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Pavlov's Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0801866906
ISBN-10: 0801866901
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Editorial Reviews

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Between 1901 and 1904, Ivan Pavlov (Figure) was nominated on four successive occasions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In 1904, his candidacy was at last successful: Pavlov was awarded the prize in recognition of his research on the physiology of digestion. In making this award, the prize committee was forced to wrestle with the difficult question of to what extent the research results that emanated from Pavlov's laboratory were to be credited to him rather than to his fellow investigators. The issue arose because after 1891, Pavlov ceased to be a lone researcher and became director of the physiology division at the newly established Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg, Russia. Originally intended as a bacteriologic center emulating those of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch in western Europe, the Institute mutated into a more wide-ranging establishment, with divisions devoted to chemistry, pathology, and syphilology, as well as microbiology. M.V. Nencki, who had been recruited from the University of Bern to run the chemistry division, was used to operating in a large establishment capable of supporting a number of collaborators. He insisted that a similar laboratory "designed for large cadres" be provided at the new institute. This initiative was to have a decisive effect on the forms of investigation that were to be undertaken there. Pavlov and the other division chiefs were in effect put in charge of sizable laboratories capable of supporting the research of several investigators simultaneously. His was thus as much a managerial as a scientific role. There was no lack of willing workers for this physiology "factory." Developments in Russian medicine in the aftermath of the Crimean War supplied a steady stream of praktikanty -- young physicians who were anxious to acquire scientific credentials in order to advance their careers. They would come to the institute for a year or so to undertake research in one of the laboratories with a view to obtaining a doctorate. Few of the praktikanty who flocked to Pavlov's division had had any previous training in physiology. Most, moreover, returned to clinical medicine after their stay at the institute, rather than pursuing careers as experimenters. It might seem that these characteristics would limit their value as collaborators. But it was precisely these qualities that made most praktikanty so serviceable for the kind of research program that Pavlov was to create. He was able to steer inexperienced workers toward particular projects that contributed to his own grand project of elucidating the workings of the organs of the digestive system. He was, moreover, in a position to exercise a decisive influence over the way in which the results of these investigations were interpreted and presented. In short, Pavlov was able to adopt an authoritarian managerial style that ensured that his collaborators served as little more than additional hands and senses under his constant supervision. The governing intellect behind all the investigations taking place in the physiology division remained that of its director. This centralized form of management resulted in a homogeneity and consistency in the products of the physiology factory. Pavlov revised the reports and dissertations of his coworkers to ensure a uniform style of presentation. He also insisted that all the products of his laboratory conform to his distinctive view of the organism in general and of the digestive system in particular. Central to this vision was the belief that physiological processes were regular (pravil'nye) and purposive. They represented adaptations by the organism to external and internal stimuli of various kinds. He saw the digestive system, for instance, as a "factory" in which specific types and quantities of secretions were generated in response to particular foodstuffs. Pavlov was also unswervingly committed to the doctrine of "nervism" -- the view that all physiological operations and adaptations were regulated by the nervous system. These principles were elevated almost to the status of a laboratory dogma. Among the most fascinating parts of this book are the sections in which Todes outlines the various forms of negotiation and interpretation that permitted the scatter of raw data gathered by Pavlov's collaborators in experiments on canine digestion to be fitted to characteristic secretory curves. These curves served a crucial rhetorical function within Pavlovian physiology: they were graphic demonstrations of the lawful response of the digestive glands to various kinds of nutrients. Such regularity was, however, attained only after much selection and sifting of the various results obtained in the laboratory. One of the most useful resources that was available to Pavlov and his collaborators as they sought to account for seemingly deviant data was an appeal to the idiosyncrasies of particular experimental subjects. The canine psyche played a productively ambiguous part in the work of the Pavlov laboratory. On the one hand, quirks of personality were a potential source of error. On the other hand, the peculiarities of individual dogs could be invoked to account for experimental results that conflicted with laboratory doctrine. Pavlov was a pioneer of long-term experimentation involving surgically altered animals; he maintained that brief experiments involving severely traumatized subjects could not yield reliable results. In contrast, dogs that recovered from surgery and survived for a substantial length of time were, in Pavlov's view, sufficiently "normal" to provide trustworthy evidence of the physiological workings of the digestive system. Todes devotes considerable attention to these often-overlooked martyrs to medical science. He quotes a remarkable statement from Pavlov that such a dog was "almost a participant in the experiments conducted upon it, greatly facilitating the success of the research by its understanding and compliance." Todes's account of Pavlov's physiology factory is a fascinating study of social and political, as well as intellectual, aspects of the creation and maintenance of a successful research school. My only regret is that the book ends with Pavlov's launching of his later research on the workings of the higher nervous system. Todes has presumably reserved this topic for his forthcoming biography of Pavlov. Stephen Jacyna, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2002 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.


