ERC Starting Grant, March 2014 – February 2019
- Principal Investigator: Sabina Leonelli
- Research Fellow: Niccolò Tempini
- PhD Student: Gregor Halfmann
- Advisory Board
This project was taken as a case study for open publications access, research data management and -sharing within ERC projects. Download the report here: PDF
This project aims to develop a philosophy of data-intensive science that clarifies how research practices are changing in the digital age, and examines how this affects current understandings of scientific epistemology within the philosophy of science and beyond. To this aim, we examine data practices, travels and uses across a variety of disciplines, including plant science, biomedicine, particle physics, climate science, environmental science, archeology and economics. In particular, we focus on the impact that the increasing reliance on online databases has on the travel and re-use of scientific data. While the overarching goal of the project is philosophical, we ground philosophical analysis on historical and social scientific methods and findings, and conduct research in collaboration with leading scholars in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science.
The scale of scientific data production has massively increased over the last decades, raising urgent questions about how scientists are to transform the resulting masses of data into useful knowledge. A technical solution to this problem is offered by technologies for the storage, dissemination and handling of data over the internet, including online databases that enable scientists to retrieve and analyze vast amounts of data of potential relevance to their research. These technologies are having a profound effect on what counts as scientific knowledge and on how that knowledge is obtained and used. This is a step change in scientific methods, which scientists refer to as ‘data-intensive’ research. The characteristics and philosophical implications of this emerging way of doing science have not yet been extensively and systematically analyzed. This is partly due to the relative scarcity of empirical, qualitative research on how data disseminated online are actually used across scientific fields; and partly to the lack of scholarship bringing results from social and historical studies of data-intensive research to bear on philosophical accounts of scientific methods, practices and knowledge. This project aims to fill this gap by combining the analytic apparatus developed by philosophers of science with empirical, qualitative methods used by social scientists to investigate cutting-edge scientific practices.
Methods and timeline
In the first phase of the project (2014–2017), the research team investigated how the use of online databases is affecting research practices and outcomes in two areas: plant science and biomedicine. This study was coordinated with scholars conducting similar research on other fields, so as to facilitate comparison across different sciences.
In the second phase (2017–2019), Leonelli will be using these results to analyze how data-intensive methods challenge existing philosophical understandings of the epistemic role of data, theory, experiments and division of labour in science, thus producing a systematic assessment of the implications of the rise of data-intensive research for how science is organized, conducted and assessed.
- Exploratory workshop “What Is Data-Intensive Science?” (Exeter, 17–19 Dec 2014)
- Workshop “From Big Data to Discovery” (Dartington Hall, 21–22 Apr 2016)
- Workshop “Pace Science” (Exeter, 16–17 May 2016)
- Conference track “The Lives and Deaths of Data” (at EASST 2016, Barcelona, 1 Sept 2016)
- Symposium “Data in Time” (at PSA 2016, Atlanta, 5 Nov 2016)
- Workshop “Data Journeys in Biomedicine” (Exeter, 11–13 Jan 2017)
- Session “Challenges and Opportunities in Data Integration” (at ISHPSSB 2017 conference, São Paolo, 20 July 2017)
- Symposium “Epistemic Strategies for the Integration of Big Data” (at EPSA 2017, Exeter, 7 Sept 2017)
- Final conference “Varieties of Data Journeys” (Exeter, 2–3 Nov 2017)
- Leonelli, Sabina (2016) Data-Centric Biology: A Philosophical Study. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press. pp. 288.
- pdf Tempini, N. (2017) Till Data Do Us Part: Understanding data-based value creation in data-intensive infrastructures. Information and Organisation, 27: 191–210.
- pdf Leonelli, S., Davey, R.P., Arnaud, E., Parry, G. and R. Bastow (2017) Data management and best practice for plant science. Nature Plants, 3: 17086. doi: 10.1038/nplants.2017.86.
- pdf Leonelli, S. (2017) Global Data Quality Assessment and the Situated Nature of “Best” Research Practices in Biology. Data Science Journal, 16: 32. doi: 10.5445/dsj-2017-032.
- pdf Leonelli, S. (2016) Locating Ethics in Data Science: Responsibility and Accountability in Global and Distributed Knowledge Production. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Part A, 374: 20160122 (12 pg).
- pdf Ankeny, R.A. and Leonelli, S. (2016) Repertoires: A post-Kuhnian perspective on scientific change and collaborative research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science part A, 60: 18–28.
- pdf Leonelli, S., Rappert, B. and Davies, G. (2016) Introduction — Data Shadows: Knowledge, Openness, and Absence (Editorial to special issue). Science, Technology, & Human Values, 42(2): 191–202. doi: 10.1177/0162243916687039
- pdf Levin, N. and Leonelli, S. (2016) How does one “open” science? Questions of value in biological research. Science, Technology and Human Values, 0162243916672071 (pp. 1–26). doi: 10.1177/0162243916672071.
- pdf Aicardi, C., Del Savio, L., Dove, E. S., Lucivero, F., Tempini, N. and Prainsack, B. (2016) Emerging ethical issues regarding digital health data. On the World Medical Association Draft Declaration on Ethical Considerations Regarding Health Databases and Biobanks. Croatian Medical Journal, 57 (2): 207–213.
- pdf Leonelli, S. (2016) The disruptive potential of data publication. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London (Spec. Iss.). doi: 10.1098/rsnr.2016.0036.
- pdf Leonelli, S. (2015) What Counts as Scientific Data? A Relational Framework. Philosophy of Science, 82(5): 810–821.
- pdf Leonelli, S., Spichtiger, D. and Prainsack, B. (2015) Sticks AND Carrots: Encouraging open science at its roots. Geo, 2(1): 12–16. doi: 10.1002/geo2.2. Two substantive responses to this paper have been published on blog.geographyandenvironment.com.
- pdf Leonelli, S. and Ankeny, R.A. (2015) Repertoires: How to Transform a Project into a Research Community. BioScience, 65(7): 701–708.
- Cordella, A. and Tempini, N. (2015) E-government and organizational change: Reappraising the role of ICT and bureaucracy in public service delivery. Government Information Quarterly (online first). doi: 10.1016/j.giq.2015.03.005.
- pdf Tempini, N. and Leonelli, S. (accepted, 2018) Genomics and Big Data. In: Routledge Handbook for Genomics, Health and Society. Routledge.
- pdf Fleming, L., Kessel, A., Murray, V., Depledge, M., Leonelli, S., Tempini, N., Gordon-Brown, H., Nichols, G., Sarran, C., Vineis, P., Leonardi, G., Golding, B. and Haines, A. (2017) Big Data in Environment and Human Health. In Shugart, H. (editor-in-chief) et al, Oxford Research Encyclopedia in Environmental Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- pdf British Academy and The Royal Society (2017) Data management and use: Governance in the 21st century. London: The Royal Society Newsletter (June 2017), Pp 1-99. Perspective 6, “Data use, equality and society” (pp 45-46) written by Sabina Leonelli.
- pdf Leonelli, S. (2016) Why Open Data Now? Big Data, Knowledge Production and the Political Economy of Research. Chapter 2 (pp. 7–11) of the Figshare State of Open Data report (October 2016; press release here).
- pdf Leonelli, S., Martens, L. and Latre, S. (2016) Position statement on Open Data of the Young Academies of Europe and Global Young Academy (April 2016).
- pdf Leonelli, S. (2014) Global Young Academy Response to Science 2.0: Science in Transition consultation of The European Commission's Directorates-General for Research and Innovation.