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Accepted Paper:

Judging genomics: The role of STS critique in an era of complexity  
Nicole Nelson (University of Wisconsin Madison)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will examine normativity both empirically and reflexively, focusing on the value attributed to genetic explanations for behavioral disorders both in animal model research and in STS work.

Paper long abstract:

Genetic research, especially behavior genetics research, has been the subject of many pointed critiques about its purportedly determinist and reductionist tendencies. STS scholars and others have been critical of the very idea that multi-faceted human phenomena can be meaningfully related to molecular sequences, and of the political implications of directing attention and resources towards biomedical solutions for behavioral problems. But STS scholars have also argued that these critiques seem to miss the mark in their characterization of contemporary genomics, with its increasing focus on complexity, susceptibilities, and personalization. Using ethnographic research from an animal behavior genetics laboratory, I show that what counts as good research for animal modelers and the way these values relate to their conceptions of genetic explanation are not straightforward—researchers value reductionist methods, for example, because they view them as useful tools for addressing the complexity of behavioral disorders, not because they see them as accurate representations of the molecular underpinnings of behavior. These findings raise difficult questions about the role of the STS analyst. If we continue to critique geneticists' research outputs without examining the values and experiences that inform them, we risk treating scientists as "cultural dopes" who uncritically reproduce reductionist thought. Ethnographic descriptions offer a useful corrective for this problem, but do not offer an obvious path towards a new normative STS project. I will conclude by offering some speculative thoughts on potential modes of engagement between STS and genomics that are not based on judging the science and finding it lacking.

Panel T049
STS and normativity: analyzing and enacting values
  Session 1 Friday 2 September, 2016, -