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The Right Tools for the Job

The Right Tools for the Job: At Work in Twentieth-Century Life Sciences

Adele E. Clarke
Joan H. Fujimura
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 378
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  • Book Info
    The Right Tools for the Job
    Book Description:

    This volume examines scientific practice through studies of research tools in an array of twentieth-century life sciences. The contributors draw upon and extend the multidisciplinary perspectives in current science studies to understand the processes through which scientific researchers constructed the right--and, in some cases, the wrong--tools for the job. The articles portray the crafting or accessing of specific materials, techniques, instruments, models, funds, and work arrangements involved in doing scientific work. They demonstrate the historical and local contingencies of scientific problem construction and solving by highlighting the articulation between the tools and jobs. Indeed, the very "rightness" of the tools is contingently constructed, maintained, lost, and refashioned.

    The cases examined include evolutionary biology laboratory systems (James R. Griesemer), the plasmid prep procedure in molecular biology (Kathleen Jordan and Michael Lynch), models in the human ecology of African pastoralists (Peter Taylor), the micromanometer in metabolic studies (Frederic L. Holmes), genetics research and the role played by Planaria (Gregg Mitman and Anne Fausto-Sterling) and by corn (Barbara A. Kimmelman), quantitative data in field biology (Yrj Haila), taxidermy in natural history (Susan Leigh Star), technical standardization in bacteriology (Patricia Peck Gossell), and the discipline of immunology as the tool for stabilizing conceptual definitions in the field (Peter Keating, Alberto Cambrosio, and Michael Mackenzie).

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6313-6
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • 1 What Tools? Which Jobs? Why Right?
      (pp. 3-44)
      Adele E. Clark and Joan H. Fujimura

      This book is about scientific practice—the nitty-gritty of scientific work. It offers an array of studies of work in the life sciences across the twentieth century, focused on constructing the right tools for the job. Scientific work is constrained or enabled by the accessibility, cost, and pacing associated with specific tools for scientific jobs—materials, techniques, instruments, models, and the funding and work arrangements involved in their use. Doing science involves multiple different tools, processes, and participants and their articulation across time and space. We therefore ask and answer questions such as: How do scientists pull together and articulate...


    • 2 The Role of Instruments in the Generative Analysis of Science
      (pp. 47-76)
      James R. Griesemer

      When philosophers try to understand such scientific activities as observing, experimenting, measuring, or theorizing, they typically do so in terms of the public claims scientists make: observations become observation statements, experiments and measurements become tests of hypotheses, theorizing becomes axiomatizing or otherwise codifying.¹ But science does not consist solely in linguistic activity. Although epistemologists may analyze the logical relations among statements, for example between theoretical hypotheses and observation sentences, provision of the “warrant” for theoretical claims involves scientists’ activities as well as logical structure. If the aim of science studies is to understandscience, an articulation must be made between...

    • 3 The Sociology of a Genetic Engineering Technique: Ritual and Rationality in the Performance of the “Plasmid Prep”
      (pp. 77-114)
      Kathleen Jordan and Michael Lynch

      In this chapter we will examine a laboratory technique that appears to be well on the way to becoming a “black box.” The technique, plasmid purification and isolation or “the plasmid prep,” is a commonplace preparatory procedure in molecular biology. When viewed as part of the development of molecular biology over the past two decades, the plasmid prep appears to be well established; it is formalized in written manuals, reproduced in many different research contexts, and performed with standardized equipment. While numerous other aspects of recombinant DNA research remain speculative and controversial, the plasmid prep is now firmly entrenched within...

    • 4 Re/constructing Socioecologies: System Dynamics Modeling of Nomadic Pastoralists in Sub-Saharan Africa
      (pp. 115-148)
      Peter J. Taylor

      By 1973 the semi-arid Sahel region of West Africa had experienced five years of drought and developing crisis. Many pastoralists (livestock herders) and farmers were in refugee camps, their herds decimated and their crops having failed again. Scenes of famine reached the European and American media, belatedly bringing international attention to the situation (Morentz 1980). Relief efforts were stepped up and, despite serious shortcomings in coordination and in food distribution (Sheets and Morris 1974:56),¹ massive starvation was averted. The United States, through its Agency for International Development (USAID), became the largest contributor to the relief effort.

      Western commentators at the...


