Interdisciplinarity and Productivity

In a blog post at the London School of Economics, University of Arizona Sociology Professor Erin Leahey describes some of her recent work on the costs and benefits of interdisciplinary research for productivity and impact metrics in science. The basic pattern is that interdisciplinary work tends to receive more citations (a common metric used to judge “impact”), but tends to lead to fewer publications (a common metric used to judge “productivity”).

She goes on to describe her efforts with her coauthors to discover the source of this productivity penalty. They found no evidence that interdisciplinary work has a harder time in the review and publication process than traditional disciplinary work. Rather, the cost seems to be in the additional effort required to actually do the interdisciplinary work.

IDR could also stifle productivity because the process of producing interdisciplinary scholarship—learning new concepts, literatures, and techniques, working with a diverse group of collaborators—is challenging. We find that IDR projects do indeed face these hurdles. Scholars who engage in ‘repeat collaborations’ with the same set (or subset) of authors experience a smaller productivity penalty than we see overall, so scholars do become accustomed to working with their coauthors (regardless of field). Survey responses from a small sub-sample of these scholars reveal that interdisciplinary teams have more difficulty generating ideas, and their communication is less clear, more difficult, and lower quality. Last, because our theory suggests that it is challenging to incorporate different ideas into a single paper, multidisciplinary scholars (who publish separate papers on distinct topics) likely do not face production penalties. Indeed, our results show that scholars conducting multidisciplinary research are more productive, not less.

This resonates with my own experience. When working on a project in your own field, it is easy to underestimate just how much you rely on deep experience. Engaging in a meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration requires a lot of remedial education.

Of course, this is not to say that you should shy away from interdisciplinary work. I’d say it is one more reason why hiring and promotion committees should be wary of publication counting.

The study can be found here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0001839216665364

Narcissism in Science

For some reason, I guess narcissism was on people’s minds last Friday. Hannah Devlin had a story in the Guardian about a lecture given by immunologist Bruno Lemaitre about the crisis of narcissism in science.

“Many great scientists are narcissists. It’s a bit sad, but it’s a fact,” he said. “This might surprise an external observer, because scientists are usually perceived as being modest searchers for the truth and working collectively for the advancement of science.”

Lemaitre is not suggesting his profession is unique in having experienced a rise in individualism – politics, film or fashion are probably worse and the trend is global, he says, but it has some worrying implications that are specific to science.

“The influence of narcissism on so many aspects of science calls into question [its] very objectivity,” he said.

The replication crisis in psychology and the life sciences, in which “sexy” papers fail to stand up to closer scrutiny, can be blamed in part on scientists being motivated by a need for attention and authority as well as curiosity about the natural world, he said.

This sounds right to me.

Updates to Landry’s Work on Metaphysics

Ronin Institute Research Scholar Forrest Landry‘s essays on Analytic Metaphysics are available at http://uvsm.com. Recently, Forrest has updated some of those essays, converting them to dialog form. Details follow, but Forrest notes that he welcomes comment particularly on the new dialog on the Incommensuration Theorem. So, those of you with an Analytic and/or Metaphysical mindset, have at it!

http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/reform_meta_essays_3.htm

This is basically the essay, rewritten in dialog form, of a means by which the Axiom Concepts can be arrived at.

http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/axiom_1.htm

This is almost an exact copy of the relevant section of the 2.0 book, converted into web format, so that if you need to refer or cite to someone just (and only) the formal statement of the Axioms, that there is some place on the web where this is easy to read (even on a mobile phone).

http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/core_lexicon_1.htm

This is an almost completely reworked and re-sequenced view of the main aphorism content of the IM 2.0 book, with an emphasis on just either defining or including the base language generally used in various ways in other IM essays, content, etc.  Think of this section as being a fairly minimal and compact Glossary of all of the important IM terms.

http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/ict_dialog_3.htm

The essay of the Incommensuration Theorem (ICT) has been completely re-written as a dialog and is presented freshly completed today.  The dialog covers a number of important topics, and connects them together in a fairly compact and independent manner.  This dialog, at this point, represents probably one of the most useful ‘deep theory results’ to perhaps be offering as a presentation to use on general interest items such as QM/GR reconciliation failure, the hard problem, generalization of Bell/Godel, etc.