"A marvellous book... He is, as far as I can judge, so in control of his primary material and so informed historiographically about how to use it that admiration seems the appropriate response." -- Christopher Lawrence, Medical History

"A thought provoking and important book...Daniel Todes is a fine scholar and craftsman. Historians of life science, and anyone interested in the life of science, will read this book with pleasure and profit." -- Robert E. Kohler, Journal of the History of Biology

"Todes has achieved an impressive feat of scholarship, combining meticulous research with analytical clarity, which does full justice to his compelling subject." -- Steve Sturdy, NATURE

"Todes's account of Pavlov's physiology factory is a fascinating study of social and political, as well as intellectual, aspects of the creation and maintenance of a successful research school." -- Stephen Jacyna, Ph.D., New England Journal of Medicine

"Beyond providing a vivid portrait of Pavlov as scientific entrepreneur, Todes sheds new light on how Pavlov came to his theories of conditional reflex, his most enduring legacy.This extensively research and satisfying book on the experimentation leading up to the 1904 Nobel prize whets the reader's appetite for a fuller rendition of this remarkable scientist's life." -- Angela N.H. Creager, Nature Medicine

"For anyone wanting particulars about Pavlov's research protocols, results, and practical applications, this is an excellent source." -- Doody's Health Sciences Review Journal

"Daniel Todes has written a masterful book that offers a unique combination of an insider's understanding of Pavlov's science and the outsider's perspective of the critical historian. His book is a significant contribution to the recent spate of studies that emphasize laboratory praxis... [A] wonderfully complex and intricate story." -- Otniel I. Dror, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"Todes analyzes the unfolding of Pavlov's central scientific vision with a sureness of hand that will be hailed by historians of science... Readers will find their own favorite chapters in this enticing book." -- Susan Gross Solomon, Slavic Review

"Pavlov's physiology has fully benefited from Todes' extensive and intimate knowledge of the protagonist... Living up to the intention to appeal not only to humanities scholars, but also to scientists, Todes treats the basics of science and of history-writing symmetrically." -- Lyubov G. Gurjeva, Endeavour

"Todes's excellent work takes its place among the histories of experimentation that place empirical analysis and precision within the context of social relations, politics, institutions, and personalities, in this case, dog as well as human." -- Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"Pavlov's Physiology Factory is a work of prodigious scholarship, utilizing a massive collection of published and unpublished resources which would be otherwise inaccessible to English-speaking readers. The work is rich, not only in its portrayal of this particular enterprise, but in its suggestion of approaches applicable to other case-histories in the evolution of modern large-scale laboratories." -- Frederic L. Holmes, Yale University

"Todes engages Pavlov's complex personality in a unique way -- through his management of a large and productive scientific laboratory. This original and insightful study will be useful to historians of science, physiologists, and psychologists who want to investigate the origins of current methodology." -- Lawrence P. Schramm, The Johns Hopkins University

"Todes's book is particularly rich." -- Alexei Kojevnikov, Journal of Modern History


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (November 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801866901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801866906
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,136,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carla C. Keirns on August 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Todes's exhaustive study of Ivan Pavlov's laboratory from 1891 to 1904 illustrates the transformation of a lone-investigator to the manager of a large team of scientists all contributing data, experiments, and methods to a larger body of work. This change in scientific style is characeristic of the professionalization of scientific careers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and has much to say about the origins of current laboratory enterprises with teams of technicians, research assistants, graduate students, and post-doctoral scientists all working under a single senior scientist. Todes's detailed analysis of letters, laboratory notebooks, and archival collections in Russia makes this the definitive work in English on Ivan Pavlov's work. It is limited to the work on digestion that earned Pavlov the Nobel Prize, but does not provide a complete account of the work on conditioned reflexes for which Pavlov is now most famous, a subject that the author may have chosen to save for a larger biography of Pavlov. Nonetheless, if we want to understand how a previously obscure physiologist became the leader of a world-class research institute, using the Russian royal family for support, Todes's work is the place to start. Definitive and well worth reading!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Yee on July 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not sure if it is worth the money.
It provides a historical account, in context, of Pavlov's legacy.
The information is not necessarily richer than what one may access from the web.
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4 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the beginning of 20th century Pavlov (Russian physiologist) was nominated several times for the Nobel prize. Pavlov was rejected several times because he freely credited his co-workers which was very unusual at that time and the Nobel committee concerned who was mostly responsible for results - Pavlov, or people working in his lab. Daniel Todes, the author of the book, failes to mention that since then crediting of one's coworkers became very common in the West too. Today it is almost impossible to find a lab where the boss failes to credit his or her multiple co-workers for the experiments conducted by them but conceived by the boss. Nobel Commettee doesn't have a problem with this any more. But Daniel Todes does. He is painstakingly counting the references for Pavlov's technicians on the pages of his Lectures, making it almost a crime. I am well in the middle of the book (probably I will never finish it), and I am still left wondering why such undistinguished guy (in the Mr. Todes' view) finally got his Nobel Prize. According to the book, Pavlov was rather a mediocre scientist, working in mediocre institution in a backward country (that's Russia, and this is probably the key to understand Mr. Todes position), who never invented anything new (Pavlov's famous surgical technics were traced to old technics, in which nerves were freely cut on an assumption that they are irrelevant. This is the same as saying that invention of the automobile was nothing exceptional, since long before people used horse-drawn carriages). Mr. Todes comes very close to accusing Pavlov of scientific dishonesty (Pavlov's claim of his "happy dogs" was not true, in Mr.Read more ›
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