Symposium: Data in Time — The Epistemology of Historical Data

5 November 2016, 9:00 –11:45
Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta (GA)

Organiser: Sabina Leonelli

Speakers: Rachel A. Ankeny, Sabina Leonelli, David Sepkoski, Alison Wylie

Chair and commentator: James W. McAllister

Description: The symposium aimed to identify and investigate the epistemological concerns and challenges involved in processing data to facilitate their preservation and analysis in the long term.

Debates over data handling, and particularly the epistemic significance of “open” and “big” data, are ubiquitous in contemporary science. While philosophers of science are starting to engage with the forms and diversity of data practices and methods of inference across disciplines, less attention has been devoted to the conditions under which data can be preserved, disseminated and analyzed through time, so as to enable researchers to build on past efforts and boost future research. These concerns are particularly significant in fields where data acquired in previous periods can play a crucial role as evidence for subsequent research, and/or investigators can spend a lifetime investigating and revisiting the same datasets.

Within the symposium, the speakers considered and compared the epistemic implications of such challenges in the fields of biology, archaeology, paleontology, and medicine.


  • Session chair: James McAllister (University of Leiden)
  • 9:00 – 9:30 Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter): Time-Scales of Data Use: On the Life Cycles, Ontology and Understanding of Biological Data
  • 9:30 – 10:00 Alison Wylie (University of Washington / Durham University), Legacy Data, Radiocarbon Dating and Robustness Reasoning
  • 10:00 – 10:15 Coffee break
  • 10:15 – 10:45 David Sepkoski (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science — Berlin): Visualization, Narrative, and Historical Data: Paleontology in the 19th Century
  • 10:45 – 11:15 Rachel Ankeny (University of Adelaide): Preserving and Re-Using Case Reports: On Data Standardisation in Medicine
  • 11:15 – 11:45 James McAllister (University of Leiden): Commentary and discussion

Detailed programme and abstracts

The main PSA2016 conference page is here, linking to the abbreviated ‘Data in Time’ symposium and presentation abstracts here, while the full symposium proposal (with longer narrative description, abstracts, and references) can be downloaded here as PDF.

Further commentary was found on the Extinct Blog here.