The Value of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Research (guest post by Brian Robinson and Michael O’Rourke)

Brian Robinson and Michael O’Rourke, both at Michigan State University, lead The Toolbox Project, an initiative which provides “philosophical yet practical enhancement to cross-disciplinary, collaborative science.” It is a fascinating and innovative use of philosophy to facilitate interdisciplinary research, and has been up and running for over a decade. I asked them to share information about the project with Daily Nous readers in a guest post*. Those interested in learning more should email them. The Toolbox Project and the Value of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Research by Brian Robinson (Michigan State University) and Michael O’Rourke (Michigan State University) A team of interdisciplinary researchers walk into a bar and try to figure out what to drink. One plots the correlations between price and alcohol by volume. Another interviews the bartender and a dozen customers about their life histories of drinking. A third tries sampling every beer but passes out while muttering about needing a larger sample size. The next morning, no one can agree which beer is best. Someone asks, “What was our hypothesis anyway?” Another replied, “Who needs a hypothesis?” No findings were published. The point of this anecdote is to convey some of the challenges faced by interdisciplinary researchers and how philosophers can help. The Toolbox Project has been deploying philosophy to enhance the collaborative capacity of interdisciplinary research teams for over a decade now. We consider our work to be a practical demonstration of the value of philosophy as well as a means for engaging in novel philosophical research. Interdisciplinary research has become an increasingly common means to conduct scientific research. Many pressing problems, like climate change, require examination that relies on the methods and insights of a range of academic disciplines. But interdisciplinary research is challenging. Disagreement on the nature or necessity of a hypothesis, for instance, undermines a group’s capacity to produce publishable research. When the group doesn’t recognize the disagreement, the challenges multiply. They can talk past each other without ever realizing it. Talking past one another is easy when one is used to talking to those with similar academic training, where shared meaning can be taken for granted. When stepping across disciplinary lines, however, such common ground can’t be taken for granted. Interdisciplinary researchers have differences in epistemological..

Source: The Value of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Research (guest post by Brian Robinson and Michael O’Rourke)

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