Authors : Alexander M. Petersen, Mohammed E. Ahmed, Ioannis Pavlidis
To address complex problems, scholars are increasingly faced with challenges of integrating diverse domains. We analyzed the evolution of this convergence paradigm in the ecosystem of brain science, a research frontier that provides a contemporary testbed for evaluating two modes of cross-domain integration: (a) cross-disciplinary collaboration among experts from academic departments associated with disparate disciplines; and (b) cross-topic knowledge recombination across distinct subject areas.
We show that research involving both modes features a 16% citation premium relative to a mono-domain baseline. We further show that the cross-disciplinary mode is essential for integrating across large epistemic distances.
Yet we find research utilizing cross-topic exploration alone—a convergence shortcut—to be growing in prevalence at roughly 3% per year, significantly outpacing the more essential cross-disciplinary convergence mode.
By measuring shifts in the prevalence and impact of different convergence modes in the 5-year intervals up to and after 2013, we find that shortcut patterns may relate to competitive pressures associated with Human Brain funding initiatives launched that year.
Without policy adjustments, flagship funding programs may unintentionally incentivize suboptimal integration patterns, thereby undercutting convergence science’s potential in tackling grand challenges.