RNA splicing at 40: From public memory to epistemic justice

14 novembre 2017 • 12h30 14h00
UQAM, Pavillon Paul-Gérin-Lajoie (N), salle N-8150
7 novembre 2017


RNA splicing at 40: From public memory to epistemic justice


Dr. Pnina Geraldine Abir-Am, Chercheuse résidente, Women’s Studies Research Center, Research, Art and Activism, Brandeis University, USA


La conférence est co-organisée avec la Chaire de recherche du Canada en histoire et sociologie des sciences (UQAM) et le Centre de recherche interuniversaire sur la science et la technologie (CIRST).


The talk reflects, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the discovery of RNA splicing, (2017, 1977) why the public memory of this discovery does not include categories of scientists who played a key role in it. (especially women, foreign, and junior scientists) Perhaps second to mRNA and DNA structure only, the discovery of RNA splicing changed our conception of gene structure, and the origins of genomic diversity,  leading to current progress in understanding how the spliceosome, the largest stand alone biological assembly, performs the splicing mechanism.

The talk focuses on the processes of exclusion of women, foreign, and junior scientists from the public memory of this discovery, and on the impact of such an outcome on social inequity in science, such as the persisting under-representation of women, foreign, and junior scientists in scientific discovery. For example, though women were the « first authors » of two discovery papers, the 1993 Nobel Prize was divided between two lab directors who did not even use the « clinching » technique on their own. Along these lines, the claims of scientists from other countries (France and Israel) to have independently co-discovered the splicing phenomenon were not accepted by US scientists, who controlled the reception of the discovery, as well as its image as « simultaneous » in two central labs. The talk also interrogates the role of historians of science in bringing about « epistemic justice » for these categories of scientists.

*L’entrée est libre et gratuite dans la limite des places disponibles.
**La conférence sera présentée en anglais.

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biographie de la conférencière

Dr. Pnina Geraldine Abir-Am is a historian of science who published widely on the history of molecular biology, women and gender in science, and public memory. She also edited or co-edited four pioneering volumes, including Uneasy Careers and Intimate Lives, Women in Science, 1789-1979 which received an Award from the History of Science Society in USA for outstanding research and is considered a « classic » publication. Dr. Abir-Am’s current work focuses on issues of epistemic justice in recognizing women, foreign, and junior scientists who played a key role in the discovery of RNA splicing.

Dr. Abir-Am studied at the Universite de Montreal; (Ph.D/ Hist.Sci.) and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (M.Sc./HPS, Science Teaching Diplome, B.Sc./Biochemistry) She taught at the Universities of Johns Hopkins, UC-Berkeley, Jerusalem, and Ottawa where she served as Joint Chair of Women’s Studies. (an activity beautifully described by Reine Degarie in the UO Gazette) Dr. Abir-Am also held research positions at CNRS, Paris and the Wellcome Institute, London. Since 2007 she has been a Resident Scholar at WSRC, Brandeis University where she is active in its Student-Scholar Partnership program. Dr. Abir-Am lectures widely, e.g. in Atlanta, Boston, Edinburgh, Edmonton, Jerusalem, Madrid, Paris, Prague, and Tokyo. (last two years)


Links to pdf versions of the speaker’s articles on recent History Mol. Biol. events : (2012-2017)

–  « RNA Splicing at 40: Reflections on Scientific Progress, Policy, and Social Justice »

–  « IWHC-Tokyo-2015 – An Enchanted Conference I almost Missed« , (on International Workshop in the History of Chemistry and my paper there on « L. Pauling’s « boys » and the mystery of DNA structure »)

–  « The ‘Mozart’ of Molecular Biology, Sequencing  and Related Themes for DNA at 60« , (on our session at the HSS 2013 Annual Meeting)

–  « Photo 51—A Recent Addition to History-of-Science-Inspired Theatre » (on plays on Rosalind Franklin and the enigma of DNA structure)

Mis à jour le 20 novembre 2017 à 14 h 53 min.