, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 737–760 | Cite as

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

  • Stephanie LloydEmail author
  • Eugene Raikhel
Original Article


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.


uncertainty environmental epigenetics controversies credibility ethnography anomaly 



This manuscript is comprised of original material that is not under review elsewhere. The study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. Neither of the authors have any competing interests – intellectual or financial – in the research detailed in the manuscript.


This work was supported by the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (273500).


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© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département d’anthropologieUniversité LavalQuébecCanada
  2. 2.Department of Comparative Human DevelopmentUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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