Searching for “amazing data”: ethnography of an epigenetic research laboratory

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Epigenetics is a rapidly expanding field in the world of bioscience. The growth of this research field is visible in the exponential rise of the number of publications on the topic of epigenetics, as well as in the increasing number of research centres, national and international consortia specifically dedicated to epigenetics research, but also in the increasing production of epigenetic data, mainly around DNA methylation. This paper reports on findings from an ethnographic study carried out in an epigenetic research laboratory in London, using participant observation and interviews with researchers. The study reveals epigenetics researchers’ concern with data in order to produce results; they are particularly attentive to data quality and the number of samples they have access to. Researchers’ careful consideration for data shapes their daily practices inside and outside the laboratory. This paper specifically explores how researchers’ concern with data translates into collaborations with others, for instance through large-scale consortia. Scientific collaborations are usually considered as a useful and necessary practice allowing the advancement of knowledge, based on the sharing of expertise and data. But the competitive nature of scientific work also makes collaborations perilous exercises: in order to produce results, researchers must work together with their competitors in the field and agree on common agendas and conditions, especially around the exchange of valuable goods such as data and publications. The paper first explores researchers’ views about scientific collaborations. It then discusses how researchers engage in collaborations and develop strategies to work through its codes and norms in order to benefit from the collaboration. Finally, this paper interrogates what the concern with data in the epigenetic field and its translation in terms of collaborations means for the type of epigenetic knowledge produced.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEpigenomics of Common Diseases Conference 2016
Place of PublicationWellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


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