Professor Sabina Leonelli

Professor of Philosophy and History of Science

University of Exeter


The Research Ethics Conference team are very pleased to announce that Sabina Leonelli will be joining REC2021 as one of our keynote speakers.

Sabina Leonelli is Professor in Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Exeter, where she co-directs the Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences and leads the governance strand of the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. Her research concerns the epistemology, ethics and governance of data-intensive science, the philosophy and history of organisms as scientific models and the role of open science and related evaluation systems in the global research landscape.


She is Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, Royal Society of Biology and Académie Internationale de Philosophie de la Science; Editor-in-Chief of History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences; and Associate Editor of the Harvard Data Science Review. She has a strong interest in science policy and served as expert for national and international bodies including the European Commission.


Her books include the award-winning Data-Centric Biology: A Philosophical Study (Chicago UP, 2016), Data Journeys in the Sciences (Springer, 2020) and the forthcoming Introduction to Data in Society (with Anne Beaulieu, SAGE 2021). 

Keynote Speech: Where is ethics in research practice? 


At which stage of a project should researchers worry about ethics? What has ethics to do with technical issues, theoretical problems and complex methodologies confronted in everyday scientific work? And is worrying about ethics compatible with the wish to produce objective, context-independent knowledge? This talk will present a conception of research ethics that goes beyond existing guidelines and formal requirements, by interrogating the social embedding and conceptual foundations of technical aspects of research practice - such as data management, analytic methods, publication strategies and collaborative exchanges. 


I will draw on examples from data-intensive research carried out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where specific choices were made - whether or not this was acknowledged by investigators - over the priorities and modalities through which to tackle the global emergency (see Leonelli 2021: Click Here ). Through these examples, I will sketch a philosophy of science that highlights the role of values and political commitments within empirical inquiry, thus placing ethics at the core of scientific methods.