How to Kill a Laboratory Mouse Humanely

A quote from Karin Knorr Cetina, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge

p. 140. “The technical assistant (TA) … did not know how kill the animals properly – he put them to death by placing them in a -70 degree Celsius freezer. (Mice should be killed “humanely” by placing them on top of the cage and breaking their neck “by applying firm pressure at the base of the skull and sharply pinching and twisting between thumb and forefinger while at the same time pulling backward on the tail”; Hogan et al. 1986: 97.)

Hogan, B., F. Constantini, and E. Lacy. 1986. Manipulating the Mouse Embryo: A Laboratory Manual.

Blind Variation in Molecular Biology

p. 91. “If there is a general strategy molecular biologists adopt in the face of open problem, it is a strategy of blind variation combined with a reliance on natural selection. They vary the procedure that produced the problem, and let something like its fitness – its success in yielding effective results – decide the fate of the experimental reaction. Variation is “blind” in a very precise sense: it is not based on the kind of scientific investigation and understanding of the problem that was so popular among high energy physicists. Confronted with a malfunctioning reaction, a problem of interpretation (as in the case of RNA analysis described above), or a string of methods that do not seem to work, molecular biologists will not embark, as physicists will, on an investigating journey whose sole purpose it is to understand the problem. Instead, they will try several variations in the belief that these will result in workable evidence.”

p. 230. “What does a laboratory leader do in this situation? The fact that many things are not in their control did not lead, in the cases considered, to a feeling of defeat. It led to a conscious strategy of variation and risk-taking: there is no guarantee that any one line of research – or any single researcher – will work satisfactory, but in a competently staffed and run laboratory, some lines to leas somewhere, and some researches bring results. The leader saw the laboratory as a distribution of lines of research, each of which carried varying risks and varying chances of failure and success. To maximize the chances that some lines would work, the leader distributed risks over a variety of topics. Readers will recognize in this policy a similarity to the strategy of “blind” variation and selection by success.”

The Black-Boxed Body of the Scientist

p. 94. “According to historian (Kutschmann 1986), the scientist’s body is no longer a relevant tool in the conduct of research. While the fact that scientists have a body may be granted to be a precondition for doing experiments (Merleau-Ponty 1962), few believe that this body still plays a role as instrument of inquiery (for feminist questions about the body, see Martin 1991, 1992a,b; Schiebinger 1993). Two factors aided in the ‘disembodiment’ of science. Of is the inclusion, into research, of technical instruments that outperformed, and replaced, sensory bodily functions. The other is the derogatory attitude important scientists developed toward the sensory body. For Galileo, Bacon, and other seventeenth-century experimentalists, who promoted the nuova scienzia, it was wrong to believe that our senses were the measure of all things.”

Kutschmann, W. 1986. Der Wissenschaftler und sein Körper.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception.

Martin, E. 1991. “The egg and the sperm: how science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Science, 16(3): 485-501.

Martin, E. 1992a. The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysys of Reproduction.

Martin, E. 1992b. “The end of the body?” American Ethnologist, 19(1): 121-140.