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Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Presents

Sarah Richardson Harvard University

3/27/20, 3:35 PM

About this event

Cryptic Effects at a Distance: Constructing Causal Claims in Fetal Epigenetic Programming Research

Sarah Richardson

Department of History of Science and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University


Abstract: This paper offers a critical analysis of three touchstone research streams linking epigenetic markers with prenatal exposures and later life health in human populations: studies of individuals gestated during the Dutch Famine; research on individuals prenatally exposed to a 1998 ice storm in Quebec; and studies of the offspring of Jewish Holocaust survivors. In human studies, maternal intrauterine effects are what I call cryptic: they are small in effect size, vary depending on ecosocial context, and occur at a great temporal distance from the initial exposure. The fetal epigenetic programming hypothesis functions as a narrative glue that coheres disparate cryptic findings into plausible causal stories. Through close analysis of these research streams, I examine precisely what inferences scientists believe epigenetic studies can support, and how, in practice, scientists construct causal claims in fetal epigenetic programming research, despite the crypticity of their findings.

This public lecture is free, no registration is required.
Contact: Janet McKernan mcps@umn.edu 612-625-6635

Event Location
  • 101 Tate Hall
  • Minneapolis MN
  • USA - United States