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“It was there all along”: Situated uncertainty and the politics of publication in environmental epigenetics

Authors
  • Lloyd, Stephanie1
  • Raikhel, Eugene2
  • 1 Université Laval, Département d’anthropologie, Pavillon Charles-De Koninck, local 3421, 1030, avenue des Sciences-Humaines, Québec, QC, G1V 0A6, Canada , Québec (Canada)
  • 2 University of Chicago, Department of Comparative Human Development, Social Sciences Research Building - Office 103, 1126 E. 59th St., Chicago, IL, 60637, USA , Chicago (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
BioSocieties
Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
Sep 10, 2018
Volume
13
Issue
4
Pages
737–760
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1057/s41292-017-0092-x
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Drawing on two ethnographic examples from a laboratory study of a group conducting environmental epigenetics research on suicide risk, we examine the ways in which researchers go about making credible claims in the face of a range of profound uncertainties. We first explore how a range of factors led to what is now accepted as a fact or discovery being explained away, several years ago, as a combination of technical error and known background noise. To set this first example within a broader context, we turn to a debate that erupted in the lab during a journal club meeting about claims-making and publishing in science. Through these examples, we aim to demonstrate the complex terrain in which scientists manage epistemic uncertainties and produce credibility in environmental epigenetics research. Our goal is to trace uncertainties from the unknowable reasons and internal states that lead people to respond to data in a particular way, through to the technical difficulties in identifying data from noise, through to issues of ethical self-making, as students learn to become certain types of scientists. We argue that the ways in which uncertainty takes on meaning, has effects and is managed also has much to do with its situatedness.

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