In his celebrated seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust discovers near the end that only involuntary memory is capable of resuscitating what time has made it lose. It is in the seventh volume that time is found again. In analogy to the novel, scientists lose much of the context as they produce their data in the process of research. I show in this section that in their interpretive process, they reconstitute precisely this context that they have earlier left behind as part of abstraction. That is, returning to the earlier quotation by Kant, the scientists have first applied negative attention to the contingent aspects of their fish and then spend a lot of effort to bring back into focus again as part of the meeting. They undo the decontextualization that their scientific method has produced. In the following three subsections, I exemplify the reconstruction of context in scientists ' discussion of (a) an ensemble of environmental factors, (b) the age of hatchery-released fish, and (c) the weight–porphyropsin link they had previously constituted.
An Ensemble of Environmental Factors
The scientists seemingly struggle with the fact that in one setting (Robertson Creek), the wild and hatchery-raised fish exhibit similar mean levels of porphyropsin; in the other setting (Kispiox Hatchery), there are vast differences between the wild fish and those in captivity. In this fragment from the data analysis session, those who collected the measurements (Shelley, Tiêu) mention size differences. The lead scientist links these differences to differences in “life history strategies” (turn 007), that is, he draws on a particular concept in biology to explain why the data might differ. It is not that the data tell him about differences in life history strategies, it is the strategies that tell him about differences—much in the way data coders did not arrive at hospital practices from the hospital data, as they were tasked to do, but used their knowledge of hospital practices to code the data (Garfinkel, 1967). Gregg then offers another concept: The fish that they are dealing with represent two different age classes—lower modal (i.e., early) second-year coho versus upper modal (i.e., late) first year—which may be due to differences in life history strategies (turn 007).
Shelley introduces another “quick point” by asking Elmo whether he knew where the fish originally were sourced. Elmo responds that they are from two rivers. This appears to surprise Shelley (“Oh it is?” [turn 010]). Rather than pursuing the idea of the two rivers, Shelley then suggests that it would make a big difference if the brood stock used in the hatchery were from a river closer to the ocean. That is, at that moment they do not appear to know where the Kispiox coho had been caught as the source of the roe (eggs) and milt (sperm) that produced the current brood. If these coho were from a river closer to the ocean then these would be more similar to the fish from Robertson Creek, which is but 30 km from the estuary, whereas Kispiox Hatchery is nearly 300 km from the ocean. Here, Shelley draws on geographical factors that might distinguish the fish and their physiology. This is consistent with the observations in a study of fish biologists and hatchery workers, who had trouble and ultimately could not categorize a specimen but, in trying to come up with criteria, drew on geographical factors that would differently affect the sheen on two species (Roth, 2005).
Gregg asks Shelley to write down “the question,” and then restates that they might be dealing with two age classes of fish based on the fact that the hatchery coho salmon were of different size. Elmo suggests that they would have to look at the [fish] scales, which, because there are annual growth rings on them, are a means for biologists to read the age of a fish. He suggests that this would be important given that they received on that very day a batch of fish from the Kispiox Hatchery with very differently sized specimens. Gregg picks up on the size differences, for which he offers two hypotheses: The fish either are exposed to an ensemble of environmental factors or are being held over (i.e., older fish still in the river).
Elmo then says where the fish had come from, which provides possible answers to both Shelley's and Gregg's contentions (turn 023). The fish are from different creeks, and these creeks constitute very different ecological niche conditions. It turns out that Elmo knows not only that the fish came from different river systems but also about the nature of these systems (turn 023). In one instance, it is a quick flowing creek, whereas the other creek flows through many ponds and even a lake. It is a slow-flowing creek. At this point, he also coarticulates a typical disease that comes from living in such a system, which is the disease that research team members had detected in some of the specimens (turn 023). Insiders can hear his response to Gregg's question concerning the origin of the big fish as pertaining to the Skatsnat River, where the productivity is higher and therefore leads to bigger fish. This fish is also diseased.
