PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Funding Interdisciplinary Research

Funding agencies, foundations, and other scientific institutions have insufficient funds to support all worthwhile scientific research projects. Peer and panel review systems are thus often used to make the difficult decisions about which proposed projects are worthy of support. The core idea of “peer review” for grant proposals is much the same as for manuscript review: these decisions should be informed by the people who best know the relevant research problems, theories, and methods. For this reason, however, interdisciplinary research proposals pose a special problem for peer review: scientists' training and research is typically organised along disciplinary lines, and so the relevant methods or theories for interdisciplinary work typically do not fit neatly within the domain of any standard discipline or scientist. Put more colloquially, there are often few or no competent peers to assess interdisciplinary research project proposals.

We are currently engaged in a long-term project to provide both descriptive and normative characterizations of peer review of interdisciplinary research proposals. As part of this project, we conducted a survey of scientists involved in interdisciplinary research, the peer review of grant proposals, or both. We specifically targeted both proposers and reviewers in order to measure their beliefs and perceptions about peer review and funding decisions with regards to interdisciplinary research. In this poster presentation, we present some preliminary findings from our survey, while also situating our findings against a broader sociological and philosophical background.

In particular, the problems faced here by practicing scientists engaged in peer review of interdisciplinary projects are characteristically philosophical, especially epistemological, problems. They concern problems of identifying relevant expertise, recognizing assumptions outside of one’s areas of expertise, developing conceptual models of other disciplines, and establishing procedures for resolving disagreements among experts. Reviewing interdisciplinary research brings to the fore most prominently the difficulties of expert disagreement in cases where each of a number of experts has partial and not fully overlapping expert status with regard to assessing a project. Our long term goal is to use techniques and results from the philosophical literature to ameliorate the difficulties scientists face in reviewing interdisciplinary work.

Author Information:

David Danks    
Carnegie Mellon University

Denise Caruso    
Carnegie Mellon University

Liam Bright    
Carnegie Mellon University


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