Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics

Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics

by Aaron Panofsky

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Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics by Aaron Panofsky

Behavior genetics has always been a breeding ground for controversies. From the “criminal chromosome” to the “gay gene,” claims about the influence of genes like these have led to often vitriolic national debates about race, class, and inequality. Many behavior geneticists have encountered accusations of racism and have had their scientific authority and credibility questioned, ruining reputations, and threatening their access to coveted resources.  

In Misbehaving Science, Aaron Panofsky traces the field of behavior genetics back to its origins in the 1950s, telling the story through close looks at five major controversies. In the process, Panofsky argues that persistent, ungovernable controversy in behavior genetics is due to the broken hierarchies within the field. All authority and scientific norms are questioned, while the absence of unanimously accepted methods and theories leaves a foundationless field, where disorder is ongoing. Critics charge behavior geneticists with political motivations; champions say they merely follow the data where they lead. But Panofsky shows how pragmatic coping with repeated controversies drives their scientific actions. Ironically, behavior geneticists’ struggles for scientific authority and efforts to deal with the threats to their legitimacy and autonomy have made controversy inevitable—and in some ways essential—to the study of behavior genetics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226058597
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 07/07/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,086,427
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Aaron Panofsky is assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy and Institute for Society and Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Misbehaving Science

Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics

By Aaron Panofsky

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-05859-7


Studying Misbehaving Science

Describing behavior genetics as misbehaving science is to claim that its propensity to experience persistent, unresolvable, often politicized controversy is linked to its history, organization, and practices. Controversy, in other words, could be otherwise: temporary or arranged differently. The persistence of controversy in behavior genetics is due to social fragmentation and anomie as well as its liminal position and ambivalent status at the interstices of other disciplines. Thus the story of behavior genetics, and misbehaving science more generally, is wrapped up in social structure, more specifically in its constitution as a semiautonomous social space with its own boundaries, rules of action, and patterned struggles for resources. To understand any misbehaving science we must approach it as a field in the sense social theorist Pierre Bourdieu proposed.

In his theory for analyzing the dynamics of social fields, Bourdieu argued that all fields have a dual structure; each is simultaneously a field of forces and a field of struggles. In science, the field of forces can be thought of as the set of implicit "rules," both intellectual and social, governing how scientists can make legitimate claims and garner success. This is to say, how they can gain "scientific capital" defined "inseparably as technical capacity and social power ... to speak and act legitimately ... in scientific matters." These capacities are ultimately social; they are dependent on the scientist receiving the implicit or explicit recognition of her peers who, collectively, are the arbiters of what counts as legitimate knowledge in a particular corner of the scientific world.

The field of struggles then, is the competition that each scientist must engage with her peers to force them to recognize her scientific contributions as legitimate. As her cocompetitors they are disinclined to offer this recognition lightly. These struggles are twofold: Scientists simultaneously endeavor to convince others that they are doing "good science" that is worthy of recognition, but they are also seeking to define good science in a way that will benefit them by valorizing the kind of science they do. A scientist might seek to do more research in the image of what has come before and thus reinforce prevailing definitions of science, or she might try a new synthesis or analytic strategy with the aim of overthrowing the prevailing definitions and establishing a new one. The outcomes of these ongoing struggles redistribute scientific capital and affect the rules for accumulating it, which is to say they transform or conserve the field of forces that govern subsequent struggles.

To reconstruct the field is to reveal its "logic of practice"—the way the forces and struggles organize actors' perceptions, interests, and strategies depending on their investments and positions in the field. The language of "strategy," "logic," and "investment" can be misleading. In the Bourdieusian framework it refers less to explicit, self-conscious calculation and more to the implicit, practical reason that flows from an embodied sense of how to play the "game" according to evolving tacit rules organizing a space. Bourdieu's concept of the illusio—the sense that playing the game is "worth the candle"—is meant to remind us that the analysis in term of actors' "strategies" for seeking "recognition" is a post hoc reconstruction of what, for actors, is the experience, in this case, of doing good science. Further, the language of "rationality" and "interest" should not be understood as appealing to some universal calculation of benefit for actors. What counts as valid "interests" to pursue or "rational" (or reasonable) means to pursue them are given by the rules of the field.

Analyzing misbehaving fields in this way enables us, first, to steer out of the deep ruts of internal and external explanation that often typify analyses and critiques of controversial sciences. Analyses of behavior genetics have tended to explain the field's ideas either in terms of their internal logic and evidence or the external political motives animating them. This divide is mirrored in the debate between the field's critics and its advocates: each side tends to describe their own work scientifically and their opponents' work as politically tainted. In contrast, the field approach analyzes the shaping of scientific claims and the challenges they've faced in terms of the social relationships—the forces and struggles—that make up the field. This approach doesn't deny internal or external forces, but insists that they're mediated by the relationships and practices comprising the field. We have to account for how one rather than another set of scientific arguments gains salience within the field and how various political motivations are legitimated or delegitimated as "scientific" action. The field approach asserts that we cannot understand why scientists do what they do, and explain the knowledge they produce, without understanding their competition for mutual recognition at the mesoscale between the microlevel of scientific practices and the macrolevel of extrascientific contexts.