In this exchange with Gregg about the mortality, Shelley articulates yet another concrete observation that is relevant to the age problem: “one of them had a fish in its stomach” and he adds an assessment, “that was unusual” (turn 029). Thus, Shelley provides an explanation why he did not keep the dead fish; he and Elmo then look at each other, each responding with a subdued “no,” as if they were children caught doing something inappropriate. Shelley says that he found a fish in the stomach of one of his specimen, which he formulates as having found unusual. Gregg comments even more strongly: “Holy shit” (turn 030). While Shelley repeats the unusual nature of this observation, Gregg states that this “does sound like a lower modal year two” (turn 032). Elmo confirms: “they are definitely year-two, different release class” and therefore different that those that were “supplied from the hatchery” (turn 032).
Later, Elmo also suggests that the specimens are from different age classes and adds that “they had an auxiliary clip at that time,” which Shelley confirms. “The clip” refers to the fish hatchery practice of removing the adipose fin—a fin on the back of a fish, which is believed not to be necessary for efficient swimming. Fish found without adipose fin definitively are hatchery-raised coho. Gregg then notes that the other fish, the smaller ones, to be coho released during the present year from the hatchery. Elmo responds negatively, suggesting that the small fish are wild based on the fact that they do not lack their adipose fin (“they have no clips, no ad[ipose fin]”). Gregg then formulates what he is in the process of doing: he is trying to figure out whether the smaller fish are 1 year and the larger fish 2 years old. Shelley offers two possible explanations: (a) The stream where these small, 9-gram coho have been caught has a low productivity (which does not allow the fish to put on weight as they normally would) or (b) these fish migrate toward the ocean during their first year.
The biologists in this study grapple with identifying the age class of their specimens. The coho salmon they analyzed were of different size, which could be because of low productivity environment or because of different age class. The wild fish have come from different streams and are of different size. An additional piece of information is the gut content, which assists them in narrowing down the possible age class. In the course of grappling with their problem, the scientists bring up and discuss various possibilities. These possibilities derive from their concrete understanding of the river and creek system in the area, their familiarity with fish according to which only year-two coho would eat smaller fish, diseases that exist only in slower rather than faster flowing waters, and so on. Following the conversation, one can see these possibilities arise as something new. This contingent articulation of new information gives the learning that occurs an emergent, unpremeditated quality, as certain knowledge of the specifics of the origin of the fish or their state is articulated in some discursive context only to become significant to another aspect.
How Old Are Hatchery-Released Fish?
The age of the fish has been introduced as a possible confounding factor. Whether it is a confounding factor is neither certain nor confirmed at this stage. Knowing the biology of the species involved is an integral aspect of interpreting the data—an important aspect given that the students in the above-mentioned Preece and Janvier (1992) study were not likely having such knowledge about the shrimp in their graph interpretation task. The scientists draw on their knowledge of the source of the data to lay out possible interpretation scenarios. They do not just interpret the numbers to make some claim by inferential reasoning. In this meeting, the scientists suggest that the data should not be presented in the way they currently are, as there are differences that make the data from the different rivers or age classes incompatible. In effect, the scientists have found reasons for not interpreting the data as is, but have introduced information that allows them to defer interpretation.
In the preceding excerpts, an undetected confusion about the fish may be noticeable, a confusion that would become evident in the subsequent discussion. The hatchery-supplied coho are less than 20 months old—because fertilization occurs in October, the fish are about 8 months old—whereas the coho migrating toward the sea are older than 20 months (i.e., the release age). The size of the fish is a function of the living conditions and temperature; in wintertime the fish hardly feed and therefore hardly gain weight (and, as my ethnographic work in the hatchery showed, they even may lose weight), whereas the fish increase substantially in weight during the summer months (hatchery and wild). This is why hatchery workers, who model the growth of the fish, feed less in the winter than they do in the summer months.
