Professor Sabina Leonelli

Research Interests

I pursue an approach to philosophy of science that is grounded on the empirical study of scientific practices, as informed by historical research, ethnographic methods used in the social and anthropological studies of science and technology, and collaboration with practicing scientists. I have a strong interest in the following topics:

  • Data-Intensive Science and Practices of Data Sharing and Re-Use (see
  • Open Science and Open Data
  • The Regulatory Role and Epistemic Impact of Bioinformatics in Biology and Biomedicine
  • Bio-Ontologies
  • History and Epistemic Status of Model Organism Research
  • History, Philosophy and Sociology of Plant Biology
  • The Role of Embodied Knowledge and Skills in Scientific Understanding
  • Abstraction and Modelling Processes in Biology
  • Distributed Cognition and Division of Scientific Labor
  • Unity, Disunity and Integration in Science
  • Early American Pragmatism
  • Science Policy and the Globalisation and Political Economy of Scientific Research.

I also taught bioethics to second-year undergraduate students in the College of Biosciences (2009-2013).

Research Supervision

Philosophy, history and social studies of data-intensive science, bioinformatics, experimental research on organisms and model systems, translational research and Open Science

Role of digital technologies in shaping scientific research and communication

Impact of automation and artificial intelligence on knowledge production and scientific methods

Projects concerning plant biology, including its relations to agriculture and data science

Global governance, science and democracy

General philosophy of science (especially philosophy of science in practice)

Science and Technology Studies

Pragmatism and empiricism

Research Students

As first supervisor / co-supervisor:

Gregor Halfmann ("Data Processing in Oceanography")

Elis Jones ("The Significance of 'Value' to Coral Reef Scientists")

As second supervisor: 

Miguel Lopez Paleta (UNAM, Mexico; "The Chicken as an Experimental Organism")

Stefano Canali (University of Hannover, "Causality and Epistemology of Data in Exposomics Research")

Dook Sheperd (University of Adelaide, "The Honeybee as a Model of Cognition")

Necmiye Ackali (University of Exeter, experimental philosophy)

Former PhD students:

Nicholas Binney ('History and philosophy of diagnosis: the case of heart failure', completed 2017).

James Lowe ('Normal development, preformation and epigenesis in early 20th century experimental biology', completed 2015).

Tarquin Holmes ('Wildtype in the history of biology', completed 2016)

Jo Donaghy ("Researchers' Assumptions and Mathematical Models: A Philosophical Study of Metabolic Systems Biology", completed 2014).

Pietro Berti ('Fuelling Expectations: UK Biofuel Policy', completed 2014).

Sara Green (Aarhus, Denmark; 'Systems biology and the quest for organising principles'', completed 2014).

Luca Iori (PhD at the University of Bologna; 'Nazareno Strampelli and the development of agricultural genetics in Italy, 1910-1950', completed 2013).

Aleksandra Sojic (PhD at SEMM, Milan; 'Bio-ontologies and breast cancer research', completed 2012)