Scientific disciplines have been increasingly segregated for 300 years. This works brilliantly to achieve a deeper understanding of the world around us but it’s less helpful for solving the problems of the world. Collaborations are now essential for moving science forward but how easy will it be to bridge the yawning chasms between disciplines?
Years of study still focuses students in a particular discipline. This is still essential for ground-breaking research in one area and yet the research jobs of the future will have to include more broadly skilled scientists.
The main problem is language. Limited cross-discipline association for centuries has created an almost Darwin-like speciation of narrow-skilled scientists who can scarcely communicate with other scientists.
This is useful for nerd jokes. The funniest jokes are those that you know there are people who just won’t get it.
It is still a mystery as to why people think there is some sort of overriding scientific jargon when the scientists themselves can’t speak to each other. The divide is still evident in my lab with limited associations between chemists and biologists.
On a good day, a synthetic chemist may speak in a similar manner to a natural products chemist and yet these organic chemists will not communicate with an inorganic chemist. Unless the inorganic chemist is surrounded by a cluster of microbiologists speaking in their tongue.
With such deep divisions between disciplines the idea of throwing money at a multi-disciplinary collaboration and expecting outcomes at the same pace as single discipline projects is optimistic. Yet it can be achieved.
Firstly, nothing brings ancient foes together like a common enemy. And, like so much of science, an unanswered communal problem is the best way to motivate the different disciplines to unite.
Secondly, science degrees need to place more emphasis on using a common tongue throughout science. Communicating complex ideas in a simple form is the future of science and will help bridge the great divides between disciplines, and even between scientists and other professions.
With a common enemy and effective communication, the new and improved armies of science can march forth for good of the world and achieve what no one has achieved before. I think there could be a movie about that.