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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Rhodri Ivor Leng


I hold an M.A. (Social Science, 1st class Honours) in Politics from the University of Glasgow, a postgraduate M.A. in Political and Legal Philosophy from the University of York, an MSc(R) in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) from the University of Edinburgh, and I am currently studying towards a PhD in this area. Before returning to academia, I held two professional positions in UK politics working as a parliamentary assistant to Mark Lazarowicz MP (House of Commons) and a press and policy officer to Sarah Boyack MSP (Scottish Parliament). Since beginning my PhD, I have worked as a tutor on three courses (Understanding Public Policy; Social Policy and Society; Evidence, Policy, and Politics).

Research Interests

As a social science and philosophy graduate, I have spent the majority of my studies focusing upon the social world. Thus, somewhat unsurprisingly, my research interests centre around how societies and communities function and how they adapt to new circumstances and information. In recent years, I have become particularly interested in the ways in which scientific knowledge spreads in the scientific community and the effect that this diffusion has on the content of that knowledge. Additionally, I am interested in the ways in which scientific knowledge is disseminated beyond scientific communities, and how this knowledge is interpreted, altered, and used by policy, media, and the general public. Therefore, I find a close affinity with scientometrics and the sociology of scientific knowledge. As my research utilises citation network analysis to measure the diffusion of scientific knowledge and detect a range of citations distortions, I have a keen interest in quantitative methods for studying science, particularly the application of social network analysis and graph theory to citation data. More broadly, I have a keen interest in the ways in which evidence is used in both science and politics. This interest led me back to academia and my PhD establishes a methodology to study the diffusion of scientific knowledge regarding the proposition that saturated fats are linked to the development of coronary heart disease, the dynamics of consensus formation and fragmentation in science relating to this claim, and the relationship this has to the publication of saturated fat dietary guidelines.

PhD Topic

My doctoral thesis, Vicissitudes of controversy: A metaknowledge study of the diet-heart saga, develops an approach to study the dynamics of the scientific controversy over the diet–heart hypothesis – a theory that underpins population wide dietary advice to reduce consumption of saturated fat because of a conjectured link with coronary heart disease (CHD). I examine the construction, diffusion, and competition between scientific positions involved in this debate, and aim to understand: (i) how the diet–heart hypothesis went from contested science to an apparent consensus in the 1980s; and (ii) why, in the 2010s, this consensus appears to be unravelling. By using a mixed-method approach, I examine how scientific positions develop in the scientific literature via historical document analysis and spread through the scientific community via citation network analysis. This will give a contextualised understanding of the interpretation of data by particular scientists and how these interpretations spread through the scientific community - opening up the dynamics of the transition from experimentation and observation to knowledge held by a wider group of scientists. By quantitatively analysing and mapping this diffusion, I demonstrate how scientific controversies polarise the scientific community into different camps that draw from different sources of evidence and how particular positions eventually rise to dominance in the scientific literature. Furthermore, I test whether a range of citation distortions – citation bias, amplification, and invention - can help explain the dynamics of consensus formation and fragmentation in this instance. This will make a theoretical and empirical contribution to our understanding of scientific knowledge production, the evolution of scientific ideas, and the dynamics of scientific controversies.

PhD Supervisors

Professor Steve Sturdy

Dr Valeria Skafida

Dr Christine Knight


PhD in Science and Technology Studies, University of Edinburgh (2016 - ongoing)

MSc(R) in Science and Technology Studies, University of Edinburgh (2016)

M.A. in Political and Legal Theory, University of York (2014)

M.A. in Politics, University of Glasgow (2013)


Economic and Social Research Council Studentship (ESRC +3) with an Advanced Quantitative Methods stipend (AQM) (2016-19)

Highly Skilled Workforce Scholarship, University of Edinburgh (2015)

C and JB Morrell Fund Scholarship, University of York (2013)

Teaching experience

Social Policy and Society (Tutor) – 2016/2017

Understanding Public Policy (Tutor) – 2016/2017

Evidence, Policy, and Politics (Tutor) – 2016/2017

Professional Experience

Press and Policy Officer to Sarah Boyack MSP (June 2015 – May 2016)

Parliamentary Assistant to Mark Lazarowicz MP (January 2015 – May 2015)

Content Creator at Edinburgh University’s Anatomical Museum (May 2012 – September 2012)

Junior Research Assistant at the Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh (May 2010 – September 2010)