Science without Laws

Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives

Science without Laws

Science and Cultural Theory

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: September 2007

Science and Technology Studies > Philosophy of Science, Sociology > Social Theory

Physicists regularly invoke universal laws, such as those of motion and electromagnetism, to explain events. Biological and medical scientists have no such laws. How then do they acquire a reliable body of knowledge about biological organisms and human disease? One way is by repeatedly returning to, manipulating, observing, interpreting, and reinterpreting certain subjects—such as flies, mice, worms, or microbes—or, as they are known in biology, “model systems.” Across the natural and social sciences, other disciplinary fields have developed canonical examples that have played a role comparable to that of biology’s model systems, serving not only as points of reference and illustrations of general principles or values but also as sites of continued investigation and reinterpretation. The essays in this collection assess the scope and function of model objects in domains as diverse as biology, geology, and history, attending to differences between fields as well as to epistemological commonalities.

Contributors examine the role of the fruit fly Drosophila and nematode worms in biology, troops of baboons in primatology, box and digital simulations of the movement of the earth’s crust in geology, and meteorological models in climatology. They analyze the intensive study of the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory, ritual in anthropology, the individual case in psychoanalytic research, and Athenian democracy in political theory. The contributors illuminate the processes through which particular organisms, cases, materials, or narratives become foundational to their fields, and they examine how these foundational exemplars—from the fruit fly to Freud’s Dora—shape the knowledge produced within their disciplines.

Rachel A. Ankeny
Angela N. H. Creager
Amy Dahan Dalmedico
John Forrester
Clifford Geertz
Carlo Ginzburg
E. Jane Albert Hubbard
Elizabeth Lunbeck
Mary S. Morgan
Josiah Ober
Naomi Oreskes
Susan Sperling
Marcel Weber
M. Norton Wise


Science without Laws is a very interesting collection. Its focus on model systems and cases not only suggests a new perspective on what constitutes scientific knowledge; it also points to how such exemplars produce knowledge within scientific disciplines.” — Joan Steigerwald, Centaurus

Science without Laws is one of the most stimulating books I have read in recent years; anyone interested in contemporary science should study it.” — Silvan S. Schweber, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

“[Science without Laws] offers an interesting and eclectic set of essays. . . . Consciously self-reflexive, these essays are model studies of model studies and exemplary narratives of exemplary narratives. The book itself is an exemplary collection of model essays for historians and philosophers interested in model systems, and will be an engaging read for anyone interested in the vicissitudes of practices and reasoning strategies in science without laws.” — Jacob Stegenga, British Journal for the History of Science

“A collective volume of exceptionally beautiful composition, moving through a series of illuminating case studies.” — Staffan Muller-Wille, History & Philosophy of the Life Sciences

“[A] novel and fascinating perspective on how science is done now.” — Lorraine Daston, Symbolic Interaction

“Concise but wide-ranging. . . . [A] valuable resource for the field.” — Mark E. Borrello, ISIS

“Drawing on the expertise of philosophers, historians, anthropologists, and biologists, this collection is an important contribution. . . . [A] wonderful collection of interesting and informative essays.” — Eric Winsberg, Metascience

“The range of scholarship represented here is vast, providing a valuable overview of models and cases (or what functions similarly, like exemplary narratives in history and psychoanalysis or ritual systems in anthropology) in a broad range of disciplines. . . . Sociology is not explicitly represented in this essays, but the implications for sociological knowledge are clear and significant, if also controversial. They merit serious consideration by all sociologists.” — Kathleen M. Blee, American Journal of Sociology

“This book offers relatively new ‘model systems’ paradigms to offset earlier 19th- and 20th-century approaches to research about human traits and diseases, and other disciplinary areas. Each essay has a detailed supportive set of notes. . . . Recommended.” — J. N. Muzio, Choice

“To a degree rare in edited volumes, this collection works as a whole, despite its pleasingly varied subject matter. Readers may pick and choose according to specialist interests, but those who read cover-to-cover are rewarded with a novel and fascinating perspective on how science is done now.” — Lorraine Daston, Common Knowledge

Science without Laws inspires with its breathtaking scope. Delving from ethology to economics, molecular biology to microhistory, the authors illuminate crucial congruences in the way experts make their cases. Generations of scholars have taken physics as their model for right thinking, in science and beyond. This volume demonstrates that we are all biologists now.” — David Kaiser, author of Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics

Science without Laws is a superb book. It is a very strong collection, sharply defined yet impressive in scope and reach, rich in substance and deep in analysis.” — Arkady Plotnitsky, author of Complementarity: Anti-Epistemology after Bohr and Derrida


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Angela N. H. Creager is Professor of History at Princeton University. She is the author of The Life of a Virus: Tobacco Mosaic Virus as an Experimental Model, 1930–1965.

Elizabeth Lunbeck is the Nelson Tyrone Jr. Professor of American History at Vanderbilt University. Her books include The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America.

M. Norton Wise is Professor of History and Co-Director of the Center for Society and Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the editor of Growing Explanations: Historical Perspectives on Recent Science, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Angela N.H. Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and M. Norton Wise 1

Part 1: Biology

Redesigning the Fruit Fly: The Molecularization of Drosophila / Marcel Weber 23

Wormy Logic: Model Organisms as Case-Based Reasoning / Rachel A. Ankeny 46

Model Organisms as Powerful Tools for Biomedical Research / E. Jane Albert Hubbard 59

The Troop Trope: Baboon Behavior as a Model System in the Postwar Period / Susan Sperling 73

Part 2: Simulations

From Scaling to Simulation: Changing Meanings and Ambitions of Models in Geology / Naomi Oreskes 93

Models and Simulations in Climate Change: Historical, Epistemological, Anthropological, and Political Aspects / Amy Dahan Dalmedico 125

The Curios Case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: Model Situation? Exemplary Narrative? / Mary S. Morgan

Part 3: Human Sciences

The Psychoanalytic Case: Voyeurism, Ethics, and Epistemology in Robert Stoller’s Sexual Excitement / John Forrester 189

“To Exist Is to Have Confidence in One’s Way of Being”: Rituals as Model Systems / Clifford Geertz 212

Democratic Athens as an Experimental System: History and the Project of Political Theory / Josiah Ober 225

Latitude, Slaves, and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory / Carlo Ginzburg 243

Afterword: Reflections on Exemplary Narratives, Cases, and Model Organisms / Mary S. Morgan 264

Contributors 275

Index 279
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4068-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4046-1
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