The following segment shows that some of the scientists articulate presuppositions, whereas the others know from the time they have spent in the hatcheries that the truth is different—hatcheries release fish when they are “one plus” (i.e., fish that is more than 1 year old) rather than “zero plus” (i.e., fish in their first year). In fact, the lead scientist is unfamiliar with the precise release date and with the age of the wild coho salmon when these appear to be leaving the river. The hatchery ethnography shows that there are differences between the different species of salmonids that are raised in the hatcheries. For example, three species are raised at Robertson Creek: coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), steelhead (O. mykiss), and chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha). The hatchery releases these at different stages in their life cycle and at their respective optimum weight: at 20–25 grams (about 20 months following fertilization), 60 grams (∼18 months), and 6 grams (∼6 months). In the following fragment, two individuals turn out to know the timing of the release because of their extensive time in fish hatcheries: Elmo and me (author). Gregg states that the coho salmon are released during their first year and that the wild fish are of the same age (turns 074, 076). Elmo, however, contradicts him: The fish are “one plus” (1 year + [unspecified months]”) that is, they are released during their second year of life. Shelley concludes that the “little guys” “are the abnormal ones” that might go out early, and he offers a causal connection (“that's why”) between the similarities of “everything” and “them” and for “getting more of them” (turn 084, 086). He states to have “two comparisons of fish that are quite similar,” that is, the wild and hatchery-raised coho from Robertson Creek and the wild and hatchery-raised fish from Kispiox Hatchery (turn 086).
Gregg then suggests that they needed to document “that scenario” and adds that they also needed to document the Robertson Creek scenario, which he formulates as assuming to be a release of zero-plus. Elmo disagrees and proposes that it is “the same thing.” There are several brief exchanges at the end of which I contribute the fact that the coho eggs are fertilized in October and the fish are released in May (19 months later). Elmo later (incorrectly) suggests “[a year and] nine months,” which I confirm in a constative utterance. It is only at this point that Gregg realizes that the coho are released in their second year in both hatcheries, and he explicitly formulates what he just has learned: “Okay, now then, that's consistent.”
Shelley then has a long turn during which he summarizes the results presented and raises the central question: Why are the wild coho near the Kispiox Hatchery so different from the ones raised in the facility? He offers up the possibility that the ones with the lower values are actually released too late “so that they travel for another 50 km with the wrong pigment,” that is, with the rhodopsin pigment typical of the marine environment. In this case, then, the wild coho from Kispiox would be the normal ones—because they have the porphyropsin pigment typical of freshwater—and all the other fish are abnormal. He ends by saying that this “is possibly but speculation probably.”
Elmo changes topic, which, while not allowing us to assess the relevance of what Shelley has articulated, introduces a new piece of information relevant to the question of age. He formulates having had a thought: Two years prior to the meeting, there was a “terrible run” and only 80 returning coho were counted in that river in that year (turn 100). As a result, very few offspring—one-plus coho smolt—would be in the river and that most of the specimens that they received from that system would therefore be “zero-plus.” He adds that only the scale analysis would tell them the age of the fish and that this kind of analysis is not easy to do (turn 104).
In this instance, Elmo knows about the biology and that there could not have been many young fish in the age class where there were only 80 adult returning. As a consultant to fish hatcheries in that geographical area—and based on what he has learned about salmon during his dissertation—he is very familiar with the hatchery practices and with the life cycle of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus) species. Because of the ethnographic study of fish hatcheries conducted simultaneously, I, too, am very familiar with the practices in these institutions and the parts of the life cycle that the salmon spent in these institutions (beginning and end of their life cycle). What Elmo and I know from our extensive experience in the fish hatcheries does not come to be mobilized up front, as a starting point for the process of making sense of the data. Rather, it is in the course of the meeting and as relations with others that relevant aspects of our familiarity with the concrete settings of the hatcheries—their practices, the natural environment, climatic and geographical conditions—emerge as possibly important pieces of information that bear on the situation at hand. The learning process is the result of the dialogical relation from which the new knowledge emerges.
What has emerged, then, is the fact that small fish other than those attributed to Clifford Creek also have a likely age of zero plus, as the run that would have given rise to one-plus coho smolts was nearly wiped out. Gregg comes to realize some consistency, and Shelby articulates his sense that there are two good comparisons (wild vs. hatchery-raised, and geographical location) that their data afford. The mystery, then, as Shelby articulates, arises from the difference between the fish sourced at Robertson Creek Hatchery and those sourced at Kispiox Hatchery. In the former situation wild and hatchery-raised fish exhibit similar porphyropsin levels, but in the latter the porphyropsin levels are very different. Something other than weight has to give rise to the difference. Not articulated here—but which would become salient only years later—is the fact that there is little difference between the zero-plus and the one-plus wild coho. This could have led this team to pursue alternatives to the pattern exhibited in the Alexander et al. graph much earlier (Figure 2). But already in this meeting, Shelby presents evidence for the possible independence of porphyropsin levels from weight or age class.
