in it; is impossible to creatures that live time in the boring "forwards" direction, etc)

...then perhaps this can sidestep the issue completely?

With nothing to gain, and your creatures' ability to negotiate for sentient rights, it seems like the "softer" laws that wouldn't deter radicals if the mystery still existed might just be enough to prevent any interference at all when there's no mystery.

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Whether this is possible or not, under reasonable suspension of belief, depends exactly on what we are trying to accomplish.

  1. If the main goal is to prevent humans exploiting and capturing the shifters and putting them in zoos, then it's absolutely possible, and I would even say that this ultimately being taboo and/or outlawed is actually the natural end result.

Right now we have--in most modern countries--some pretty strict rules about what humans are allowed to do to other humans. Whether this applies to "humans only" or "intelligent life" is hard to say, since they're mostly the same thing (as far as we've discovered so far). It is not a stretch to imagine that (after some "awkward" first encounters) humans would decide to extend protections afforded humans to another intelligent life form.

The possible problem with this scenario is that there are many ways to research the shifters that are not so aggressive or objectionable. Which leads to...

  1. If the main goal is to let these two species peacefully co-exist indefinitely and also have the humans not research what makes the shifting work, that just doesn't seem realistic under any circumstance I can imagine.

Some considerations:

How do you even guarantee that the shifters don't want to be researched?

As an intelligent species, it seems unavoidable that some of them will eventually figure out that it's a pretty agreeable trade to give some scientist cut hair and old toenails for DNA sequencing in exchange for tractors, bags of rice, iPhones, or whatever they happen to think is awesome.

Assuming the shifters are more populous than "a few thousand on that island over there," it's unreasonable to assume that all of their family groups will even have the same traditions.

Researching the shifters could be outlawed by treaty/convention.

Researching them in any way? You want to get every single nation on Earth to agree to a ban on this research--research would could have revolutionary benefits for humans--even the nations that have existing questionable practices towards fellow humans? I don't think so. Not even remotely possible unless "humans" have advanced into some Star Trek-esque post scarcity utopia.

Researching could be taboo

I'd be hard pressed to come up with a single thing--anything--that is taboo among all existing cultures on Earth. Things like "murder" are good candidates, but even then you have countries with capital punishment.

It's extremely dangerous

Just no. From sailing across oceans that may or may not have an end, to traveling to space, to spelunking, to intentionally dangerous extreme sports, humans have proven time and time again that personal danger is not enough to stop them.

The abilities are mysterious

This one has some merit to it, but it's still not universal. It does require bending the original rules (less like penguins and more like ghosts--where some humans claim to have seen it, but no one has ever gotten a photo or other proof, despite trying). But even if we go down this route, there are still people in the real world that go ghost hunting and bigfoot hunting. This also presumes some force that prevents people from getting video of this happening.

Since you've read this far, I'll offer a final suggestion:

  1. Perhaps research (the peaceful, voluntary kind) is going on, but humans simply can't figure out what it is. Maybe it is actually magic, who knows? But for whatever reason, humans are running DNA samples and blood tests and whatever else they can think of, but there's just no explanation. They were even able to pay one shifter a year's supply of ice cream bars in exchange to shift for them inside an MRI machine. They saw it happen and it still doesn't make any sense. It just happens. (This is basically saying "it's magic" even if it's not really magic, but that may or may not be too hand-wavey for your scenario.)

After perhaps a few decades of this, persistent researchers will keep researching indefinitely, but funding will dry up to a trickle when the companies originally funding it run out of money and/or attention span.

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Make the nearby people too busy to care.

This works very well for real life. Why don't many people vote, get regular health check-ups, make it to school meetings, etc.? They're too busy to care.

So, come up with some feasible hardships for nearby humans to be busy with. It's a difficult area to farm; it's a harsh environment; it's a middle ground between two constantly-clashing nations or clans; other nearby enemies occupy the people's attention.

Set up your environment correctly, and human nature will do the rest.

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The werewolves in the new World of Darkness (RPG by OnyxPath née WhiteWolf) cause an effect called Lunacy. This is where humans all rationalise what they see as large dogs (when in near-wolf forms), or feats of strength as people on drugs etc.

