Skip to main content

Misbehaving Science

Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics

Misbehaving Science

Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics

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.

320 pages | 5 line drawings, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology

History of Science

Sociology: Formal and Complex Organizations, Medical Sociology, Theory and Sociology of Knowledge


"Panofsky’s book is the best empirical and conceptual extension to date of Bourdieu’s perspectives on the sociology of science.  This history of the fascinating understory of behavioral genetics will revive studies of scientific specialities by opening up new and fruitful questions."

Thomas F. Gieryn | Indiana University

“In this pioneering expedition across the ‘archipelago’ of approaches that make up behavior genetics, Aaron Panofsky charts a new course for understanding how scientific fields become enmeshed in controversy. Misbehaving Science sheds new light on the troubled quest to locate human behavior in our genes, revealing how the fragmentation of the field, and the absence of consensus about ‘good science’ within it, has left it mired in debate. Based on careful scholarship, this is a first-rate history of a scientific domain that also proposes new directions for critically evaluating the modern organization of knowledge production.”

Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research

“Panofsky has successfully captured the tensions that lie at the foundation of behavioral genetics. His approach is both engaging and provocative, most notably his characterization of the field as constituted of archipelagos. The analytic purchase is significant, and Misbehaving Science will likely find a high place in the rapidly expanding literature in social studies of science.”

Troy Duster, author of Backdoor to Eugenics

“Gripping and salutary. . . told with wonderful insight.”

New Scientist

“A particularly rich example of the ways practical logics can shape and constrain future organizational decisions across many different kinds of fields.”

Social Forces

Misbehaving Science will surely generate great nature/nurture discussions in the context of human behavior. Recommended.”


Misbehaving Science examines how scientists position themselves in relation to these debates and how scientists’ responses to controversy have shaped the structure of the field. In doing so, Panofsky offers novel ways of understanding collective patterns of action in biomedical research. . . . The conclusions Panofsky reaches are specific to the field of behavior genetics, but his approach offers insights that are potentially applicable to many other fields. His exemplary handling of different levels of analysis would make this text especially useful for a graduate-level methods course.”

Medical Anthropology Quarterly

“Many readers will look at this book as a story of the development of behavior genetics; but beyond this history, what Panofksy’s volume offers is a way of thinking about the structure of scientific fields and the relationship between field structure and scientific controversy. . . . Historians will be captivated by Panofsky’s rendering of the development of behavior genetics. He tracks the controversies that are the core of his book in tremendous detail and evinces a deep understanding of the intricate history of the field. For sociologists, Panofsky offers behavior genetics as a way to think differently about Bourdieu’s field theory and suggests we carefully consider the logic of misbehaving fields.”

Contemporary Sociology

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



Social Science History Association: President's Book Award

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press