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Interdisciplinary studies show a growing trend

WU NAN | 2020-09-09
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Digitization and artificial intelligence provide direction for conducting problem-oriented interdisciplinary research in the fields of science, technology and engineering. Photo: FILE


The recent national conference on postgraduate education released information on establishing interdisciplinary studies as an official 14th academic branch that confers its own degrees. 
 
The development of interdisciplines is the trend of our times, as further problem-solving requires deeper exchange and integration among disciplines. An interdiscipline means not simply piecing together two or more disciplines. It involves finding the internal logical connections of different disciplines and cultivating new academic growth points with the aim of solving theoretical and practical problems.
 
The creation of numerous interdisciplines has shortened the distance between disciplines and accelerated the integration of modern science. In particular, interdisciplines between the natural sciences and the social sciences have built a bridge for communication and close cooperation between the two major knowledge sectors. Such interdisciplines are born of disciplines with large differences in their research objects and research approaches. As a product of a “distant marriage” with strong vitality, they can promote the emergence of other interdisciplines, said Wang Xukun, a professor from the Institute of Science and Science & Technology Management at Dalian University of Technology.
 
Liu Zhonglin, a professor from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Science and Technology of China, said that the development of modern science urgently calls for interdisciplines to have a place in current discipline categories. The traditional single-disciplinary talent training system no longer meets the needs of modern science. Higher education institutions, the cradles of scientific and technological talent, urgently need to establish a new training mechanism for the coordinated development of disciplines and interdisciplines to facilitate the cultivation of high-quality compound talent with a transdisciplinary background.
 
The main disciplinary categories are the foundation for project declarations, applications for scientific research funds, talent training, achievement appraisal and evaluations for professional titles. Establishing interdisciplinary studies as an official academic branch that confers its own degrees will promote research funding agencies, universities and scientific research institutions to increase investment in interdisciplinary research, thereby easing the difficulty that emerging interdisciplinary research projects have faced seeking approval in the past, said Zhang Zhiqiang, director and a research fellow of the Chengdu Library and Information Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
 
In recent years, many universities and research institutes in China have established their collaborative innovation centers and platforms for interdisciplines in an attempt to concentrate strengths in different disciplines and conduct pioneering explorations on important theoretical and practical issues.
 
Duan Weiwen, a research fellow from the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, mentioned the three major areas of interdisciplinary research in recent years. First of all, problem-oriented interdisciplinary research in the fields of science, technology and engineering is growing vigorously, with digitization and intelligence becoming an increasingly important direction in their frontier fields. Major problems on the scientific frontier, major scientific projects, advanced equipment technologies and core technologies in key areas are focuses of universities and research institutions in their interdisciplinary research.
 
Major breakthroughs have been made in the interdisciplinary research of science and technology and the humanities and social sciences, creating new directions for research and talent training and increasing innovation with smart cities, smart construction, smart grids and smart medical management, Duan continued.
 
In addition, the interdisciplinarity of the humanities and social sciences with cognitive, computer, data and intelligence sciences has also produced many new areas of growth, such as brain science, the interdisciplinary research of cognitive science and philosophy, and computational social science, Duan concluded.
 
Zhang added that in recent years, interdisciplinary research has focused on theory, measurement and related laws. Theoretical research means summarizing the basis of interdisciplinary development based on theoretical knowledge and empirical judgment. Measurement research involves distinguishing and measuring the degree of interdisciplinarity. Research on related laws involves excavating and summarizing the phenomena occurring in the process of interdisciplinary research, with current topics primarily focusing on “what factors promote the formation of interdisciplines,” “what interdisciplines bring about,” and “which interdisciplines are valuable research fields.”
 
Not all interdisciplines are worthy of attention. Social needs have fueled interdisciplines. Comprehensive practical problems in social development that need to be urgently solved are the fundamental force driving interdisciplinary cooperation. Scientific breakthroughs are often made at the intersection of social needs and the logic inherent in science. Innovation is not an end in itself. To solve practical problems more effectively through interdisciplines or interdisciplinary studies is the fundamental objective, Zhang concluded.
 
We need to set different standards to treat emerging interdisciplines according to their maturity. For example, interdisciplines yet in an incubation stage should be identified as exploratory interdisciplines; those in a pilot phase should be set up as growing interdisciplines; and those in a promotion stage should be established as mature interdisciplines. Only after passing a certain pilot period can an interdiscipline be officially included in the category of interdisciplines, Liu suggested.
 
edited by YANG LANLAN