This might strain belief too far for you, but it is a well explored concept in nWoD and as it's been integrated into the world, it doesn't strain it too hard.

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Cthulhu

The only way I can imagine that humans would not want to investigate this sort of thing (without changing humanity significantly) would be to have a significant dissuasion. Dissuasion that impacts the investigators (since human nature is selfish in general).

Consider if investigators of the ability are visited by Cthulhu. They are driven insane or catatonic. The ability itself doesn't seem to cause it - sometimes family members or random nearby people are impacted too - people that had no interaction with the ability.

That wouldn't stop the investigation immediately, but after a few decades it would effectively drive the majority of people to not investigate it. Every so often it would resurface as people forget the insanity or write it off as supersitition, but then Cthulhu wins again.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd rather think that would lead to burning woods and the extinction of the less technological species - in a malleus maleficarum manner. After all sour milk was enough reason for some humans to kill their own kind. $\endgroup$ – Thaylon May 28 '15 at 14:30
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A historical conflict that got resolved.

We've seen this play out in our own history.

  • US vs. England during the revolution
  • US vs. Russia in the Cold War
  • Britain colonizing India but then slowly losing control because of peaceful resistance

There's a wealth of real world historical events you could pattern the conflict after, that gives you more or less the desired relationship between one society and another.

By having a conflict like this, you show that the species is capable of matching humans. This definitively proves that humans can't simply walk in and take over; some of them already tried and failed. The fact it's a historical event easily explains why they weren't completely outmatched by technological superiority, and it establishes a believable groundwork for any kind of treaty or diplomacy. Whatever agreement was established at the end has just held on because no force has decided to challenge it. (Maybe for some reason it simply isn't in anyone's interest to do so yet.) After many years in this situation, the creatures are basically an established nation. This is completely normal in our everyday world. Maybe around a century or two ago would be perfectly reasonable.

This also makes for good story telling and themes. It plays nicely into a "nature vs. technology" theme, if you make it a military conflict where they nearly won or fought to a standstill. (Are they still a match now that humans have advanced?) It gives you a great set up for classic drama between characters in both groups; there's a natural reason for enmity between them while still allowing for good relations as well.

This wouldn't necessarily prevent clandestine attempts to capture and study the race, but it would be enough to prevent it on any kind of grand scale. Those clandestine attempts at research could be a driver of your story's central conflict, if you choose, or you could simply ignore them as unknown to your characters and irrelevant to your story. There would also be attempts to study it using humane means with the consent of participating creatures; the creatures can just refuse wholesale then.

The bottom line, I think, is that it simply isn't believable that humans don't want to study the creatures or their ability. Instead, give humans a reason to think that just isn't going to work on a large scale. Come up with a reason that it makes more sense for humans to make peace with them, or at least it did at one time.

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Well, one solution would be to make the alien species be extremely dangerous to dissect. Maybe their blood turns highly volatile explosive/radioactive when released from their bodies, making each and every one of them essentially a dirty bomb if dissected? That would surely dissuade further research. Being shapeshifters, and thus having quite some measure of control over their bodies, it doesn't seem too far of a stretch to say that their blood might be some unknown unstable compound.

As an added bonus, this would mean that they couldn't just shoot a few to autopsy either, because there wouldn't be anything left of the body.

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Obscurity

If these shapeshifters are sharing a planet with what is essentially modern day human civilization, yet live mostly in primitive hunter-gatherer groups, then by necessity these people are rare. In real life hunter gatherers only exist in certain remote places in central Africa, in tropical forests, and isolated islands. There is very little wilderness capable of sustaining hunter-gatherers left in the world, unfortunately.

If these people look essentially human but can take on the form of animals, it would be plausible that these fantastical claims would simply be dismissed by modern science - Especially if these people are a rare and reclusive kind. You'd have some people who would have visited them and witnessed their abilities, but they would be dismissed as quacks. After all, there are a lot of absurd claims made by people in modern-day real life - UFO abductions, Homeopathy, and so on.

This would be even more plausible if these people were careful and secretive, and rarely displayed their powers to outsiders. If they're sapient, they could realize that drawing such attention to them would likely be the end of them, or at least their current way of life.

