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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Professor in Philosophy of Science

I study how scientists navigate morally charged and complex phenomena and the role of formal tools such as models and indicators in their scholarly and public work. Since 2018 I am the Principal Investigator on Expertise Under Pressure project at the Centre for Humanities and Social Change. In 2015-2018 I co-directed, with Stephen John, the Limits of the Numerical project; here is a recording of a talk I gave on this topic. I served as a Programme Director in Philosophy and Ethics of AI at the Leverhulme Centre for Future of Intelligence, where I worked on the this report for the Nuffield Foundation.

Before coming to Cambridge I taught at the University of Missouri St Louis, Washington University in St Louis, and received my PhD in Philosophy and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego. I am fellow of King's College where I direct studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

For more information about my past and present work see:


Research interests

Philosophy of social science; values and objectivity in science; evidence-based policy; methodology of modeling; philosophy of economics and of psychology; explanation; well-being in ethics and political philosophy; measurement and quantification; mental health; expertise and automation in social science and policy.


Selected publications

Mitchell, Polly, and Anna Alexandrova. "Well-being and pluralism." Journal of Happiness Studies (2020): 1-23.

A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being, monograph (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

"Can the Science of Well-being be Objective?" British Journal of Philosophy of Science (journal version) Volume 69, Issue 2, 1 June 2018, Pages 421–445.

"Is Well-being Measurable After All?" Public Health Ethics 2016 (journal version).

"Is Construct Validation Valid?" (with Dan Haybron) Philosophy of Science (journal version).83, no. 5 (December 2016): 1098-1109.

"Towards a Theory of Child Well-being" (with Ramesh Raghavan) Social Indicators Research. 2015, 121/3: 887-902.

"Well-being and Philosophy of Science" Philosophy Compass (journal version). 2015, 10/3:219-231.

"The Prisoner's Dilemma doesn't explain much" (with Robert Northcott) in Martin Peterson (ed.), The Prisoner's Dilemma, Cambridge University Press, 2015.

'Doing Well In The Circumstances', Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2013): 307–328

'Well-Being as an Object of Science', Philosophy of Science 79 (2012): 678–689

'Values and the Science of Well-Being', Oxford Handbook for Philosophy of Social Science, edited by Harold Kincaid (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011): 625–645

'Buyer Beware: Robustness Analyses in Economics and Biology', with Jay Odenbaugh, Biology and Philosophy 26 (2011): 757–771

'When Analytic Narratives Explain', Journal of the Philosophy of History 3 (2009): 1–24

"It's Just a Feeling: Why Economic Models Do Not Explain" (with Robert Northcott) in The Journal of Economic Methodology. (Commentary on Julian Reiss's "Explanation Paradox"). Here is the journal version.

'Progress in Economics: Lessons from the Spectrum Auctions', with Robert Northcott, The Oxford Handbook for Philosophy of Economics, edited by Harold Kincaid and Don Ross (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009): 306–336

'First-Person Reports and Measurement of Happiness', Philosophical Psychology 21 (2008): 571–583

'Making Models Count', Philosophy of Science 75 (2008): 383–404
Winner of the Philosophy of Science Association Recent PhD Essay Award 2008