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Approaches to understanding and measuring interdisciplinary scientific research (IDR): A review of the literature

Author

Listed:
  • Wagner, Caroline S.
  • Roessner, J. David
  • Bobb, Kamau
  • Klein, Julie Thompson
  • Boyack, Kevin W.
  • Keyton, Joann
  • Rafols, Ismael
  • Börner, Katy

Abstract

Interdisciplinary scientific research (IDR) extends and challenges the study of science on a number of fronts, including creating output science and engineering (S&E) indicators. This literature review began with a narrow search for quantitative measures of the output of IDR that could contribute to indicators, but the authors expanded the scope of the review as it became clear that differing definitions, assessment tools, evaluation processes, and measures all shed light on different aspects of IDR. Key among these broader aspects is (a) the importance of incorporating the concept of knowledge integration, and (b) recognizing that integration can occur within a single mind as well as among a team. Existing output measures alone cannot adequately capture this process. Among the quantitative measures considered, bibliometrics (co-authorships, co-inventors, collaborations, references, citations and co-citations) are the most developed, but leave considerable gaps in understanding of the social dynamics that lead to knowledge integration. Emerging measures in network dynamics (particularly betweenness centrality and diversity), and entropy are promising as indicators, but their use requires sophisticated interpretations. Combinations of quantitative measures and qualitative assessments being applied within evaluation studies appear to reveal IDR processes but carry burdens of expense, intrusion, and lack of reproducibility year-upon-year. This review is a first step toward providing a more holistic view of measuring IDR, although research and development is needed before metrics can adequately reflect the actual phenomenon of IDR.

Suggested Citation

  • Wagner, Caroline S. & Roessner, J. David & Bobb, Kamau & Klein, Julie Thompson & Boyack, Kevin W. & Keyton, Joann & Rafols, Ismael & Börner, Katy, 2011. "Approaches to understanding and measuring interdisciplinary scientific research (IDR): A review of the literature," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 14-26.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:infome:v:5:y:2011:i:1:p:14-26
    DOI: 10.1016/j.joi.2010.06.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Rosenfield, Patricia L., 1992. "The potential of transdisciplinary research for sustaining and extending linkages between the health and social sciences," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 35(11), pages 1343-1357, December.
    2. Andy Stirling, 2007. "A General Framework for Analysing Diversity in Science, Technology and Society," SPRU Working Paper Series 156, SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School.
    3. Chen, Chaomei & Chen, Yue & Horowitz, Mark & Hou, Haiyan & Liu, Zeyuan & Pellegrino, Donald, 2009. "Towards an explanatory and computational theory of scientific discovery," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 191-209.
    4. Alan L Porter & J David Roessner & Alex S Cohen & Marty Perreault, 2006. "Interdisciplinary research: meaning, metrics and nurture," Research Evaluation, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(3), pages 187-195, December.
    5. Bar-Ilan, Judit & Levene, Mark & Lin, Ayelet, 2007. "Some measures for comparing citation databases," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 26-34.
    6. Kenneth E. Boulding, 1956. "General Systems Theory--The Skeleton of Science," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 2(3), pages 197-208, April.
    7. Alan L Porter & David J Roessner & Anne E Heberger, 2008. "How interdisciplinary is a given body of research?," Research Evaluation, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(4), pages 273-282, December.
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