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For a long time it was taboo for humans to open up and look inside corpses in many societies, so some early anatomical scientists faced serious opposition, but eventually science won over.

If human society is a bit backward and superstitious they might not want to autopsy or experiment on these creatures for cultural reasons, but if it's anything like modern society there will always be folks who'd want to do it even if it is illegal or socially unacceptable (they'll just try to do it secretly).

The best approach would be to not let humans know they have shape-shifting, and if possible arrange for humans to encounter some creature corpses that seem unremarkable when opened, that way humans will satisfy basic curiosity, figure they are a fairly smart monkey or something and mostly leave them alone as per a treaty of some sort.

If you want to be a bit more sneaky, they can deliberately spread crazy rumors about themselves, which would then be debunked, to make anyone who wants to investigate the creatures' supposed magic look stupid

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Nothing

We already have hordes of people right here right now, in real life, who believe in supernatural abilities, and make no attempt to critically analyse how these powers work.

If they did, they'd realise it's all nonsense, instead they spend billions on quack remedies, quick fixes, rituals and other supernatural things that can and do cause bodily harm. There are entire religions and societies based around such beliefs

We also have significant precedents in history. For centuries civilisations had mechanical automata to impress and perform rituals for show, but the technology was unknown to Europeans. Those in Europe labeled these 'Praeternatural', beyond nature, there are numerous accounts of journeys to foreign lands with magical automata, and priests destroying automata believing them possessed of demons. Eventually the technology spread to Europe and was improved upon

I shall demonstrate this in the comments of this answer by listing examples of nonsensical, dangerous, unsupported, supernatural abilities:

Reiki, Astrology, Horoscopes, Chi, Herbal medicine, Homeopathy, Guardian Angels, Scientology, Astral projection, Ghosts, Mediums, Healing Crystals, Ionic foot baths, Manuka Honey, Detox juices, Prayer healing, Superfoods, Seances, Remote viewing, Water divining, Surviving only on light and air, being able to see inside other peoples bodies, clairvoyance, Aura sensing, Empathic telepathy, Literal photographic memory, Weather control, amongst others

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    $\begingroup$ All of those things have been researched by somebody, or you wouldn't be so sure that they're "nonsense". $\endgroup$ – DCShannon May 28 '15 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for sharing with us your sense of mission. I am a bit surprised that your critical analysis missed that the Greek Heron of Alexandria invented mechanical devices and that the Antikythera mechanism were made by Europeans, but I am quite confident that you researched all other abilities to the fullest extent available before making up your mind. $\endgroup$ – Thorsten S. May 28 '15 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, all europeans who were born and lived after those items were invented were completely aware of them and all their inner workings, it's not as if they were unknown until they were found at the bottom of the ocean recently by divers $\endgroup$ – Tom J Nowell May 31 '15 at 13:07
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You mean how the humans who now ended on the home planet as explorers in a generation spacecraft stop asking questions ? After the curiosity of the scientists destroyed the Earth ?

Finally scientists played too loose and grey goo (self-replicating nano machines eating up all resources) was created and could not be destroyed. While the grey goo marched on and on, there was only very little time to build a spacecraft. After the people experienced the destruction of their home and many, many deaths, they were extremely traumatized and not quite open for a rational discourse. After the scientists completed the task, the people rounded the scientists up, draw a lot, the winners were bound and were forced to witness what the rest population did with the others (Hint: It was disturbing). The scientists were reminded what will happen to them if they ever,ever try to start this shit with discovery, exploration and "If we don't do it, another one will" again. So the humans are very grateful to have a home again and the scientists are outcasts, extremely fearful to cross the line.

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I don't think that there is anything you could to to an intelligent, human-like lifeform to stop them from investigating.

Others have already described several ways of preventing it in general, but if you look at some of the things some individuals have done (think nazi doctors, if you want extremes), it should be fairly clear that there is no conceivable way to make sure not a single human(oid) would ever try it.

Even the dangers some described would not prevent it. Getting visited by chthulu? Come on, i don't believe these myths, i will investigate any way. They are fighting back? And hard? Well, get me more guards, and by the way i need more funding, and then we're good to go. It's inhumane? Oh come on, but the knowledge we'd gain!