http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/modality_metaphors_1.htm

Also converted into mobile web presentable dialog format is a basic statement of language correspondence between the modality terms as formally used, and their occurrence within more general public usage.  Technically this is part of the core Glossary.

http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/axiom_ii_if4.htm

This URL is being included for completeness, insofar as it is also version 3 content — things edited or updated since the release of the 2.0 manuscript.  Even though it was not written or updated recently, insofar as it defines an important reconciliation of how/why the Axiom II flow dynamics are so composed.  Be advised that this represents some of the most abstract and complex work on the site — not an easy read.

Duerr Chapter(s) in New Book on Curating Research Data

Just published by the American Library Association is Curating Research Data, a two-volume collection edited by Lisa Johnston. Research Scholar Ruth Duerr writes:

Karen Baker and I wrote the first chapter in Volume 1 – Chapter 1. Research and the Changing Nature of Data Repositories.  Karen and I both have a long history with all things data related.  We realized when the call for authors for this book went out, that the academic library community is pretty unaware of the more than 50 years that domain repositories and other such institutions have been dealing with data.  So we thought we’d write this chapter to bring the community up to speed.   It is nice that it was chosen as the first chapter in the section Part I. Setting the Stage for Data Curation. Policies, Culture, and Collaboration.

We also contributed a Case study to Volume 2, Section Step 4.0: Ingest and Store Data in Your Repository entitled “data and a diversity of repositories” just to make the reader aware of the various types of repositories out there…

So check it out!

Battle-Fisher Producing Documentary on Transhumanism

Congratulations to Ronin Institute Research Scholar Michele Battle-Fisher, who will be a co-producer on News2Share’s upcoming film Transhumanism: A Documentary. Here’s the concept trailer:

The project is currently raising funds on indiegogo. Check out the project page to learn more:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/transhuman-a-documentary-news-film#/

On a related note:

Banerjee on International Scientific Collaboration

Ronin Institute Research Scholar Soumya Banerjee has posted a preprint of an analysis of scientific collaboration networks, focusing on patterns of collaboration within and among different nations. He writes that

Our latest article looks at a scientific collaboration network and finds novel patterns and clusters in the data that may reflect past foreign policies and contemporary geopolitics. Our model and analysis gives insights and guidelines into how scientific development of developing countries can be guided. This is intimately related to fostering economic development of impoverished nations and creating a richer and more prosperous society.

More information on the work can be found via the following links:

Paper – https://arxiv.org/abs/1509.07313v2

Talk – http://cs-dc-15.org/papers/multi-scale-dynamics/knowledge-maps/analysis-of-a-planetary-scale-scientific-collaboration-dataset-reveals-novel-patterns/

Slides – http://www.slideshare.net/neelsoumya/analysis-of-a-planetary-scale-scientific-collaboration-dataset-reveals-novel-patterns

Code – https://bitbucket.org/neelsoumya/public_open_source_datascience/src/80f60386e3295eca2bddc62d1a39582da78b64c2/scientific_collaboration/?at=master

Ruth Duerr and Colleagues Win International Data Rescue Award

Congratulations to Research Scholar Ruth Duerr, who accepted the 2016 International Data Rescue Award in the Geosciences on behalf of a team of researchers from multiple institutions. From an article on the award in Eos:

This year’s winning project, “Revealing Our Melting Past: Rescuing Historical Snow and Ice Data,” is an effort to digitize the Roger G. Barry Archive at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The archive is a trove of snow and ice data in many formats, including prints; images on microplates and glass plates; ice charts from early expeditions to Alaska, the Alps, South and Central America, and Greenland; and handwritten 19th century exploration diaries and observational data.

“This is a project that is all about rescuing glacier photos that go all the way back to the late 1800s,” said Ruth Duerr, a project team member who represented the group at the award ceremony. “For science, it is giving you a 150-year record of individual glaciers around the world and how they have changed in terms of mass lost or gained; mostly lost,” said ESSI president-elect Duerr, a research scholar in science data management and software and system engineering at the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship, which is based in Montclair, N.J.

