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, 14 (9), e0221907

Does Increased Interdisciplinary Contact Among Hard and Social Scientists Help or Hinder Interdisciplinary Research?


Does Increased Interdisciplinary Contact Among Hard and Social Scientists Help or Hinder Interdisciplinary Research?

Karolina Urbanska et al. PLoS One.


Scientists across disciplines must often work together to address pressing global issues facing our societies. For interdisciplinary projects to flourish, scientists must recognise the potential contribution of other disciplines in answering key research questions. Recent research suggested that social sciences may be appreciated less than hard sciences overall. Building on the extensive evidence of ingroup bias and ethnocentrism in intergroup relations, however, one could also expect scientists, especially those belonging to high status disciplines, to play down the contributions of other disciplines to important research questions. The focus of the present research was to investigate how hard and social scientists perceive one another and the impact of interdisciplinary collaborations on these perceptions. We surveyed 280 scientists at Wave 1 and with 129 of them followed up at Wave 2 to establish how ongoing interdisciplinary collaborations underpinned perceptions of other disciplines. Based on Wave 1 data, scientists who report having interdisciplinary experiences more frequently are also more likely to recognise the intellectual contribution of other disciplines and perceive more commonalities with them. However, in line with the intergroup bias literature, group membership in the more prestigious hard sciences is related to a stronger tendency to downplay the intellectual contribution of social science disciplines compared to other hard science disciplines. This bias was not present among social scientists who produced very similar evaluation of contribution of hard and social science disciplines. Finally, using both waves of the survey, the social network comparison of discipline pairs shows that asymmetries in the evaluation of other disciplines are only present among discipline pairs that do not have any experience of collaborating with one another. These results point to the need for policies that incentivise new collaborations between hard and social scientists and foster interdisciplinary contact.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Categorisation of types of collaboration pairs within networks based on reporting an interdisciplinary collaboration at W1 (in their career up to date) or at W2 (in between the two waves).
Number of discipline pairs included in the analysis is provided on the right-hand side.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Cross-correlation heat map with correlation coefficients among demographical information and key variables measured in W1 and 2.
Relevant correlations are colour-coded based on the strength of the correlation (and not based on the null hypothesis significance test).
Fig 3
Fig 3
(a) Perceived intellectual contribution (measured on a scale 1–7) and (b) perceived commonality (measured on a scale 1–5) in relation to other hard science and social science disciplines as a function of participant’s own disciplinary belonging. Error bars represent standard error.
Fig 4
Fig 4. Perceived intellectual contribution of discipline pairs as a function of types of collaboration history.
In the discipline pairs, “HS->SS” means that a hard science participant evaluated social science discipline targets. Red line represents aggregated mean score for the collaboration history type. Error bar represents standard error. HS = hard science; SS = social science.

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Grant support

This work has been supported by FLAG-ERA joint transnational call project, FuturICT 2.0 and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche grant [ANR-16-PILO-0002-05 and ANR-16-PILO-0002-06].