These creatures are wilfully shapeshifting. That means they must gain some advantage from that. There is no way that not a single person, ever, will try to gain the same advantage.

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Similar to Tom J Nowell's answer, I don't think you'd have to do much at all to discourage everyday people from wanting to dissect these creatures.

You could look at Terry Pratchett's Discworld series where (admittedly mostly played for comedic effect) the average citizen just does not care about anything that doesn't affect their day to day lives.

By and large, the people wouldn't really care. There are Octopus species we've found that can already change shape and colour to look almost identical to anything they might want to hide themselves against, and apart from a small (relative to global population) group of curious people nobody really cares how they do it.

If these Octopuses were also intelligent enough to speak to us, dangerous enough to kill us without much hassle, hard to find unless you were willing to go really far out to find them and had told us not to bother them or we'd be killed... we would probably still think they were magic.

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Make the ability boring.

We thought we understood how bumblebees flew for years. We knew about airfoils and Bernoulli's principle so clearly all birds and flying machines adhered to such principles.

Then in 2001 some researchers finally did some experiments and determined how Bumblebees flew. Bees do not create lift, instead they create pockets of low pressure above themselves and are sucked upwards. So they have no need for conventional lifting surfaces that planes and birds have.

If these shapeshifters are as boring as bumblebees then no one meaningful will care enough to look. Those who do look will be underfunded, unqualified and unheard if they do find answers.

This demands another question: How do you make shapeshifters boring?

Perhaps we understand something similar. Humans might have access to some shapeshifting tech/magic that works on entirely different principles that confuses the issue. If this has different limitation and capacities then eventually it will raise questions, but that is a problem for tomorrow.

Perhaps we understand them incorrectly. Perhaps a few shapeshifters allowed themselves to be studied and the the researchers found some things that made the shape shifting impractical to apply to real problems because it was misunderstood. Plenty technologies go unused for years because investors assumed it would be impractical, then when one little assumption is fixed it becomes practical and we realized we could have had it all along. Look at Telsa and their cars, we probably could have had them 10 years earlier. Any car company could have invested in batteries but it took an outsider to do away with cognitive biases to actually invest in battery tech the cars required.

Perhaps understanding is too everyday. People rarely ask how a spider knows how to spin webs. In principle we know they evolved the ability and we know how they make silk (I mean we transferred those genes to goats), but how does an orb weaver know where and how to build a large circle in a safe area? Their eyes are crap and they often cannot even see the full area they build webs in. Their brains are tiny and perhaps not even worth calling a brain. Yet they still make complex structures repeatably and reliably near tons of people any of whom could start researching if it weren't so everyday and boring. This wasn't studied until the 70s and we still don't have strong answers other documenting some of the processes the spider display, we still don't know a lot, like how they are smart enough to choose locations or why web decorations convergently evolved 9 times. Despite not undestanding so much about these things we walk right past them in our garden everyday.

If the shapeshifters are boring they will go uninvestigated because no one can be bother to care.

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  • $\begingroup$ Tesla wasn't first in introducing even a modern electric car; they might however have been first in introducing one that got widespread attention for being electric. The Tesla S (introduced 2012) uses lithium-ion / nickel-cobalt-aluminum cathode (LiNiCoAlO_2) battery packs; this chemistry was introduced in 1999, and there were earlier electrical cars using (quite likely) different battery chemistries. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 31 '16 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling That is very close to my point. We could have done it earlier. We had the science, the scientists just need money. Ford, Chevy, DaimlerChrysler or and other car company could have put up the money in 2002 as a minor project. Because none of them took the energy density of the new chemistry seriously they didn't even try. It took an outsider to see the opportunity. $\endgroup$ – Sqeaky Aug 1 '16 at 16:10
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No one will investigate these abilities because the Nazis (or equivalent) did investigate it.

With extreme cruelty, brutality, and quackery.

No one can even argue that it could conceivably be done right without being immediately and permanently associated with nazis.

So, where eugenics is today.

Important: I am not in any way arguing that eugenics could conceivably be done right.

