You don’t have to read tea leaves to see that the knowledge that matters in the 21st century will come from across varied disciplines. It might come from mixing computer sciences and sociology, or maybe from a team of cognitive psychologists, educators, and physicists merging their newest ideas. Yet while we can readily find examples that illustrate this growing mixing of knowledge across disciplines, we don’t know exactly what combinations will generate the next biggest discoveries. So we have to build broad foundations that can help ideas flow across many different disciplines.
But breaking through the silos of traditional disciplines can be challenging. From university department structures and tenure processes, to how most grant proposals are written and reviewed, the academic and research cultures today largely remain firmly grounded within the boundaries of disciplines. Likewise, publishing has traditionally supported these structures since disciplines provide easily targeted markets for books, journals, and even new media products.
Along comes social media. Social media platforms offer new tools and opportunities for supporting the sharing of knowledge. One example, WeShareScience.com is a new platform launched this spring for searching, sharing, or discussing research across multiple disciplines. Building on the popular and user-friendly format of Pinterest (now the third most popular social network), WeShareScience makes it easy for researchers and others to share ideas across disciplines through abstracts, pictures, and videos.
Promoting the sharing of ideas, however, requires more than just a platform. So WeShareScience recently launched an international online science fair. Focusing on short video abstracts of research findings, the science fair offers a unique opportunity for researchers around the world, in varied disciplines, to share ideas. If graduate students, faculty, or other researchers in your professional network would benefit from broader dissemination of their ideas, with the potential win cash prizes, you can direct them to: wesharescience.com/5minute
This move toward more interdisciplinary research is not a new trend of course. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have made significant efforts in helping researchers cross discipline boundaries. Likewise, in their recent ARISE 2 report, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) urges that we push the trend forward; recommending that the next step is to create “An online, visualized network that can reveal unexpected links between investigations in different fields or disciplines, or suggest the deployment of new technology from one field into a different field could create a new research agenda and suggest new collaborative approaches.” WeShareScience is a timely grassroots step in this direction.