Undoing the Weight–Porphyropsin Link?
The scientists have spent—in search of a possible explanation for the differences in porphyropsin (A2) levels between the hatchery-raised and wild fish from the area—a considerable amount of time on the question of the age class and weight of the coho fish that they have received from the Kispiox Hatchery. Some 15 minutes later in this meeting, Shelley actually contributes an analysis that suggests an independence of porphyropsin levels and weight. Following a discussion of the conditions under which the fish are kept in the university aquarium facility, Shelley changes topic when suggesting that “there is a quick analysis on the size” that he has conducted; it shows that “there seems to be absolutely zero trend.” He projects a graph (Figure 8)—to which Elmo immediately responds by shaking his head in what we might see as an expression of puzzlement and then utters, with rising intonation and using an interrogative: “What is this?”
Figure 8. Shelley projects this “quick analysis” as part of the meeting plots porphyropsin levels versus fish weight.
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Although one might have assumed that this additional analysis should have settled the issue, the scientists do not discuss it in this manner. Nobody present picks up on the potential relevance of this analysis. In fact, Elmo appears to be a little incredulous, as he laughs after stating that all data from all locations have been plotted. Shelley elaborates that he wanted “to get a sense of some trend,” and this is why he plotted “all three thousand [data points]” using “different colors [for the different locations where the coho had been captured].” He concludes that the data fill “the whole blank,” “the whole box,” which means that they “are getting size-unrelated data to porphyropsin” and that is something he “actually expected.” He expected this result, and that is why he brought the plot into the discussion. There is a long pause, which ends when Gregg begins to summarize what they have learned during this meeting.
Here, Shelley introduces a graph. It apparently shows that the porphyropsin levels are independent of fish size. Although this information appears to contradict what they have been discussing earlier, which is a relationship between weight/age class of the fish—at least at Kispiox Hatchery—and the porphyropsin levels, these two aspects of the meeting are not brought together and the implications are not discussed. The similarity in the data from zero-plus and one-plus coho provided a possibility for recognizing that it is not smoltification and the associated physiological changes that drive the difference in the visual system but some other factor. The publication of the paper in which the team ultimately reports its results suggests high correlations between porphyropsin levels and temperature or length of day. The sense that the relation between these variables exists and may be periodic emerges over the course of the following 2 years, with the accumulation of relevant data. At this stage of the analysis, however, what is later recognized as evidence—weight, age-class independence—is not yet seen as such. What Shelley just has presented stands on its own and, because Gregg continues with a summary of what he sees as emerging, this fact has no implications for the present discussion of the data. For months to come, the team continues to pursue the hypothesis of the correlation between the saltwater- and migration-related changes in porphyropsin levels rather than the seasonal changes.
Summary: The Past Recaptured
In analogy with Proust's last sequel (one translation of which is entitled The Past Recaptured), where the protagonist recaptures the past in finding time again, the foregoing subsections show how in the interpretive effort, the lost context reemerges for scientists as a matter of course in the process of establishing the signification of the data. But there is nothing in their meeting that would suggest that these scientists consciously, deliberately, or in a premeditated fashion seek to recontextualize the decontextualized data. It is in and through their effort to understand that they “wake [themselves] up” to remember what they have left behind. No individual member of the research group has all the information required or knows what it takes to understand or even realizes what the relevant information might be. All of this, the nature of what constitutes information and what is required to understand the phenomenon emerges from the context. Emergence here means that the end result could not have been predicted on the basis of adding up all preexisting knowledge available across the group but (parts of) what emerges exceeds and is in surplus of the sum total of what existed before. In the process, the ultimate graph is constituted as a synecdoche (part) of the research process (whole), as scientists learn to connect the data with the original settings (contexts) from which they extracted these. Confronted with the data that have been decontextualized in the process of research, the scientists now can be observed in the process of rebuilding the context that they had stripped.