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

January 17, 2020 -
12:00pm to 1:00pm

Abstract: This talk offers a critical analysis of three touchstone research streams linking epigenetic markers with prenatal exposures and later life health in human populations: studies from 2008-2018 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 Richardson calls 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, Richardson examines 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.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Human Genetics

Location and Address

A115, Public Health