Tobin, Emma

Lecturer in Philosophy of Science

Emma Tobin

email: e.tobin (at)
phone: 0207 679 1321 (internal 31321)

Skype: emmatobin

office: 22 Gordon Square, room 2.4b
recent publications (UCL database)



Emma joined STS in October 2010. Previously, she was a postdoctoral research fellow on the AHRC Metaphysics of Science Project. She joined the Philosophy Department in Bristol in October 2006. After completing her B.A. in University College Dublin, Emma completed a Ph.D. at Trinity College Dublin, funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. She was also a visiting student at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge from May–August 2005, where she worked with Professor Peter Lipton. She was awarded her Ph.D. entitled ‘On the Disunity of the Sciences and Ceteris Paribus Laws’ in March 2006, examined by Prof. Stephen Mumford. (Ph.D. Abstract). Emma worked on an AHRC sponsored project on the Metaphysics of Science as a postdoctoral research fellow based in Bristol working with Alexander Bird from 2006-2010. More about the Metaphysics of Science Project

Emma is originally from West Cork in Ireland, married to Patrick and has two children Ailbhe and Cillian.


Emma's research interests are in the metaphysics of science; natural kinds, laws of nature and causation. Her current research is on natural kinds in biology and chemistry. Emma is interested in classification at the interface of a number of disciplines including biochemistry, evolutionary biochemistry, molecular biology, structural biology and astrobiology. She is particularly interested in the scientific classification of biomolecules and protein classification in particular and the problems that arise for classification in the context of biological complexity. Her other interests in the philosophy of science include include laws of nature, reductionism, scientific explanation and causation.


My current particular research interests are in metaphysics of science, particularly natural laws and natural kinds. I am currently working on a project in the philosophy of biochemistry, which considers the philosophical problems that face scientists when doing classification in the context of scientific practice.  More particularly, I am interested in protein classification as a case study for some of these difficulties. I am looking at these difficulties in the context of a number of subdisciplines in biology including, biochemistry, structural biology, astrobiology and molecular biology.

My more general interests in philosophy of science include causation, explanation, scientific realism, modelling, idealisation and approximation etc.

I am also interested in integrated history and philosophy of chemistry and I am an active member of Ad Hoc London, acting as co-organiser with Chiara Ambrosio of our monthly London Meetings. Please email me if you would like to be added to the mailing list. 

Metaphysics of Science Project

Previously, I was a core postdoctoral researcher on the AHRC sponsored project the Metaphysics of Science based in Bristol working with Alexander Bird from 2006-2010. This was a project based at the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, and Nottingham. Other project members included Stephen Mumford, Markus Schrenk and Matt Tugby (Nottingham), Helen Beebee, Francis Longworth and Nigel Leary (Birmingham).

More about the Metaphysics of Science Project. As part of the project,I compiled a bibliography on Natural Kinds.


Contemporary Problems in Philosophy of Science Pic
  1. Philosophy of Science: An Introduction to Contemporary Problems, London, Continuum Press, Forthcoming 2013
Research Papers
  1. “Are Natural Kinds and Natural Properties Distinct?”, Metaphysics and Science, Stephen Mumford and Matt Tugby (eds.) Oxford University Press. (In Press)
  2. “Chemical Laws” Science and Education, Special Issue on “Philosophy of Chemistry and the Teaching of Chemistry” (ed. Sibel Erduran) (2012), DOI: 10.1007/s11191-012-9445-9 Publishers Website
  3. "The Theory of Everything?", Review Essay on Ellis B. “The Metaphysics of Scientific Realism” for Metascience, (2012), (Publishers Website)
  4. “The Metaphysics of Determinable Kinds”, Properties, Powers and Structures: Issues in the Metaphysics of Realism, Alexander Bird, Brian Ellis and Howard Sankey (eds.), Routledge Studies in Metaphysics(Pdf Version)
  5. “Crosscutting Natural Kinds and the Hierarchy Thesis”, The Semantics and Metaphysics of Natural Kinds, Helen Beebee and Nigel Leary (eds.), Routledge Studies in Metaphysics, 2010. (Pdf Version) Publishers Website
  6. “Microstructuralism and Macromolecules: The case of moonlighting proteins”, Foundations of Chemistry, 2010, 12(1), 41-54. (Pdf Version) Publishers Website
  7. Natural Kinds”, (ed. Edward N. Zalta) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (with Alexander Bird), September 2008.
  8. “Towards a New Model of Explanation for the Special Sciences”, Causality & Explanation: In Honor of Wesley Salmon, Autonomous University Press, 2006.
  9. What makes the Special Sciences Special – Exploring Scientific Methodology in the Special Sciences”, NOESIS, Cambridge Scholarly Press, 2005.
Book Reviews
  1. Review of Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack and Sarah Beck (eds.), Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Publishers Website
  2. Review of Dorato, M. The Software of the Universe, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, (March 2008)
  3. Review of Mumford, S. Laws in Nature, The Journal of Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, Vol. 9. 2006.
  4. Review of Ceteris Paribus Laws (eds.) Earman, Glymour & Mitchell, Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2002.) International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 12 No. 4, 2004.
Works in Progress

1. Problems of Classification and Identification in biochemistry

2. Domain Specificity in Protein Classification

3. "Philosophy of Biochemistry" for Philosophy Compass


Teaching for 2015/2016
  1. HPSC1003 Philosophy of Science 1
Term 2:
  1. HPSCGA28 Knowledge, Explanation and Classification

 STS Administrative Duties

  1. Undergraduate Tutor 


Public Engagement with Science and Philosophy

I am currently recording a series of podcasts called "Thinking about Science": This podcast series is recorded at the STS studio here at UCL. It includes interviews with some leading scientists from various disciplines including, Prof Jon Butterworth (UCL, Physics/Cern), Dr Ian Crawford and Dr Lewis Dartnell (Astrobiology UCL), Dr Nick Lane, (Evolutionary Biochemistry, UCL) and Dr. Stephen Curry (Structural Biology, Imperial).