Second, this approach enables a dynamic and historical definition of controversial fields. Fields are the result of a set of struggles over boundaries and definitions rather than the unfolding of a unified idea. Thus "behavior genetics" is not the ancient interest in the genetic inheritance of behavior, nor is it a coherently defined type of scientist. Rather, it is a heterogeneous and dynamic set of individuals and subgroups in competition with each other. They share some motives and aims but certainly not all. Who counts as a behavior geneticist changes as boundaries, affiliations, and identities shift. And as I will show in subsequent chapters, sometimes scientists are struggling not to have themselves or their ideas counted as "behavior genetics."

With this understanding, it isn't necessary to come up with some factor common to behavior geneticists to explain seeming anomalies. If race differences claims persist, for example, this doesn't mean that behavior geneticists are secret racists (or in false denial). Rather, the balance of forces in the field makes it beneficial for some to make these claims and impossible for others to urge their elimination. This perspective allows us to steer out of another related set of ruts: the reification of opposing camps in a science. In the case of behavior genetics this enables me to avoid the assumption that conflict over the field is the product of an eternal battle between "hereditarians" and "environmentalists." We can see, instead, that these categories are themselves historically changing positions or identities that scientists redefine over the course of their mutual competition.

Third, the field approach reinforces seeing controversy in terms of scientists' efforts to seek recognition. Scientists in a field, though all oriented toward science, have different motivations and strategies for pursuing it. The differentiating effects of this competition suggest that scientists can have different interests in publicizing transgressions as tools to seek recognition or deny it to others. A scientist might advance a race differences claim to gain attention by shocking audiences and projecting bravery at violating a taboo. Or a scientist might charge another's ideas as "scientific racism" to discredit them politically and scientifically. It is common to see "politics," "the media," "publicity," or the like as obvious distortions of science. Following the field approach, we should see them instead as potential resources in scientists' struggles for recognition. For example, how do scientists exchange media publicity for scientific capital in behavior genetics? How do they use charges of "politicization" to redefine what constitutes its scientific capital? In other words, how does the logic of the field define legitimate and illegitimate "political" (or "economic," or "media") interests?

The field approach also enables us to see criticism of behavior genetics not only as scientific arguments but also as relationships. Behavior genetics is embedded at the interstices of several scientific fields—genetics, psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry, and biology among others—competing to gain, and sometimes to cede, jurisdiction. Affiliations with behavior genetics have varying connotations in these different neighboring fields and thus affect the kind of recognition scientists can hope to receive. Arguments about behavior genetics therefore concern scientists from other fields seeking to extend or block behavior genetics' authority in accordance with their own struggles for recognition.

In addition, scientists' different scientific aims can also give them interests in different versions of relative "social order." For example, we will see how a major conflict among behavior geneticists has concerned whether the field should be a tightly organized field with inwardly directed mutual recognition or a technical subfield whose researchers primarily seek the recognition of those in other fields. Summing these efforts together, the field approach allows us to see controversies not simply as truth contests, as they are traditionally viewed in the sociology of science, but as accumulating, interpenetrating "stages" in the reorganization of behavior genetics' fields of "forces" and "struggles."

Here it is prudent to address potential tensions between field theory and two concepts central to my analysis. First, the idea of a field governed by a common set of forces and struggles seems to be in tension with the metaphor of an archipelago of loosely connected islands. I approach field theory as an analytic strategy for understanding the shifting boundaries and structures governing a social space and not as a substantive image of a particular kind of social space. Field analysis helps us see how behavior genetics became archipelagically fragmented and how this affects the different ways forces and struggles organize the various islands. Indeed, it is precisely behavior genetics' ambivalent "fieldness" that explains many of its distinctive practices and problems, and the paradox of consensus that behavior genetics is important but utter disagreement about why or even what behavior genetics is.