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  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 24 '17 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Olga I might have failed to express myself clearly. Is it better now, after the edit? $\endgroup$ – Emilio M Bumachar Nov 24 '17 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ It is better but could use a bit more work, IMHO. I believe that if you connect your idea with the question in a more obvious way, it will become a much better answer. $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 24 '17 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ If you have a new question, please ask it by clicking the Ask Question button. Include a link to this question if it helps provide context. - From Review $\endgroup$ – Slarty Nov 24 '17 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Slarty he's not asking new question. Basically, his answer is: "no one wants to investigate it because they don't want to be associated with Nazis - because they investigated the mutants first" $\endgroup$ – Vylix Nov 24 '17 at 18:31
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The scientific community will actually be protecting them not the other way around.

If they are sapient and intelligent that alone will go a long way, provided they have a dialog with humans. Scientists do not act as they are portrayed in movies. Modern science has some really strict ethics about how to treat sapient creatures, and consent laws will almost certainly apply here. Now scientists are going to WANT to investigate and will probably never stop trying to negotiate research deals with said creatures, but modern scientific ethics will keep it strictly voluntary and on the creatures terms. More importantly the scientists will want to go to them in their natural conditions not capture them, they will be just as interested in their culture as their biology.

Just look at modern anthropology minimal interference and maximum consent is tantamount. As an example you can look at the sentinel island peoples who have zero contact with the outside world because they don't want any. The consent of the patients involved is essential. Now this is only going to go so far, if one of them dies on the streets of a city the scientific community will be all over it like flies on a carcass. And if they are trading with humans then there will be scientists constantly asking to study them and their culture, with varying levels of bribery to achieve it.

Part of it is dependent on where they live and how easy it is to get to, if it is very easy to get to you will have poaching. If they are near a dictatorship or country with little respect for individual rights they will be captured. This goes double if they enter such a country. But if they are only reachable through countries that respect individual rights (the majority of countries) they should be fairly well protected. There will be incidents but they will be rare.

Your biggest issue will be military investigation, the military had better be sure they cannot pass for human, or they will consider them a threat, and will investigate.

You should also make first contact very recent, because the ethics of the past was very, VERY different.

You may also want to consider how to keep one of the creatures from volunteering for research given that they will likely be offered millions of dollars for some scans, tissue samples, and demonstrations.

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I think everything considered in our modern society you could easily make the dissection of the new species just as unliekely than dissection of other humans. There are moral limits to human research and studies against one will are forbidden. But that doesn't prevent some individuals, intelligence agencies, covert military operations and so on from doing it anyway.

So I say with enough public opinion the species can possibly gain all human rights and will be left alone, just like a foreign unexplored tribe of humans. But this will not protect them more than humans - so they will ony be mostly save, not a 100% - there will be some researchers who would dissect a living human for their research and they also wqill dissect a living alien.

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Not happening.

Think of colonisation of other countries by various cultures all round the world, and the almost universal mistreatment of the original inhabitant. That the original inhabitants were other human beings (just with different skin colours and religions) didn't matter, and still doesn't. The only thing which ever stopped colonisation was superior force. If you're talking "humans as we know them", well, humans as we know them are killer apes who will happily place personal gain over morality, and whilst we are able to sympathise/empathise with individuals, we are fundamentally unable to do that for larger populations.

It's possible that after a long period of mistreatment, people living alongside them may have had sufficient contact that empathy did set in, and the wrongness of that mistreatment became evident enough that something was done about it. If they were the majority in the area, perhaps they got self-determination - think South Africa. If they were the minority in the area after mass immigration of colonists, perhaps they at least got somewhere they could live their way - think Native Americans in the US, or Aboriginal tribes in Australia.

None of that would stop humans wanting to figure out how they do what they do, especially if it's a purely biological function and not one requiring magic. (If we're talking humans with a modern mindset and a world where magic does not otherwise play a part, that is.) It may not be something that matters to most people though, same way that you probably aren't researching how salamanders regrow limbs so that human amputees could also regrow limbs. But you can absolutely rock-solid guarantee that there will be human research into this.

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There isn't any sensible way to do this without imposing an outside restraint somewhere.

Even in Star Trek, which has some of the harshest self imposed restraints, they still study the people on the planets protected by the Prime Directive.

If you've got something like this which is so strange and potentially useful, been held by what amounts to a bunch of primitives (technology wise), then without some sort of guardians, human nature would ensure they are at least studied.

