Interdisciplinarity has become all the rage as scientists tackle climate change and other intractable issues. But there is still strong resistance to crossing borders.
“The problems challenging us today, the ones really worth working on, are complex, require sophisticated equipment and intellectual tools, and just don’t yield to a narrow approach,” he says. “The traditional structure of university departments and colleges was not conducive to cooperative, interdisciplinary work.” As an academic movement, interdisciplinarity caught on during the 1970s and has been growing ever since, says Larivière. He credits that rise in part to libraries, which began to stockpile subscriptions and improved researchers’ access to journals in alternative fields. A particle physicist could more easily browse biology journals, say. Furthermore, the US focus began to shift from basic research and scientific liberty back to societal problems such as environmental protection, which can rarely be tackled by a single discipline.