Rats: are they vile plague spreaders or much-maligned innocents, falsely accused of spreading human suffering? J.B. MacKinnon weighs the evidence for you in this fun piece from Hakai Magazine, complete with terrific illustrations by Sarah M. Gilman.

If the rat was not the bête noire of the Black Death; if it poses a low risk of disease in many places, and, where it is poses a higher risk, is a better reflection of how poorly our societies care for the vulnerable than the real dangers of the animal itself; if the rat is not aggressive or filthy; if the rat is not a shadow of our worst qualities but instead can reflect our best; and if—perhaps most important of all—we cannot win our cruel war against them, then an obvious question remains. What are we to do about rats?

The surprising answer—one that recalls Barthélemy de Chasseneuz’s demand that the voice of rats be heard—may be this: communicate with them.