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Bridging Disciplines in the Brain, Behavioral, and Clinical Sciences
trary disciplinary structures.” Almost three-fourths (2,995 of 4,071) of the responding society members reported that they “agreed” or “agreed emphatically.” The perception exists, however, that interdisciplinary science is viewed as second-rate.50,52 At the committee's workshop (IOM Workshop, 1999), Dr. Paul Smolensky pointed out that disciplines have been able to investigate a given subject in depth. But when research bridges disciplines and this same depth cannot be attained, the quality of the research is perceived as poor. In another survey of its members, “Removing the Boundaries: Perspectives on Cross-Disciplinary Research,” Sigma Xi received responses from over 120 members representing seven scientific disciplines, including psychology and medicine who expressed opinions on obstacles to interdisciplinary research.52 Some of the comments indicated concerns: working in interdisciplinary research was not “pure”; it was “less challenging” or “high risk”; those who do collaborative work could not succeed in their own discipline; they would be lost in a team effort and “lose their professional identity.” Others have expressed similar views:
While they pay lip service to the principle [of interdisciplinarity], most scientists look upon their own discipline as either too incomplete or too immature to be coupled with another one.
Despite the hesitation of some about venturing into an interdisciplinary effort, many have embraced it enthusiastically. The motivation for moving into interdisciplinarity is varied. Some scientists working in their own disciplines might see after working on a problem for some period that their scientific approaches are insufficient to answer their questions. Scientific interactions can stimulate ideas that are new and exciting but require additional expertise or techniques to pursue. Funding opportunities might provide an impetus to seek out collaboration to answer broad scientific problems identified by funding agencies. Some might be attracted by the challenge and the need for answers to a larger problem and the satisfaction that would come from making progress.
Scientists trained in a discipline learn to speak a specific language and adopt the analytical and methodological constructs that have accumulated in that discipline. This constitutes a form of professional socialization that serves as an important part of the training experience, but it can present obstacles to interdisciplinary research.
We speak the language of our discipline, which raises two problems: first, we may not understand the languages of the other disciplines; second, more dangerously, we may think that we understand these, but do not, because although