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What is to be done? Data infrastructures and doable problems in epidemiology, biomedicine, and beyond 
Carolina Mayes (University of Edinburgh)
Cristina Moreno Lozano (University of Edinburgh)
Lukas Engelmann (University of Edinburgh)
John Nott (University of Edinburgh)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Although technology cannot make problems doable, existing data infrastructures may make some problems more doable than others. This panel examines how research infrastructures have shaped doability in the health sciences, and how material and epistemic limitations are configured and confronted.

Long Abstract:

“Technology alone cannot make problems doable” (Fujimura 1987: 258). However, standard practices, shared infrastructures, and scientific bandwagons may make some problems more doable than others. In contemporary health research, existing data infrastructures powerfully shape the research programme. For instance, for almost half a century, aspects of epidemiological research have been mounted to the infrastructures and logics of genomics, transforming population health queries into gene-environment interaction research, exposomics, and deep phenotyping initiatives. But how has the ‘doability’ of genetic epidemiology determined which epidemics received attention while others are left invisible and unknowable?

This panel invites a wider discussion on the topic of doability in data-scientific research, asking: how have the affordances of research infrastructures shaped doable problems, and how have researchers grappled with the limitations of said infrastructures for addressing new and different questions? By “infrastructures” we refer to the specific qualities of archives, databases, and data collection technologies, including access and interoperability concerns, as well as funding requirements, career advancement demands and disciplinary norms. We welcome papers that deepen the conversation about doable problems in epidemiology and the health sciences specifically, but also invite contributions that address how research infrastructures adjacent to and beyond epidemiology configure the doability of research questions more generally, shaping what is asked and not asked, by whom and for what audience. We also encourage papers that critically examine the notion of doability, offering alternative perspectives on how material conditions determine and shape how research is pursued and how they might enable research programs to succeed or fail.

Accepted papers:

Session 1
Session 2