Personal observations on interdisciplinarity

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The author's assignment was to report on how I{sup 3} relates to professional societies and journals he has known, a not unreasonable request given past associations with the Materials Research Society (MRS) and its journal, JMR, particularly in their more formative years. Some recollections and some comments on current postures of MRS and JMR will be found in the section following. There are manifold anecdotes one might relate about overcoming (or not) barriers raised by disciplinary preconception and much revered institutional norms. But to what end? On recalling his own involvements and on trying to discern the common elements, the ... continued below

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7 p.

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Kaufmann, E. N. October 11, 1999.

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The author's assignment was to report on how I{sup 3} relates to professional societies and journals he has known, a not unreasonable request given past associations with the Materials Research Society (MRS) and its journal, JMR, particularly in their more formative years. Some recollections and some comments on current postures of MRS and JMR will be found in the section following. There are manifold anecdotes one might relate about overcoming (or not) barriers raised by disciplinary preconception and much revered institutional norms. But to what end? On recalling his own involvements and on trying to discern the common elements, the author concludes that lessons learned from such accounts are, at the detail level, too situation-specific to be generally useful while at the same time being easily generalized to a few tenets that most of us by now find obvious in principle but that provide no actionable roadmap for implementing I{sup 3} in a specific new arena. How can that be? Other contributors are submitting the I{sup 3}R challenge to scholarly analysis and reporting on significant impediments and enviable achievements. He notes that the common themes permeating the entire discussion reduce to a few fundamental aspects of human nature well known and ubiquitous not merely in the universe of science, technology and research, but in broader society. He feels it is important not to lose sight of this as one examines I{sup 3} problems and solutions, for it is often the larger context that rises to thwart the best of local intentions. He feels that humans are a risk averse species. This translates into resistance to change and thus to institutional inertia. When taken in concert with the subjective propensity to categorize and the objective need at any given stage of development to parse complex systems into manageable subunits, it becomes clear why rigid taxonomies are the rule. Be they definitions of departments on campus, political labels, or finding program classifications. It is fair to say that in the examples presented at this gathering, the origin of hurdles confronting introduction of an I{sup 3} approach in extant systems is the inevitable rigidity of existing structures. Similarly, successes seem to arise when one or more of a few criteria are met. Based on enlightened self-interest, the principal movers find the risk-reward calculus of success compelling enough to pay the price of breaking with tradition. This is often facilitated when the entrepreneurial venture does not risk the mainstay of the principals' vocations. Also, barriers are lowered considerably when the new I{sup 3} enterprise is green field i.e., not making a frontal assault on a preexisting structure. Otherwise, the organizations involved must offer some open avenues to change or at least to circumvent boundaries. Having the right-sized, well-positioned resources is certainly also necessary. Of course, it would be naive to underestimate the importance of the details underlying any and all I{sup 3} successes, but these must be devised in the milieu of the particular people and institutions involved. The author believes that no generic protocols for barrier reduction or for incentives that balance risk will fit differing circumstances. Attempts to map one successful formula onto a new situation are likely to disappoint. Likewise, general programs to promote I{sup 3} in a top down fashion may raise awareness and enthusiasm, but are always tested at the bench--just as in technology transfer, I{sup 3}R is a contact sport. Although not sufficient, it is nevertheless still clearly a necessary prerequisite to create and sustain genuine and practical inducements that mitigate the risk attendant to disturbing the status quo and blunt institutional disincentives.

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7 p.

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OSTI as DE00750535

Medium: P; Size: 7 pages

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  • Interdisciplinarity Revisited: Materials Research as a Case Study, University Park, PA (US), 08/30/1999--08/31/1999

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  • Report No.: ANL/OTD/CP-100181
  • Grant Number: W-31109-ENG-38
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 750535
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc712184

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  • October 11, 1999

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  • Sept. 12, 2015, 6:31 a.m.

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  • April 11, 2017, 3:17 p.m.

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Kaufmann, E. N. Personal observations on interdisciplinarity, article, October 11, 1999; Illinois. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc712184/: accessed June 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.