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Making Organisms Model Human Behavior: Situated Models in North-American Alcohol Research, since 1950

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2014

Rachel A. Ankeny
University of Adelaide, Australia E-mail:
Sabina Leonelli
University of Exeter, Exeter, UK E-mail:
Nicole C. Nelson
McGill University, Montreal, Canada E-mail:
Edmund Ramsden
Queen Mary, University of London, UK E-mail:


We examine the criteria used to validate the use of nonhuman organisms in North-American alcohol addiction research from the 1950s to the present day. We argue that this field, where the similarities between behaviors in humans and non-humans are particularly difficult to assess, has addressed questions of model validity by transforming the situatedness of non-human organisms into an experimental tool. We demonstrate that model validity does not hinge on the standardization of one type of organism in isolation, as often the case with genetic model organisms. Rather, organisms are viewed as necessarily situated: they cannot be understood as a model for human behavior in isolation from their environmental conditions. Hence the environment itself is standardized as part of the modeling process; and model validity is assessed with reference to the environmental conditions under which organisms are studied.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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