I am currently supervising a number of PhD students at STS, UCl.

  • Stephanie Ratcliffe as Primary Supervisor (Oct 2011 - Present) Metaphysics of Science, Causation, Dispositions, Natural Kinds and Causal Processes in Chemistry
  • Yafeng Shen as Primary Supervisor (Oct 2012 - Present) Scientific Systems, Scientific Paradigms and Incommensurability, Thomas Kuhn.
  • Hugh McKenzie as Secondary Supervisor (Oct 2011- Present) Part-Time Plato's Atomism

If you are interested in exploring potential PhD opportunities within STS at UCL please contact the Graduate Tutor in the first instance, although you are of course welcome to contact me directly to discuss potential areas of interest.


33) "Classifying Life", European Planetary Science Conference, UCL, 12th September 2013.

32) "Natural Species in Biochemistry", Natural Kinds Workshop, IHPST, Paris, June 19th 2013.

31) "Making, Shaping Sorting Data, CHOSTM, University of Manchester, Feb 13th 2013.

30) "Domain Specificity in Protein Classification", Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, 6th Feb 2013.

29) "On Conceptual Change and Classification", for Panel on Concepts and Ontology, Conceptual Change and Ontological Issues, Helsinki, Finland, 3-5th Dec 2012.

28) "Domain Specificity in Protein Classification", BSPS Ordinary Meeting LSE, November 26th 2012.

27) "Philosophical Problems of Identification and Classification in Biochemistry", UCD Departmental Research Seminar, Oct 25th 2012.

26) "Philosophical Problems of Identification and Classification in Biochemistry", PERSP Workshop III in Valencia 27th/28th September 2012.

25) “Are Natural Kinds and Natural Properties Distinct?” April 26th, UCD/TCD Irish Philosophy Conference at Ballymascanlon, Ireland.

24) "Biomolecular Classification", Objects, Kinds and Mechanisms in Biology, Department of Philosophy, University of Leeds, April 13th 2012.

23) "Biomolecular Classification", Panel on "Investigating practical impacts of descriptive categories" at Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, with Brendan Clarke and Katie Kendig, 24th June 2011.

22) "Philosophical Lessons From Classification in Biochemistry", CHOSTM, Imperial College London, 16th December 2010.

21) "Philosophical Lessons From Classification in Biochemistry", STS Departmental Research Seminar, Oct 2010.

21) “Are Natural Kinds and Natural Properties Distinct?” Metaphysics of Science (and other related topics), Workshop, University Bristol March 30th 2010.

20) “The Identity of Dispositional and Categorical Properties” Metaphysics of Science Workshop, the University of Warsaw Poland, Jan 288h/29th 2010

19) “The Metaphysics of Determinable Kinds”, MOS 09 Conference, Nottingham, September 14th 2009.

18) “Natural Kinds and the Hierarchy Thesis”, British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, July 2008.

17) “Natural Kinds and the Hierarchy Thesis”, Themes in the Metaphysics of Chemistry and Biology, Bristol June 23rd-25th 2008.

16) “Structural Realism and the Metaphysics of Natural Kinds”, Leeds HPS Research Seminar April 16th 2008.

15) “Determinable Kinds and higher-level Ontologies”, Themes in the Metaphysics of David Armstrong, University of Nottingham, 17th February 2008.

14) “Classifying Macromolecules” Nature and Its Classification, University of Birmingham, 14th October 2007.

13) “Natural Kinds, Causal Relata and Causal Relations”, The Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Philosophy of Mind, 8th July 2007.

12) “Structural Realism & The Metaphysics of Natural Kinds”, The British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, 6th July 2007.

11) “Natural Kinds and Natural Necessities”. Metaphysics of Science Workshop on “Natural Kinds” in Bristol, March 17th 2007.

10) “Natural Kinds & Symbiosis”, Bristol Departmental Work-in-Progress Seminar Jan 17th 2007.

9) “Naturalised Essences & The Special Sciences”. Cardiff Departmental Research Seminar Oct 12th 2006.

8) “Dispositions and Ceteris Paribus Laws: A Double Dilemma” Metaphysics in Science Conference, Birmingham, June 2006.

7) “The Janus-Faced Ceteris Paribus Condition: Why there is still a problem with provisos”, British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, July 2005.

6) “Ceteris Paribus Laws and the Special Sciences”, Department of Philosophy, N.U.I. Maynooth, March 2005.

5) “What makes the Special Sciences Special: Exploring Scientific Methodology in the Special Sciences, Universities of Ireland Postgraduate Conference, Queens University Belfast, April 2004.

4) “Laws of a Psychological Nature”, Graduate Conference on The Mind at The University of Leeds, August 20th – 22nd, 2003.

3) “Towards a New Model of Explanation for the Special Sciences”, Causation & Explanation: A Homage to Wesley Salmon The European Society for Analytic Philosophy, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, on August 4-6th 2003.

2) “Rules of Thumb: Fingers Crossed” at the Scottish Philosophy Postgraduate Association Spring Conference in the University of Aberdeen, April 16th 2003.

1) “Real Beliefs” at the First Annual Irish Philosophy Research Conference in Trinity College Dublin, October 12th 2002.