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“Conducted properly, published incorrectly”: the evolving status of gel electrophoresis images along instrumental transformations in times of reproducibility crisis

Callaerts, Nephtali and Hocquet, Alexandre and Wieber, Frederic (2023) “Conducted properly, published incorrectly”: the evolving status of gel electrophoresis images along instrumental transformations in times of reproducibility crisis. [Preprint]

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Abstract

For the last ten years, within molecular life sciences, the reproducibility crisis discourse has been embodied as a crisis of trust in scientific images. Beyond the contentious perception of "questionable research practices" associated with a digital turn in the production of images, this paper highlights the transformations of gel electrophoresis as a family of experimental techniques. Our aim is to analyze the evolving epistemic status of generated images and its connection with a crisis of trust in images within that field.
From the 1980s to the 2000s, we identify two key innovations (precast gels and gel docs) leading to a "two-tiered" gel electrophoresis with different standardization procedures, different epistemic statuses of the produced images and different ways of generating (dis)trust in images. The first tier, exemplified by differential gel electrophoresis (DIGE), is characterized by specialized devices processing images as quantitative data. The second tier, exemplified by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE), is described as a routine technique making use of image as qualitative "virtual witnessing". The difference between these two tiers is particularly apparent in the ways images are processed, even though both tiers involve image digitization. Our account thus highlights different views on reproducibility within the two tiers. Comparability of images is insisted upon in the first tier while traceability is expected in the second tier. It is striking that these differences occur not only within the same scientific field, but even within the same family of experimental techniques. In the second tier, digitization entails distrust, whereas it implies a collective sentiment of trust in the first tier.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Callaerts, Nephtali
Hocquet, Alexandre0000-0001-6361-5780
Wieber, Frederic
Additional Information: accepted for publication in "Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte"
Keywords: Epistemic status of images ; Reproducibility Crisis ; Gel Electrophoresis
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Specific Sciences > Chemistry
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Depositing User: M Alexandre Hocquet
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2023 12:10
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2023 12:10
Item ID: 22183
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Specific Sciences > Chemistry
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Date: 2023
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/22183

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