Working together across disciplines Challenges for the natural and social sciences
RELU project team at Warwick University • Dept of Politics & International Studies. Wyn Grant, Justin Greaves. • Warwick HRI. Dave Chandler, Gill Prince. • Dept of Biological Sciences. Mark Tatchell.
contents • Why work together? • The research process & methodological considerations. • Practical issues for effective collaboration. • Conclusions. Is multi-disciplinary collaboration sufficient or should we aim higher?
Why work together? Fundamental research • Some areas have a natural overlap: • Development of theory. • Behavioural research in economics & biology: • ‘1st wave’: evolutionary game theory. • ‘2nd wave’ : unified theories of behaviour.
Fundamental research • Borrowing of ideas, or genuine collaboration. • Work on a common problem, need a common language (e.g. mathematics). • Complementary methodologies → unified theory & methodology. • Kudos in academic community.
Strategic & applied research • Human activity causes global problems. • Social and natural sciences needed for effective solutions. • Project teams often multidisciplinary: can they influence each other?
Strategic & applied research • Teams form for specific project. Issues of buy-in? • Methodologies often kept separate. • Different languages. • Hard for partners to influence each other? • Danger of unequal relationships. • Lower value in academic community, but very important in wider world.
Science & society • Natural scientists must become better communicators. • Public understanding of scientific process (Hails & Dale, 2005). • Social scientists need to understand natural science. • Public value of science (Wilsdon et al., 2005)
Science & society • Enhanced confidence in public & stakeholders. • Develop language for effective communication : • social & natural scientists & public. • Public engagement not highly valued in academic circles (‘media dons’).
Warwick RELU research:A practical example Environmental & regulatory sustainability of biopesticides.
Pesticides have many benefits, but … • Resistance, new chemistry expensive. • Integrated Pest Management. • Microbial control agents: • Desirable characteristics. • Poor uptake in UK & EU.
Biopesticides: regulatory innovation using political & natural science? • Strengths & weaknesses of regulation. • Research on ecology of microbial agents. • Evaluate costs & benefits in a holistic way. • Biological data requirements. • Regulatory innovation.
Politics Stakeholders Evaluation of costs & benefits Biology of Production Systems Regulation Impact on biological data requirements
Research processes & methodologies • Analysis of the research process in social & natural science: • Challenge preconceptions. • Help overcome constraints to collaboration. • Can the same approaches be used to study the natural & social worlds?
Theory Problem specification / Conceptual framework Conclusions & inference Hypotheses Empirical research The research wheel in social & natural sciences deductive inductive Dominant models : neo-positivism & critical realism
Methodological issues (1): experiments • Ability to do replicated experiments differs between social & natural science. • Use of comparison : circumvents problems of not being able to do an experiment. • Need to develop best methodologies available for natural & social science.
Methodological issues (2): Issues of scale & inference • Ecological & individualistic fallacies: • Ecological: identify relationships at aggregate level that do not reflect the corresponding relationship at individual level. • Individual: draw conclusions from groups based on data gathered with the individual.
Methodological issues (3): Issues of scale & inference • Specific, micro level studies can proliferate at the expense of broad questions. • Bottom up approaches often use simplified systems for study: danger of individualistic fallacy. • In biology, a new field of studying complex systems is emerging. • Use of model organisms/ systems in biology.
The challenge of interdisciplinary research • How can social & natural science components influence each other in a project? • Social science more flexible: can respond quickly to input from natural scientists. • Protocols followed in natural science can make research less flexible. • Need for upstream influence. Avoid having ‘pet’ social scientists.
Day to day issues • Need to understand the other discipline. • Appreciate that different schools exist within each discipline. • Problems of technical language : plain speaking required! • Social science writing is more discursive.
Working together has positive outcomes • Better social & natural science. • Better analytical tools for social science. • Natural scientists’ knowledge on social issues placed in a systematic framework. • Joint outcomes. • Fundamental research: development of theory. • Applied / strategic: sustainable solutions for complex problems. • Science & society: better communication & upstream thinking. • New opportunities. • Access to new sources of money for new kinds of research. • Non threatening collaborations.
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