Professor Sabina Leonelli


I moved from Italy to London in 1997, to undertake a BSc course in History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science at the STS Department of University College London. Thanks to my great teachers, those three years had a crucial influence on my intellectual development. I then earned an MSc in History and Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics and I worked as a research assistant to Hasok Chang in the 'Measurement' project at the Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science. I carried out my doctoral research in the Netherlands as part of the project ‘Understanding Scientific Understanding’ based at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, with Henk de Regt and Hans Radder. Between 2002 to 2007, I served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Graduate Journal of Social Science and I followed the training provided by the WTMC (Netherlands Graduate School for Science, Technology and Modern Culture). Before landing in Exeter in 2008, I worked as a research officer in the Leverhulme/ESRC project ‘How Well Do ‘Facts’ Travel?’ based at the Department of Economic History of the London School of Economics and headed by Mary Morgan.

I have been funded by several public and private bodies, including the European Research Council, the ESRC, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, to carry out a variety of projects in the history, philosophy and social studies of biology, biomedicine and data science. Details of current projects, publications and other resources (including media, blogs and videos of lectures) are available here

Aside from my main scholarly activities as a philosopher and historian of science, I have a strong interest in science policy and governance, inspired by my scholarly work on the epistemic, social and ethical dimensions of automation and data-intensive research. I have authored several policy reports, including one on the impact of big data on biomedicine for the Swiss government in 2017, one on Global Access to Research Software for the Global Young Academy in 2018, and three reports for the European Commission Mutual Learning Exercise "Open Science: Incentives and Rewards" in 2017 and 2018.

From 2012 to 2017 I was a member of the Global Young Academy, where I coordinated the GYA Working Group on Open Science and co-authored the position statements on Open Science and Open Data. I continue to represent the GYA as a nominated member of the Open Science Policy Platform of the European Commission until 2020, where I chaired the Open Science Publishing working group in 2017 (on whose advice the European Commission launched the upcoming European Publishing Platform) and acted as rapporteur for the Integrated Advice working group in 2018 (producing the OSPP-REC, recommandations for the Competitiveness Council of the European Commission that were adopted in May 2018).

From 2013 to 2018, I serve as Associate Editor of the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. I also serve on the executive boards of the Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice, the PhilSci-Archive (the open access archive for philosophy of science), the plant community GARNet and the journals Science, Technology and Human Values; The Reasoner, Big Data and Society, Data and Medicina e Storia. From 2013 to 2017 I served on the steering committee of the European Philosophy of Science Association (EPSA) and I am the Senior Co-Chair of the EPSA Women's Caucus (2015-2019). Further, I am involved in the co-ordination of the UK Network for Integrated History and Philosophy of Science (meeting annually), the European Advanced Seminar in the Philosophy of the Life Sciences (meeting biannually) and the network for the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Plant Science in the UK.

In the past, I have coordinated the postgraduate teaching in SPA and I am currently Academic Lead and Inclusivity officer for the department. At the undergraduate level, I have offered an 'experimental' course to third-year philosophy students, in which they got to do original research and produce professional papers (the best outputs are published on the digital platform Pragmatism Tomorrow). I continue to teach classes at MA level, including a new module on Data Ethics and Governance as well as a long-running module on Cultures of the Life Sciences, but as I am on research leave to lead an ERC Starting Grant, the majority of my teaching activities will resume in 2020.

I am a member of the Philosophy of Science Association, the European Philosophy of Science Association, the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society of Biology and the Society for the Philosophy of Information. I frequently serve as a referee for several journals in the philosophy, history and social studies of science, as well as national funding bodies from the UK, USA, Italy, Netherlands, France and Belgium.

I live in Exeter with my husband and our two children.