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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

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working together across disciplines

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.

  • 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
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
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
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
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.



Evaluation of

costs & benefits

Biology of

Production Systems


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?
the research wheel in social natural sciences


Problem specification /

Conceptual framework

Conclusions &



Empirical research

The research wheel in social & natural sciences



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
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
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
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
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
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.
thanks for your attention
Thanks for your attention