As also noted in that article,

The award was announced just 2 days after news broke that some other scientists are frantically copying unrelated U.S. government climate data out of their fear that the data could vanish during the Trump administration. That fear is based in the idea that some likely appointees are climate science skeptics.

So, congratulations to Ruth, and to everyone involved in the project! Check out the Eos article for some fantastic photographs that show the dramatic consequences of climate change over the past century.

Help Fund Scans of Dolphin Genitalia

Research Scholar Diane Kelly and her collaborators at Mount Holyoke College are raising money right now to fund CT scans of dolphin genitalia. From the project description at Experiment:

Our goal is to assess the depth of penile penetration during copulation and to explore which anatomical landmarks are in contact and where. The penises of adult males will be inflated with saline and inserted into the vaginas of adult females from the same species. The penises will be inserted as deep as possible to simulate copulation.

After the genitals are CT scanned together, they will be dissected to identify anatomical landmarks (Orbach et al. 2016), which will then be located on the CT scan images. The depth of penile penetration and the points of contact between the male and female genitalia will be identified and compared across species to explore broad patterns of genital coevolution.

So, maybe you’d like to help support some cool marine reproductive biology, or maybe your tastes, like those of Christian Grey, are singular. Either way, visit the project site for some inspiring science and horrifying images.

Graeber on the Transformation of Universities

Following up on the previous posts on bullshit and tenure, Research Scholar Ralph Haygood drew my attention to this passage from a 2014 article by David Graeber in the Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

Universities are—or, better said, until recently have been— among the only institutions that survived more or less intact from the High Middle Ages. As a result, universities still reflected an essentially medieval conception of self-organization and self-governance; this was an institution managed by scholars for the pursuit of scholarship, of forms of knowledge that were seen as valuable in their own right. This did not fundamentally change at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when university systems entered into an often somewhat uneasy alliance with centralizing states, providing training for the civil service in exchange for keeping the basic principle of autonomy intact. Obviously this autonomy was compromised in endless ways in practice. But it existed as an ideal. And it was important. It made a difference both in legitimizing the basic idea of a domain of autonomous production driven by values other than those of the market, but in any number of very practical ways as well: for instance, universities were, traditionally, spaces in cities not directly under the jurisdiction of the police.

In this sense what’s happened to universities since the 1970s—very unevenly, but pretty much everywhere—has represented a fundamental break of a kind we have not seen in eight hundred years. As Gayatri Spivak remarked in a talk she gave to Occupy Wall Street, even twenty years ago, when people spoke of “the university,” in the abstract, they were referring to the faculty; nowadays, when they speak of “the university,” they are referring to the administration. Universities are no longer corporations in the medieval sense; they are corporations in the capitalist sense, bureaucratic institutions organized around the pursuit of profit, even though the “profit” in question is, nowadays, slightly more broadly conceived. They are most certainly not institutions dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding as a value in itself. In that sense, I really think it can be said that the university, in the original conception of the term, is dead.

The whole article is fantastic, open access, and available here: http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.3.007

Paul Graham on Risk and Discovery

In a short post Paul Graham (computer scientist, venture capitalist, and opinion haver) notes that biographies of famous scientists tend to focus on the subset of their ideas that panned out, neglecting their failures.

Biographies of Newton, for example, understandably focus more on physics than alchemy or theology. The impression we get is that his unerring judgment led him straight to truths no one else had noticed.

[snip]

In Newton’s day the three problems seemed roughly equally promising. No one knew yet what the payoff would be for inventing what we now call physics

[snip]

Newton made three bets. One of them worked. But they were all risky.

You can take this argument even further. There have been a ton of people throughout history working on topics that, at the time, seemed as promising as physics or alchemy. People don’t tend to write biographies about the folks for whom the big breakthrough never comes.

The written history of science tends to be a post-hoc narrative of linear progress imposed on a roiling, chaotic mess of false starts and wrong turns. (As does the history of not-science, for that matter.) The problem is that it leads us to think that we can have progress without risk, success without failure. It leads to our risk-averse approach to funding scientific research, which has proven itself effective at producing huge volumes incremental science.

The fact is, if we want to fund the research that will lead to the next Principia, we’re going to have to become okay with funding a lot more alchemy.