1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Events

International workshop: Data-driven research in the biological and biomedical sciences

Workshop   30.11.1999





Organised by


Sponsored by the British Academy and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)


Opening lecture: ‘Data-driven science: why and how’ with Professor Douglas Kell and Professor Tony Hey, Lecture hall Streatham Court C, University of Exeter, Streatham Campus

Main workshop: Reed Hall, University of Exeter, Streatham Campus

Event details

Background What does it mean for research to be based on empirical evidence? This question, one of the oldest within the philosophy of science, is being reformulated and reconsidered within contemporary biological and biomedical science. In these areas, technological innovation and shifting ideas about what counts as evidence have transformed current practices of data collection. In particular, the activity of data gathering appears to have acquired relative independence from other scientific activities such as hypothesis-testing, theorisation and explanation. Up to the second half of the 20th century, biological data were largely produced as evidence to support a specific experimental hypothesis. Thanks to high-throughput technologies such as sequencing and micro-array analysis, the activity of data gathering has become increasing automated and technology-driven, resulting in the production of billions of data-points in need of a biological interpretation. Evidence-based medicine has fostered a similar attention shift to data collection within biomedical research, by placing data obtained through clinical trials at the top of the hierarchy of evidence. Massive research efforts are being devoted to the dissemination of data, in the hope that they can be used to generate new insights. Several commentators have argued that the extraction of knowledge from automatically generated data may constitute a new approach to scientific method, described as ‘data-driven’.

This workshop examines the characteristics of data-driven research and its significance for future research from the perspectives of philosophical, historical and social studies of science. The aim is to reach an understanding of how data collection and use affect the production of scientific knowledge, and of the role played by theory and hypotheses in this process. If data-driven research constitutes a distinctive mode of knowledge production, how can it be characterised, and how innovative is it with respect to existing or past scientific practices? What is the role of theoretical assumptions and hypotheses within research practices that are currently referred to as data-driven, and what are the relationships more generally between data-driven and hypothesis-driven research? To address these questions, leading scholars in science studies will engage with the following key dimensions of data-driven research:1. Theory and hypotheses: the role of theory in data collection, dissemination and re-use. Knowing whether and how does theory play a role in data collection (for instance in the form of background knowledge or hypotheses) is crucial to understanding the relation of data-driven research to other modes of knowledge production used in current or past science.2. Instruments and materials: the history and functioning of technologies used to produce data, and the selection of organic samples (whether cell cultures, tissues, or whole specimens) from which data are extracted. Examining the material settings in which data are collected is crucial to understand the value that these data might acquire as evidence, since the choice of specific technologies and organisms deeply affects the ways in which they are interpreted across research contexts.3. Cyberinfrastructure: the use of bioinformatic tools to collect, store and distribute data, such as repositories, databases and bio-ontologies. Exploring the ways in which these tools are developed provides insight in the ways in which data are being accessed and used by researchers, for what purposes and with what results.4. Translation: the re-use of data in biotechnological and clinical settings, and the ways in which the practical goals and potential applications of basic research might affect the production, use and distribution of data.These four dimensions of data-driven research have hitherto been studied separately within science and technology studies, without attempts to bridge across those topics so as to reach a broader and richer understanding of these research practices. This workshop provides an opportunity to integrate cutting-edge scholarships on these issues, thereby starting an interdisciplinary, international dialogue on the nature of data-driven research.

AimsBringing together prominent scholars from the philosophy, history and sociology of biology, as well as biologists themselves, who have been studying data-driven modes of research in the life sciences;Creating a platform for the discussion and systematisation of current thinking about the significance and implications of data-driven research, by considering the following questions:

  • What impact high-throughput technologies and digital databases are having on research in the life sciences?
  • Is there a distinctive ‘data-driven’ mode of research? How innovative is it with respect to existing or past practices, and how could it be characterised?
  • What is the role of theoretical assumptions and hypotheses within research practices that are currently referred to as ‘data-driven’?

Proposed Outcomes Special issue of Studies in the History of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences: Part C.

Development of a research network furthering collaborative work on this theme, which could involve participation in

  • A symposium proposal for the Biannual Meeting of the Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice (to be held in Exeter, 23-25 June 2011) and/or for the Biannual meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (to be held in Utah in July 2011).
  • A dissemination conference to extend these discussions to biologists from various disciplines and to clinicians (possibly in London in 2012).

Invited Speakers and Commentators - Douglas Bruce Kell (University of Manchester and BBSRC)- Tony Hey (Microsoft)- Richard Burian (Virginia Tech) - Bruno Strasser (Yale University)- Rachel Ankeny (University of Adelaide)- Alberto Cambrosio (McGill University)-&bbsp;Peter Keating (Université du Québec à Montréal)- Ulrich Krohs (University of Hamburg)- Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max Plank Institute for the History of Science, Berlin)- Miguel Garcia-Sanchos (Department of Science, Technology and Society of the Spanish National Research Council, Madrid).- Jane Calvert (University of Edinburgh)- Jean Paul Gaudillère (Centre de recherche médicine, science, santé et société, Paris)- Edna Suarez (UNAM, Mexico)- Anna Maria Carusi (Oxford)- Werner Callebaut (KLI)

Contributors from Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society - John Dupré- Maureen O’ Malley- Staffan Mueller-Wille- Susan Kelly- Mathias Grote- Sabina Leonelli

Organiser: Sabina Leonelli

Directions The workshop will take place in Reed Hall at the University of Exeter's Streatham Campus. The only exception is the introductory lecture on Thursday morning, which will take place in the Streatham Court C lecture hall.

Information on travel to the University and a map of the campus.

Further details