Nicole C. Nelson

Position title: Associate Professor


Phone: (608) 265-3525

Room 1426, Medical Sciences Center


History of the recent life sciences, especially genetics; biology and society; science and technology studies; science and law; laboratory studies and scientific practice; ethnography and oral history.


I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. My other affiliations are with the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies and the History department. Previously I was a postdoctoral research fellow in Social Studies of Medicine at McGill University.

My research examines scientists’ assumptions about the natural world and how these assumptions shape scientific practice. In my book, Model Behavior, I explore how animal behavior geneticists’ beliefs about the complexity of gene action and of psychiatric disorders are reflected in their research with mouse models. For this work I won a First Book Award from the UW–Madison Center for the Humanities.

My next project will focus on the “reproducibility crisis,” a recent phenomenon where scientists have discovered that many established findings are difficult or impossible to replicate on subsequent investigation. I am interested in what assumptions scientists make about variation, and how these assumptions about the nature and magnitude of variation inform reproducibility efforts—researchers may be unsurprised to find, for example, that results vary between sexes, but much more concerned by variation between laboratories. I’ll be working on this new project as a fellow in residence at the Radcliffe Institute during the 2018-2019 academic year.

I also do research on new technologies in oncology research and clinical practice. As an embedded ethnographer in a trial investigating resistance to chemotherapy, I observed researchers as they introduced genomic technologies into existing clinical research routines. Work from this project, conducted in collaboration with Alberto Cambrosio and Peter Keating, has been published in Social Science & Medicine and New Genetics and Society. Currently I am conducting research with Pilar Ossorio on machine learning algorithms in oncology, where algorithms are now routinely used to estimate a patient’s risk of reoccurrence of their cancer.

At UW–Madison, I direct the Health and the Humanities undergraduate certificate program, and teach courses in science and technology studies, biology and society, and history of science. I have won numerous awards for my undergraduate teaching.

I am a Collaborating Editor for the journal Social Studies of Science, where I manage the review process and make decisions on a subset of manuscripts submitted to the journal. I’m also on the editorial board for the journal New Genetics and Society, the Journal of the History of Biology, and was the reviews editor at Social Studies of Science.

Curriculum Vitae

Nicole C. Nelson’s C.V.


Ph.D., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, Science and Technology Studies, 2011

M.A., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, Science and Technology Studies, 2007

B.Sc., University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Genetics and Social and Political Thought, 2004


Nicole C. Nelson, Model Behavior: Animal Experiments, Complexity, and the Genetics of Psychiatric Disorders (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences: Cheiron Book Prize

Forum for the History of Science in America: Philip J. Pauly Book Prize
Short Listed.

Selected Book Sections

“Becoming a research rodent” section in Natalie Porter and Ilana Gershon, eds., Living with Animals: Bonds across Species (Cornell University Press, 2018).

“Behavior Genetics: Boundary Crossings and Epistemic Cultures” section in Sahra Gibbon, Barbara Prainsack, Stephen Hilgartner, Janelle Lamoreaux, eds., Routledge Handbook of Genomics, Health and Society (2nd edition) (Routledge, 2018).

“Genomic Platforms and Clinical Research” section in Sahra Gibbon, Barbara Prainsack, Stephen Hilgartner, Janelle Lamoreaux, eds., Routledge Handbook of Genomics, Health and Society (2nd edition) (Routledge, 2018).

Selected Articles

Nicole Nelson, “Model Homes for Model Organisms: Intersections of Animal Welfare and Behavioral Neuroscience around the Environment of the Laboratory Mouse,” BioSocieties 11:1 (2016), 46-66.

Nicole C. Nelson, “A Knockout Experiment: Disciplinary Divides and Experimental Skill in Animal Behavior Genetics,” Medical History 59:3 (2015), 465–485.

Cambrosio, Alberto, Peter Keating, and Nicole C. Nelson, “Régimes thérapeutiques et dispositifs de preuve en oncologie: l’organisation des essais cliniques des groupes coopérateurs aux consortiums de recherche,” Sciences Sociales & Santé 32:3 (2014), 13-42.

Leonelli, Sabina, Rachel A. Ankeny, Nicole C. Nelson, and Edward Ramsden, “Making Organisms Model Humans: Situated Models in Alcohol Research,” Science in Context 27:3 (2014), 485-509.

Nelson, Nicole C., Peter Keating, Alberto Cambrosio, Adriana Aguilar-Mahecha, and Mark Basik, “Testing Devices or Experimental Systems? Cancer Clinical Trials Take the Genomic Turn,” Social Science and Medicine 111 (2014), 74-83.

Nelson, Nicole C., Peter Keating, and Alberto Cambrosio, “On being ‘Actionable’: Clinical Sequencing and the Emerging Contours of Genomic Medicine in Oncology,” New Genetics and Society 32:4 (2013), 405-428.

Nelson, Nicole C., “Modeling Mouse, Human, and Discipline: Epistemic Scaffolds in Animal Behavior Genetics,” Social Studies of Science 43:1 (2013), 3-29.

Keating, Peter, Alberto Cambrosio, Nicole C. Nelson, Andrei Mogoutov, and Jean-Philippe Cointet, “Therapy’s Shadow: A Short History of the Study of Resistance to Cancer Chemotherapy,” Frontiers in Pharmacology 4 (2013), 58.

Nelson, Nicole, “Shooting Genes, Distributing Credit: Narrating the Development of the Biolistic Gene Gun,” Science as Culture 21:2 (2012), 205-232.