Second, the idea of anomie—central to the idea of misbehaving science—might seem to be at odds with the field framework. In Émile Durkheim's social theory, anomie is a situation where a community lacks sufficient or appropriate norms to govern and integrate its members' behavior. Bourdieu's field theory, with its focus on conflict and competition, eschews the notions of community and commonality that underwrite Durkheim's view. Therefore, anomie might seem an inappropriate concept in this framework. However, Bourdieu's competition isn't anarchic, Hobbesian struggle, nor is it crypto-economism or rational actor theory, as is sometimes charged. Rather, Bourdieu shares a view explained by the philosopher Charles Taylor that individual agency and the capacity to compete depend on substantial, shared preunderstandings. Fields are not just arenas, but are fields of forces: explicit, implicit, and evolving rules and unthought assumptions, or doxa, governing competition. Viewed this way, a field can certainly face anomie. It is not general normlessness and lack of community integration, but the institutionalization of "rules that are the lack of rules." As we will see, some of behavior genetics' "rules against rules" act subjectively, as when behavior geneticists discourage each other from "airing dirty laundry." But others are objective, as when disconnections between intellectual traditions, narrowing definitions of legitimate science, and engagement with scientific audiences outside the field in preference to engaging other behavior geneticists, all de-intensify the competition within the field. I thus conceive of anomie in terms of Bourdieusian rules of the game—objective and subjective structures produced by struggle, principles of vision and division—not shared norms and community integration.

Fields and Structured Controversies

My field analytic approach to controversy in behavior genetics straddles two important traditions in the social studies of science. First, studies of controversy and knowledge production have long been a mainstay. They have been analyzed as episodes of substantive dispute among scientists. Social and historical analysts have found them valuable as moments that lay bare the processes driving knowledge in formation. The focus of this tradition has been to explain knowledge production mainly in local, practical, and substantive terms. How were social relationships, meanings and interpretations, and technical practices organized so as to make this, rather than that, fact hold true?

In behavior genetics many of the substantive disagreements—about the genetic effects on intelligence, personality, mental illness, crime, and so on—have a similar pattern of polarization. Rather than focus on them, I consider controversies where the substantive dispute at stake became entangled in a reorganization of the struggles and forces that constitute the field. In other words, I use a particular set of controversies to tell, following theorist Anthony Giddens, the "structurational" history of the field.

Approaching behavior genetics controversies as moments of restructuring allows the analysis of knowledge production at higher scales than the local contexts favored in much science studies. It requires, first, that we map the relevant intellectual commitments to the scientists competing to define the field and in terms of the implicit, evolving "rules" for succeeding as a scientist. What are the methods, forms of argumentation, facts, and interpretations of results that prevail as authoritative among particular scientists over time? These commitments shade into a second level, the styles of knowledge production that evolve over time. Behavior geneticists debate, for example, whether it is more important to develop analytic tools that are specially tailored to the particular problems of linking behaviors to gene action or tools that are portable and that can be made relevant to various behavioral sciences; whether scientists should tackle multiple dimensions of one behavioral problem or apply their tools to many different behaviors; whether behavior genetics should be advanced by attacking competing paradigms or by forming diverse intellectual partnerships. And at a third level, how is the space of intellectual possibility structured? How does the structure of scientific competition cultivate some kinds of intellectual work while rendering others nearly unthinkable? In behavior genetics we will see the effects of two crucial patterns: first, gradual fragmentation has severed connections between different kinds of scientists, leaving potential lines of research unpursued; second, due to weakness in certain forces encouraging competition and criticism among behavior geneticists, researchers observe a laissez faire ethos yet still follow fairly narrow paths.

The other main sociology of science tradition this project intersects is the institutional analysis of specialty formation and growth. These studies ask how groups of scientists are able to constitute themselves into stable, productive communities, and the studies tend to focus on scientists' efforts to rally each other, secure patronage, institutionalize themselves (in the university or other organizations), reproduce the community through training, and cope with problems of generational succession. My analysis of behavior genetics draws on these ideas to demonstrate a crucial condition under which behavior geneticists work—namely, the field's weakness: its somewhat tenuous grip on material resources, institutionalization, and legitimacy, and its ambivalent status within academic status hierarchies.

But my field development through controversy framework differs from the specialty formation tradition in two main ways. First, the specialty formation tradition tends to assume that specialties are communities that are unified by common scientific purpose and values whatever their disagreements. Behavior genetics is not a community in this sense; it is a conflict among scientists over definitions and boundaries and, as we will see, this makes "behavior genetics" highly unstable over time. At an empirical level, this makes "objective" measurements of favored specialty formation variables (funding, membership, number of publications, citation networks, and such) impossible. Any such efforts will automatically favor the definitions of certain parties at particular times. When I present such information I try to be specific about which behavior genetics they represent.


Excerpted from Misbehaving Science by Aaron Panofsky. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Chapter 1
Studying Misbehaving Science

Chapter 2
Founding the Field to Avoid Controversy

Chapter 3
The Young Field Disrupted: The Race and IQ Controversy

Chapter 4
Animals or Humans to Study Behavior? Conflict over the Shape of the Field

Chapter 5
The Power of Reductionism: Valorizing Controversial Science

Chapter 6
From Behavior Genetics to Genomics

Chapter 7
Responsibility, Notoriety, and Geneticization

Misbehaving Science: Behavior Genetics and Beyond


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