Social scientists ‘seen as less competent’ by science academics

Survey of earth scientists suggests exposing scientists to social science earlier might help interdisciplinary working

January 27, 2019
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Exposing those working in pure science disciplines to social science while they are still students might help to improve interdisciplinary working between scholars later in their careers.

That is one of the suggestions that emerges from research that found that a group of earth scientists considered social science academics to be less competent than those working in the natural sciences.

The study, by a group of researchers at Michigan State University, asked about 500 earth scientists for their views on the natural and social sciences, and their academics, in areas such as perceived intelligence, methodological rigour and the worth of each subject area.

According to the results, the earth scientists gave social science and social scientists lower scores on average than they gave to natural scientists, suggesting that they “perceive social science/scientists as less competent”.

Further statistical analysis of the results suggested that those with a PhD were more likely to view social scientists as less competent, while women generally rated academics in both fields as more intelligent than men did.

The results also suggested that earth scientists who had already spent time working with social scientists rated social science more highly than respondents who had not, although they still tended to give social scientists lower scores. There also appeared to be a correlation between those who had taken a social science course in the past and those who had more respect for the work of social scientists.

The researchers, from the entomology, earth and environmental sciences departments at Michigan State, say the results indicate that interdisciplinary working might be more successful if academics have already been exposed to other disciplines.

“Examining these perceptions [between disciplines] provides opportunities to improve willingness to work across disciplinary boundaries, allowing researchers to find solutions for society’s most complex, interdisciplinary problems,” they write.

Writing in Plos One, the researchers stress that much more work needs to be done to fully understand how academics from different subjects view scholars in other disciplines. For instance, they point out that even looking at social scientists’ view of natural science academics was beyond the scope of their study.

They add that future work should take in even more disciplines – including subdisciplines within different branches of academia – to get richer insights into how interdisciplinary projects might be affected by preconceived views.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Natural scientists give social peers low marks

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