Avoiding glib interdisciplinarity

To forge meaningful collaborations across disciplines, scientists, journal editors, referees, research institutions and funding agencies must all adapt

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Interdisciplinary research is essential to address grand challenges such as sustainability. But unless research meets the standards of both disciplines, the results may lead to hand waving rather than a truly substantive advance. This Nature editorial calls this glib interdisciplinarity, and offers ways to avoid it.

Their example explains it best. An environmental scientist submitted a manuscript to a Nature research journal that combined health and environmental data and modeling to forecast the health impacts of environmental changes. Two health experts enlisted as referees balked. Eventually the paper made it through review, but the process was slow and grueling for the scientist. The scientist admitted later that he needed a better grip on health modeling. In other cases, funders and institutions that support interdisciplinary efforts fail to allow for the risks involve and the time it takes to forge new ways of collaboration and sometimes new ways of communicating. Editors and referees face challenges as well. 

That said, interdisciplinary efforts remain essential—and can succeed, the editorial’s authors conclude. But it’s not as easy as it looks, and it requires patience and support by funders.

Source: Nature  DOI:10.1038/d41586-017-08465-1

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