Computational interdisciplinarity: a study in the history of science

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This dissertation focuses on creating a pluralistic approach to understanding and measuring interdisciplinarity at various scales to further the study of the evolution of knowledge and innovation. Interdisciplinarity is

This dissertation focuses on creating a pluralistic approach to understanding and measuring interdisciplinarity at various scales to further the study of the evolution of knowledge and innovation. Interdisciplinarity is considered an important research component and is closely linked to higher rates of innovation. If the goal is to create more innovative research, we must understand how interdisciplinarity operates.

I begin by examining interdisciplinarity with a small scope, the research university. This study uses metadata to create co-authorship networks and examine how a change in university policies to increase interdisciplinarity can be successful. The New American University Initiative (NAUI) at Arizona State University (ASU) set forth the goal of making ASU a world hub for interdisciplinary research. This kind of interdisciplinarity is produced from a deliberate, engineered, reorganization of the individuals within the university and the knowledge they contain. By using a set of social network analysis measurements, I created an algorithm to measure the changes to the co-authorship networks that resulted from increased university support for interdisciplinary research.

The second case study increases the scope of interdisciplinarity from individual universities to a single scientific discourse, the Anthropocene. The idea of the Anthropocene began as an idea about the need for a new geological epoch and underwent unsupervised interdisciplinary expansion due to climate change integrating itself into the core of the discourse. In contrast to the NAUI which was specifically engineered to increase interdisciplinarity, the I use keyword co-occurrence networks to measure how the Anthropocene discourse increases its interdisciplinarity through unsupervised expansion after climate change becomes a core keyword within the network and behaves as an anchor point for new disciplines to connect and join the discourse.

The scope of interdisciplinarity increases again with the final case study about the field of evolutionary medicine. Evolutionary medicine is a case of engineered interdisciplinary integration between evolutionary biology and medicine. The primary goal of evolutionary medicine is to better understand "why we get sick" through the lens of evolutionary biology. This makes it an excellent candidate to understand large-scale interdisciplinarity. I show through multiple type of networks and metadata analyses that evolutionary medicine successfully integrates the concepts of evolutionary biology into medicine.

By increasing our knowledge of interdisciplinarity at various scales and how it behaves in different initial conditions, we are better able to understand the elusive nature of innovation. Interdisciplinary can mean different things depending on how its defined. I show that a pluralistic approach to defining and measuring interdisciplinarity is not only appropriate but necessary if our goal is to increase interdisciplinarity, the frequency of innovations, and our understanding of the evolution of knowledge.