    • 5 Manometers, Tissue Slices, and Intermediary Metabolism
      (pp. 151-171)
      Frederic L. Holmes

      During the 1930S intermediary metabolism emerged as a consolidated subfield at the forefront of biochemistry. Participants in this research area were by then linking fragmentary reaction sequences previously identified into a connected architecture of extended pathways. The belief that there were such unbroken chains of chemical steps extending from the entry of foodstuffs into the body to the departure of final end products from the body can, however, be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. The long interval between the time that the existence of such “intermediate links” was clearly posed as a research problem and the time in which...

    • 6 Whatever Happened to Planaria? C. M. Child and the Physiology of Inheritance
      (pp. 172-197)
      Gregg Mitman and Anne Fausto-Sterling

      During the period from 1895 to 1905 the use of triclad flatworms,Planaria, in the study of regeneration expanded dramatically. There were seven publications between 1895 and 1900, rising to thirty-four between 1901 and 1905. From 1905 until 1959, the number of publications averaged thirty per year (range = 16–64) but by 1987 and 1988 only three studies of development usedPlanariaas their experimental material.¹ Although youngsters in secondary school biology courses in the United States continue to studyPlanaria, today only six embryology laboratories around the world (located in Italy, France, Spain, Japan, and the United States)...

    • 7 Organisms and Interests in Scientific Research: R. A. Emerson’s Claims for the Unique Contributions of Agricultural Genetics
      (pp. 198-232)
      Barbara A. Kimmelman

      Historians of biology have generally thought thatDrosophila melanogasterwas the right tool for the job of doing genetics in the early twentieth century. Working with these flies after 1910, Thomas Hunt Morgan and his remarkable student collaborators—A. H. Sturtevant, H. J. Muller, and C. B. Bridges—forged crucial links between Mendelian phenomena and cytological anatomy. In the decades that followed, the vindication of the chromosome theory of heredity based on those links cemented Morgan’s status as founder of classical genetics in the United States.

      Historiographic privileging ofDrosophilaas the organism uniquely suited for genetic research does not,...

    • 8 Measuring Nature: Quantitative Data in Field Biology
      (pp. 233-254)
      Yrjö Haila

      What use are numbers in trying to understand an ecological complex? A major motivation for this general question stems from the need to understand changes brought about in ecological systems by human activities. There are obvious short-term and local effects when, for instance, a forest is cut down. However, the real challenge is to understand the long-term consequences.

      The first task clearly is to recognize ecological complexes in nature and identify those processes and interactions that are critical for their existence. This is done by ecological research, by trying to detect and explain regularities in nature. Quantitative data are tools...


    • 9 Craft vs. Commodity, Mess vs. Transcendence: How the Right Tool Became the Wrong One in the Case of Taxidermy and Natural History
      (pp. 257-286)
      Susan Leigh Star

      Why look to materials and tools for traces of ideas or scientific theories? Why not just read about the theories directly? Materials and tools are the detritus of the work, often written out of scientific accounts. The stuff of science has as much to tell us as do the ruined remains of a dead civilization. It is the embodiment of skills, arguments, selections, and deletions of scientific theories. What appears in a museum, laboratory, or hospital, as well as what doesnotappear, traces the work patterns of scientists in the same way that what is interred with a human...

    • 10 A Need for Standard Methods: The Case of American Bacteriology
      (pp. 287-311)
      Patricia Peck Gossel

      In the 1880S, new techniques and procedures established bacteriology as a thriving field of investigation. Americans adopted these methods in the years after 1885 and spread the practice of bacteriology into a variety of settings. Bacteriology’s perceived usefulness, both as a public health approach and as a device for the introduction of laboratory science, enabled it to take hold and flourish in the United States during a period of extensive institutional change (Gossel 1988). However, the introduction of these methods proved more complex than American practitioners at first anticipated. Variability in the execution of the techniques was magnified by the...

    • 11 The Tools of the Discipline: Standards, Models, and Measures in the Affinity/Avidity Controversy in Immunology
      (pp. 312-354)
      Peter Keating, Alberto Cambrosio and Michael Mackenzie

      In this paper we give an account of a recurrent debate in immunology that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. Ostensibly concerned with the definition of the concept of antibody affinity and avidity, the debate has called into question the fundamental problem of the nature and origin of antibodies. We have focused here on the recurrent nature of the debate in order to relate the role of laboratory techniques and technologies in the production and maintenance of scientific facts to the function of scientific disciplines in the organization and long-term stability of scientific research.

      Historians of science have...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 355-365)