, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 329-363

Before There Were Standards: The Role of Test Animals in the Production of Empirical Generality in Physiology

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Abstract

After 1900, the selective breeding of a fewstandard animals for research in the lifesciences changed the way science was done. Among the pervasive changes was atransformation in scientists' assumptions aboutrelationship between diversity and generality. Examination of the contents of two prominentphysiology journals between 1885 and 1900,reveals that scientists used a diverse array oforganisms in empirical research. Experimentalphysiologists gave many reasons for the choiceof test animals, some practical and otherstruly comparative. But, despite strongphilosophical differences in the approachesthey represented, the view that it was best toincorporate as many species as possible intoresearch on physiological processes waswidespread in both periodicals. Authors aimedfor generality, but they treated it as aconclusion that would or would not follow fromthe examination of many species. After 1900,an increasing emphasis on standardization, thegrowth of the experimental method and thegrowing industrialization of the life sciencesled to a decline in the number of species usedin research. In this context, the selectivebreeding of animals for science facilitated achange in assumptions about the relationshipbetween generality and diversity. As animalswere increasingly viewed as things that wereassumed to be fundamentally similar, scientificgenerality became an a priori assumptionrather than an empirical conclusion.