In the early 1990s, a set of new techniques for manipulating mouse DNA allowed researchers to ‘knock out’ specific genes and observe the effects of removing them on a live mouse. In animal behaviour genetics, questions about how to deploy these techniques to study the molecular basis of behaviour became quite controversial, with a number of key methodological issues dissecting the interdisciplinary research field along disciplinary lines. This paper examines debates that took place during the 1990s between a predominately North American group of molecular biologists and animal behaviourists around how to design, conduct, and interpret behavioural knockout experiments. Drawing from and extending Harry Collins’s work on how research communities negotiate what counts as a ‘well-done experiment,’ I argue that the positions practitioners took on questions of experimental skill reflected not only the experimental traditions they were trained in but also their differing ontological and epistemological commitments. Different assumptions about the nature of gene action, eg., were tied to different positions in the knockout mouse debates on how to implement experimental controls. I conclude by showing that examining representations of skill in the context of a community’s knowledge commitments sheds light on some of the contradictory ways in which contemporary animal behaviour geneticists talk about their own laboratory work as a highly skilled endeavour that also could be mechanised, as easy to perform and yet difficult to perform well.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed.