Is Interdisciplinary Better?

By Eathan Janney
Last night a conversation emerged among a group of Djerassi residents about our feelings on cross-disciplinary interactions—especially between the arts and sciences. Each of us was chosen to be here due to our interdisciplinary background so it is not a surprise that we advocate interaction. Furthermore, there was general dissatisfaction with the current level of interaction we see in the fields in which we participate. I thought I had read somewhere that higher impact journal articles show a trend of citing outside their discipline. I brought this up in our conversation. If this were true it would be a strong argument that academic institutions ought to promote cross-disciplinary interactions on their campuses. As it is, most agree that this type of work is shunned, avoided or simply off the radar to researchers that are hyper focused within their fields. After a bit of searching I did not find documented evidence for a trend of extra-disciplinary citation in high-impact articles. Nevertheless, it is clear that the highest impact journals in the sciences (Nature, Science, PNAS, etc.) publish articles from many scientific disciplines (Ackerson & Chapman, 2003). It is important to note that the articles themselves are not necessarily the result of cross-disciplinary research. I did find some literature on the analysis of trends in interdisciplinary citations (Cronin & Sugimoto, 2014; Noyons, Moed, Glänzel, & Schmochl, 2004; Van Leeuwen & Tijssen, 2000). For the purpose of analysis Arts/Humanities can be lumped into one group while sciences are divided into multiple categories. Thus science can appear interdisciplinary (if a physics paper cites chemistry literature this is considered cross-disciplinary) while arts can appear less so (if an sociologist cites an anthropologist this is not considered cross-disciplinary). Thus results can be misleading. I would like to see similar analyses performed using arts/humanities and science as the only two categories. My sense is there is little cross talk, but I would be curious to see where there is. Also, given the success of multi-disciplinary science journals perhaps it would be fruitful to add a multidisciplinary arts/science journal where fields are treated distinctly but research is included in the same publication. This would be slightly different to an extant publication like Leonardo wherein articles bridge the disciplines. Though it is still unclear whether or not interdisciplinary work is of higher impact, the success of multidisciplinary science journals indicates that there is certainly an advantage to aggregating knowledge from multiple disciplines. Ackerson, L., & Chapman, K. (2003). Identifying the role of multidisciplinary journals in scientific research. College & Research Libraries, 64(6), 468–478. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/64/6/468.short Cronin, B., & Sugimoto, C. R. (2014). Beyond bibliometrics: Harnessing multidimensional indicators of scholarly impact. MIT Press. Noyons, E., Moed, H. F., Glänzel, W., & Schmochl, U. (2004). Handbook of quantitative science and technology research. Kluwer Academic Publishers New York, EE. UU. Van Leeuwen, T., & Tijssen, R. (2000). Interdisciplinary dynamics of modern science: analysis of cross-disciplinary citation flows. Research Evaluation, 9(3), 183–187.