The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Too much interdisciplinary research collaboration involves ‘hit and run’ tactics or ‘shopping around’ for exotic theories and findings to plug into one’s own research. An ESF Strategic Workshop Report gives practical recommendations on how researchers, funders and policy-makers can help enable transformative interdisciplinary collaboration between the life sciences and the social sciences and avoid the risks and pitfalls attendant on collaborative research across these domains. 

Understanding collaboration between the social sciences and the life sciences

Some of the most challenging and urgent scientific and social questions that face us in the twenty-first century require that researchers in the life sciences, the social sciences and the human sciences break out of disciplinary silos and engage in balanced inter- and transdisciplinary research.

The motivations, barriers, pitfalls and rewards relating to existing and emerging forms of engagement between the life sciences and the social sciences were the focus of an ESF Strategic Workshop in March 2012, hosted by Professor Nikolas Rose at King’s College London.

The substance of the presentations and discussions at the workshop is captured in the resulting Strategic Workshop Report, which highlights the need for some very pragmatic forms of institutional support if experiments in interdisciplinarity are to flourish. It also finds that, if the right conditions are provided, researchers can begin to overcome the perceived divide between ‘the social’ and ‘the biological’ that has inhibited the emergence of a genuinely human science.

The report concludes with a number of practical recommendations, addressed to researchers, research administrators, funders and policy-makers, which would help  enable and improve collaboration between social scientists and life scientists in the interest of reaching a deeper understanding of human and social phenomena.

This initiative has been steered by a Programme Committee with the following members:

  • Mr. Adrian Alsop, Economic and Social Research Council, UK (Standing Committee for the Social Sciences)
  • Professor Jeremy Freese, Northwestern University, USA
  • Professor Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, University of Bern, CH (Standing Committee for the Social Sciences)
  • Professor Robert Plomin, King’s College London, UK
  • Professor Nikolas Rose, King’s College London, UK