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I think Jim Butcher is about right when he says in the Dresden Files that while humans like to poke at the supernatural we don't actually want to have to believe in it. The suggestion is that proof we weren't living alone would scare most people so badly that they're unwilling and in fact psychologically unable to accept that things really do go bump in the night. Of course there are always people who think they want to believe and they're the ones who tend to go looking for this sort of thing, but if real encounters are rare enough no-one will take them seriously. Between denial and lack of evidence unless one of these guys shows up to a research lab and asks to be poked and prodded I wouldn't expect them to be taken any more seriously than Bigfoot.

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  • $\begingroup$ except scientists are rarely that kind of person, scientist want to find things they cannot explain, because that is when you get to learn and discover. and these creatures as described would provide ample evidence. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 22 '17 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @John except I point you to the current scientific attitudes towards Bigfoot. $\endgroup$ – Ash Dec 3 '17 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ An organism that has been thoroughly investigated and for which no evidence exists, bigfoot is a great example of why butcher is wrong. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 3 '17 at 14:36
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What if they were just over the top adorable? Powerful hunters, but with the appearance of something like meerkats, lemurs, red pandas when in animal form. Give them a stunning humanoid appearance as well. Let the general public be just ga-ga over them. Simply too cute to vivisect.

Sure, there will still be a few individual or organizations that can overlook cuteness, but can they overlook the public outrage of harming anything that adorable?

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  • $\begingroup$ If you haven't read Little Fuzzy, go do so now. $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jul 13 '18 at 18:11
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Racism works really well at preventing economic-class solidarity in the USA, and it would work for this.

This would make your whole world an extended allegory, but here goes: regular people who understand these powers become less governable. Therefore, the ruling class devises a whole long story about how the other (race) is dirty, wicked, greedy, sex-obsessed, stupid, and cursed, deserving of underclass status-- untouchable.

Stigmatise interactions with them. Demean every difference. Segregate them. Build it into the religious practices. If you don't like the Old South angle, use anti-semitism, or the caste system in India. It would be hard to prevent, really, since these others are literally a different species.

The knowledge is not just contained, it's dangerous to have. After a few pogroms and tragic betrayals, the Others will become hostile and secretive, making study all the more difficult. The ruling class doesn't need the knowledge, only to hold power-- they spurn it.

When you want everyone to do something, make it what everyone does. Roland Barthes, postcolonialist critical theory.

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My answer would be:

They believe they understand it.

Come up with an explanation that is not valid science, but that the humans believe is valid science. No further investigation needed, and anyone claiming it is supernatural is ridiculed.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds a lot like Squeaky's suggestion taking as an example how bumblebees fly, to be honest. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/49125/29 $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 24 '17 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I didn't read the other answers, yeah he's far more eloquent than me $\endgroup$ – Callum Bradbury Nov 24 '17 at 19:03
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I know you're trying to find ways to make people not want to research said people, but I don't see that happening. Short making them so dangerous that it's a risk just get near them, I see no way to stop curiosity of people at the level of advancement as ourselves. "They're cursed" won't work anymore. And if they're so dangerous, there will be an argument to just wipe them out.

But I can see ways it be done ethically. It all hangs on if they're seen as "intelligent"

If the beings meet the general definition of "intelligent", which right now only humans meet here on Earth, then protecting them would fall under the basic idea of human rights. There may still be people wanting to discern how their powers work, but there would be a great deal of social pressure to follow the norms of human rights.

Having said that, in such a situation, such research might still be carried out, with the consensual assistance of the race. Assuming we can communicate with them (a key factor of determining intelligence) scientists may find beings willing to donate their bodies for research, or willing to engage in non-invasive tests for some form of payment.

If they are deemed unintelligent, they would be treated as animals. We treat (or at least see) animals VERY differently based on their behavior, how dangerous they are to us, and how cute they are. Trying to convince scientists not to investigate their abilities would likely be about as hard as it is to convince them not to study any other animals abilities. Again, there would be some pressure as to what kind of tests to perform, along the lines of the "animal rights" arguments we see today.

If they behave in the manner you describe, I suspect there would be a fair number of people who would have no problem classifying them as animals, and treating them as such.

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