Are there Model Behaviours for Model Organism Research? Commentary on Nicole Nelson's Model Behavior

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 82:101266 (2020)
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One might be inclined to assume, given the mouse donning its cover, that the behavior of interest in Nicole Nelson's book Model Behavior (2018) is that of organisms like mice that are widely used as “stand-ins” for investigating the causes of human behavior. Instead, Nelson's ethnographic study focuses on the strategies adopted by a community of rodent behavioral researchers to identify and respond to epistemic challenges they face in using mice as models to understand the causes of disordered human behaviors associated with mental illness. Although Nelson never explicitly describes the knowledge production activities in which her behavioral geneticist research subjects engage as “exemplary”, the question of whether or not these activities constitute “model behavior(s)”—generalizable norms for engaging in scientific research—is one of the many thought-provoking questions raised by her book. As a philosopher of science interested in this question, I take it up here.

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Jacqueline Anne Sullivan
University of Western Ontario


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