Article ID: CBB344360523

“Conducted Properly, Published Incorrectly”: The Evolving Status of Gel Electrophoresis Images Along Instrumental Transformations in Times of Reproducibility Crisis (2023)


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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Article Katharina Steiner; Lukas Engelmann (2023) Circulation as a Visual Practice. Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte (pp. 143-157). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Anderson, Stuart
Birch, Kean
Bock von Wülfingen, Bettina
Bruns, Florian
Burke, Peter
Debru, Claude
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Acta Historica Leopoldina
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Historical Records of Australian Science
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
History of science, as a discipline
History of medicine, as a discipline
Science and society
Historical method
Academia; academic community and profession
Dyason, Diana
Sudhoff, Karl
Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
19th century
16th century
17th century
18th century
University of Melbourne

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