Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-cnmwb Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-17T11:45:11.106Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

What Counts as Scientific Data? A Relational Framework

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


This paper proposes an account of scientific data that makes sense of recent debates on data-driven and ‘big data’ research, while also building on the history of data production and use particularly within biology. In this view, ‘data’ is a relational category applied to research outputs that are taken, at specific moments of inquiry, to provide evidence for knowledge claims of interest to the researchers involved. They do not have truth-value in and of themselves, nor can they be seen as straightforward representations of given phenomena. Rather, they are fungible objects defined by their portability and prospective usefulness as evidence.

Models and Measurement
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


This research was funded by a Visiting Scholarship of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (project “Sciences of the Archive”) and by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 335925 (project “The Epistemology of Data-Intensive Science”). Many thanks to audiences at the 2014 meeting of the German Network for the Philosophy of Biology in Münster, the 2014 PSA/HSS meeting in Chicago, and the 2014 ERC Workshop “What Is Data-Intensive Science?” in Exeter, where this paper was presented and discussed, and particularly to Lorraine Daston, James Griesemer, Mary Morgan, Staffan Müller-Wille, Thomas Reydon, and David Sepkoski for useful discussions.


Biagioli, Mario. 2014. “Plagiarism, Kinship and Slavery.” Theory, Culture and Society 31 (2–3): 6591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bogen, James. 2010. “Noise in the World.” Philosophy of Science 77:778–91.10.1086/656006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bogen, James 2013. “Theory and Observation in Science.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Zalta, Edward N.. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Scholar
Bogen, James, and Woodward, James. 1988. “Saving the Phenomena.” Philosophical Review 97 (3): 303–52.10.2307/2185445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chang, Hasok. 2004. Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Daston, Lorraine, and Galison, Peter. 1992. “The Image of Objectivity.” Representations 40:81128.10.2307/2928741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fry, Ben. 2007. Visualizing Data: Exploring and Explaining Data with the Processing Environment. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.Google Scholar
Giere, Ronald N. 2006. Scientific Perspectivism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226292144.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hacking, Ian. 1992. “The Self-Vindication of the Laboratory Sciences.” In Science as Practice and Culture, ed. Pickering, Andrew, 2964. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Krohs, Ulrich. 2012. “Convenience Experimentation.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1): 5257.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Latour, Bruno. 1999. “Circulating Reference: Sampling the Soil in the Amazon Forest.” In Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies, 2479. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Leonelli, Sabina. 2009. “On the Locality of Data and Claims about Phenomena.” Philosophy of Science 76 (Proceedings): 737–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leonelli, Sabina 2010. “Packaging Small Facts for Re-use: Databases in Model Organism Biology.” In How Well Do Facts Travel? The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge, ed. Howlett, Peter and Morgan, Mary S., 325–48. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Morgan, Mary S. 2012. “Classificatory Theory in Data-Intensive Science: The Case of Open Biomedical Ontologies.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26 (1): 4765.Google Scholar
Morgan, Mary S. 2014. “What Difference Does Quantity Make? On the Epistemology of Big Data in Biology.” Big Data and Society 1 (1): 111.Google Scholar
Morgan, Mary S. 2010. “Travelling Facts.” In How Well Do Facts Travel? The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge, ed. Howlett, Peter and Morgan, Mary S., 342. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morgan, Mary S. 2012. The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morgan, Mary S., and Morrison, Margaret. 1999. Models as Mediators: Perspectives on Natural and Social Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511660108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O’Malley, Maureen A. 2011. “Exploration, Iterativity and Kludging in Synthetic Biology.” Comptes Rendus Chimie 14 (4): 406–12.10.1016/j.crci.2010.06.021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Radder, Hans. 2006. The World Observed/The World Conceived. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.10.2307/j.ctt6wrcvzCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. 2011. “Infra-experimentality: From Traces to Data, from Data to Patterning Facts.” History of Science 49 (3): 337–48.10.1177/007327531104900306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Society, Royal. 2012. “Science as an Open Enterprise.” Scholar
Schindler, Samuel. 2013. “Theory-Laden Experimentation.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 44 (1): 89101.10.1016/j.shpsa.2012.07.010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steinle, Friedrich. 1997. “Entering New Fields: Exploratory Uses of Experimentation.” Philosophy of Science 64 (Proceedings): S65S74.10.1086/392587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Timpson, Christopher G. 2013. Quantum Information Theory and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296460.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Winsberg, Eric. 2010. Science in the Age of Computer Simulations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226902050.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar