Is pathbreaking science the product of interdisciplinary groups or the interdisciplinary thinking of foresighted individuals? In a commentary in PLoS Computational Biology, Sean Eddy, a Howard Hughes investigator, argues that “roadmap” thinking from the National Institutes of Health for building [...]
What We Work On
Focusing on interdisciplinary teams instead of interdisciplinary people reinforces standard disciplinary boundaries rather than breaking them down. An interdisciplinary team is a committee in which members identify themselves as an expert in something else besides the actual scientific problem at hand, and abdicate responsibility for the majority of the work because it's not their field. Expecting a team of disciplinary scientists to develop a new field is like sending a team of monolingual diplomats to the United Nations.Eddy's argument in favor of "antedisciplinary science" instead of "interdisciplinary" science is an exciting way of thinking about research and education. The increasing popularity of interdisciplinary programs for undergraduates, which train students in skills across departments, might be anecdotal evidence of the appeal and effectiveness of his approach. One the other hand, there's also research indicating that collaboration among a diverse set of problem solvers yields more potential approaches to tackling complex problems. But his own personal narrative—training in molecular biology, followed by work in computer science, software development, and statistics, which led him to become what we now call a "computational biologist"—is a testament to the power of technology to allow individuals to synthesize increasing amounts of information. Advancing that capability is likely to encourage more scientists to carve their own mark across the disciplinary grain. (HT: @BoraZ) Image: Science Photo Library
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Science Progress proceeds from the propositions that scientific inquiry is among the finest expressions of human excellence, that it is a crucial source of human flourishing, a critical engine of economic growth, and must be dedicated to the common good. Scientific inquiry entails global responsibilities. It should lead to a more equitable, safer, and healthier future for all of humankind.