The Role of Data in Contemporary Biomedicine: A Data-Centric Study of the Exposome

Stefano Canali (completed doctoral project)

My project studies the epistemic role of scientific data in the context of biomedical research in the epidemiology. I view scientific data as an epistemic artefact and data practices as epistemically salient components of scientific epistemology. I therefore analyse the collection, integration and use of scientific data to understand the ways in which data informs and sustains research. I use a case study approach by focusing on the epidemiology of the ‘exposome’, a new line of research based on a reconceptualisation of exposure and the use of new, large and diverse datasets. My case study is grounded on empirical research involving a series of qualitative, semi-structured interviews with exposome researchers.
In the context of claims about scientific revolutions and paradigm shifts due to the use of large datasets in the sciences, I argue that one of the epistemic features of scientific data is that it can shape notions and concepts, approaches, techniques and evidence. Yet, this epistemic role is enacted by the ways in which it is used by epistemic agents and communities and is constantly mediated by other artefacts, components and features of scientific inquiry.