Model Behavior: Animal Experiments, Complexity, and the Genetics of Psychiatric Disorders (Paperback)

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Mice are used as model organisms across a wide range of fields in science today—but it is far from obvious how studying a mouse in a maze can help us understand human problems like alcoholism or anxiety. How do scientists convince funders, fellow scientists, the general public, and even themselves that animal experiments are a good way of producing knowledge about the genetics of human behavior? In Model Behavior, Nicole C. Nelson takes us inside an animal behavior genetics laboratory to examine how scientists create and manage the foundational knowledge of their field.

Behavior genetics is a particularly challenging field for making a clear-cut case that mouse experiments work, because researchers believe that both the phenomena they are studying and the animal models they are using are complex. These assumptions of complexity change the nature of what laboratory work produces. Whereas historical and ethnographic studies traditionally portray the laboratory as a place where scientists control, simplify, and stabilize nature in the service of producing durable facts, the laboratory that emerges from Nelson’s extensive interviews and fieldwork is a place where stable findings are always just out of reach. The ongoing work of managing precarious experimental systems means that researchers learn as much—if not more—about the impact of the environment on behavior as they do about genetics. Model Behavior offers a compelling portrait of life in a twenty-first-century laboratory, where partial, provisional answers to complex scientific questions are increasingly the norm.

About the Author

Nicole C. Nelson is assistant professor in the Department of History and the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Praise For…

“Scientists are accustomed to investigating the natural world and to drawing conclusions about it. In Model Behavior, historian of science Nicole Nelson turns the spotlight on them for a change. Like an anthropologist facing a new tribe, Nelson focuses her keen analytical mind on a US team researching the genetics of alcoholism in mice. The result is a stimulating and challenging exploration of science, and of how social scientists think about science. Everybody wins.”

"Overall, the book is a first-class piece of scholarship: the arguments are clearly made, stimulating and well-supported. It contributes significantly to continued interest in the centrality of model organisms to the socio-epistemic character of the modern biosciences. . . . It will interest those working on all aspects of social genomics, those who study laboratory animal research and modelling and, because of its re-entry into the constructionist heartland of STS itself, a wide range of scholars concerned with the development of the discipline more widely."

"An engaging and meticulously argued account of the ways in which complexity animates experimental practice. It is a must read for anthropologists interested in mental illness, laboratory work, and the social study of genomics. In a protracted moment of postgenomic scientific uncertainty, characterized by accusations of reductionism and the rise of big data approaches to behavior, Nelson provides a fresh view onto the well-trodden terrain of the laboratory to show how epistemic communities grapple with complexity and contingency in their everyday work. In doing so, she paints a picture of experimentation as a process that, rather than seeking to reduce and manage complexity, actively pursues and compounds it. Here, then, is a new vision of animal models whose purpose is not to find universal biological truths, nor make transspecific comparisons, but rather to capture specific behavioral processes and to engender more careful methodologies and multidisciplinary collaborations. This book is a critical step in developing medical anthropology and STS theorizations of how scientists preserve uncertainty as they build research programs."
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226546087
ISBN-10: 022654608X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: April 4th, 2018
Pages: 272
Language: English