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The mouse community

Feeling the rodent love

On the train last week, I was listening to the August 2 edition of the always-excellent Nature podcast ((The New Scientist podcast is good too, but I wish they wouldn’t try quite so hard to be funky and “accessible”.)), and I learned the exciting fact that scientists have now sequenced 15 different lab-mouse strains, mapping DNA differences to traits. As paper co-author Kelly Frazer explained to the host:

I think that this is an excellent resource that we have generated for the mouse community.

Ahhh. All the little mouses are scurrying around in glee and gratitude at this new resource they’ve been given. Heartwarming!

I found this a particularly cute’n’furry extension of the strange uses in our time of the word community. ((About which word and its political usages there is much in Chapter 2 of Unspeak.)) The mouse community here invoked isn’t the “community” of mice, mice in lab-cages around the world who keep in touch, as it might be, through email and text-messaging using their tiny paws on miniature BlackBerrys. No; it’s the “community” of people who use mice in scientific experiments.

I am not about to set up a campaign on this blog and e-petition the prime minister to liberate all lab mice from their horrid doom. Still, you mightn’t guess from the happy-sounding phrase “mouse community” that scientists quite often, if not mainly, do things to mice for which the mice themselves wouldn’t necessarily volunteer — like, you know, this:

Mouse 2

I doubt he minded, though, if it was for the good of the mouse community as a whole.

  1. 1  Andrew Brown  September 5, 2007, 10:47 am 

    Steven, this is a long-established usage among scientists. There ‘community’ is solely the people who work on their “experimental systems”. “The Worm Community” is — I would have thought — quite obviously not a community of nematodes. It was, rather, the self-conscious creation of the early worm scientists, with the aim of recruiting to their number.

  2. 2  Richard Carter, FCD  September 5, 2007, 8:59 pm 

    Nature has a podcast?!!!! How on earth had I missed this?

    Thanks for letting us know.

  3. 3  Steven  September 6, 2007, 9:15 am 

    Glad to be of service!

  4. 4  Russell Davies  September 6, 2007, 1:41 pm 

    I don’t know whether you’ve come across this usage of the term ‘community’ but some time ago on the news a bicycle shop owner referred to ‘the non-cycling community’. I’ve been puzzled by this ever since. Where does it meet? Is there a website? Does it not like Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman? I’ve just done a search on it and got over 600 hits, although only 15 were referenced initially. It seems to be a kind of default community – define a community and everyone outside it belongs to the remaining excluded community. However, it does open up an exciting range of new communities – the audience for a play could now be called the non-acting community, for example. The possibilities are endless.

  5. 5  Steven  September 6, 2007, 6:40 pm 

    That’s very interesting: negatively defined “communities”. But if I am to be supposed a member of the non-oyster-eating community as well as the non-tuba-playing community and the non-blonde community and the non-Sumo-fighting community, et cetera et cetera, where will it all end? I could hardly keep up with all the newsletters.

  6. 6  dsquared  September 6, 2007, 10:29 pm 

    I am pretty sure that Bertrand Russell comes to our rescue on this one, simply by inquiring about the membership of the non-community-member community.

  7. 7  Steven  September 6, 2007, 10:53 pm 


  8. 8  John Fallhammer  September 11, 2007, 3:44 pm 

    Sadly the New Scientist podcast ceased regular transmissions a while ago, though I notice from the link that they did a special in July.

    On the subject, as well as negatively defined communities, we should also beware of communities that are so broad as to be meaningless. Exhibit A: the put-upon motorist. Like most people, I use cars sometimes, and I get really annoyed when I get dragged into some notional community of Clarksonoid haters of speed limits, traffic wardens, etc.

    It seems to me that ‘-sphere’ as in ‘blogosphere’ would be far more appropriate than ‘community’. We could have the musosphere for mouse scientists, the autosphere for motor vehicle users and so forth. Hmm, perhaps not.

  9. 9  Steven  September 12, 2007, 1:04 am 

    Oh, now I feel guilty for having been a little rude about the New Scientist podcast.

    I suppose one potential problem with “-sphere” is when you find yourself having to talk about groups of people who are united in their love of quadrilaterals. The oblongosphere doesn’t sound right to me.

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