What makes interdisciplinarity difficult? Some consequences of domain specificity in interdisciplinary practice

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Research on interdisciplinary science has for the most part concentrated on the institutional obstacles that discourage or hamper interdisciplinary work, with the expectation that interdisciplinary interaction can be improved through institutional reform strategies such as through reform of peer review systems. However institutional obstacles are not the only ones that confront interdisciplinary work. The design of policy strategies would benefit from more detailed investigation into the particular cognitive constraints, including the methodological and conceptual barriers, which also confront attempts to work across disciplinary boundaries. Lessons from cognitive science and anthropological studies of labs in sociology of science suggest that scientific practices may be very domain specific, where domain specificity is an essential aspect of science that enables researchers to solve complex problems in a cognitively manageable way. The limit or extent of domain specificity in scientific practice, and how it constrains interdisciplinary research, is not yet fully understood, which attests to an important role for philosophers of science in the study of interdisciplinary science. This paper draws upon two cases of interdisciplinary collaboration; those between ecologists and economists, and those between molecular biologists and systems biologists, to illustrate some of the cognitive barriers which have contributed to failures and difficulties of interactions between these fields. Each exemplify some aspect of domain specificity in scientific practice and show how such specificity may constrain interdisciplinary work
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-720
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Early online date7 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


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