The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astrobiology Institute (NAI) conducted two “Workshops Without Walls” during 2010 that enabled global scientific exchange—with no travel required. The second of these was on the topic “Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life.” Scientists from diverse disciplines and locations around the world were joined through an integrated suite of collaborative technologies to exchange information on the latest developments in this area of origin of life research. Through social media outlets and popular science blogs, participation in the workshop was broadened to include educators, science writers, and members of the general public. In total, over 560 people from 31 US states and 30 other nations were registered. Among the scientific disciplines represented were geochemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and evolution, and microbial ecology. We present this workshop as a case study in how interdisciplinary collaborative research may be fostered, with substantial public engagement, without sustaining the deleterious environmental and economic impacts of travel.
There is concern in many developed countries that school students are turning away from science. However, students may be choosing not to study science and dismissing the possibility of a scientific career because, in the junior secondary years, they gain a false view of science and the work of scientists. There is a disparity between science as it is portrayed at school and science as it is practiced. This paper describes a study to explore whether engaging in science through astrobiology outreach activities may improve students' understanding of the nature and processes of science, and how this may influence their interest in a career in science. The results suggest that the students attending these Mars research–related outreach activities are more interested in science than the average student but are lacking in understanding of aspects of the nature of science. A significant difference was detected between pre- and posttest understandings of some concepts of the nature of science. Key Words: Science education—School science—Creativity—Nature and processes of science—Attitudes—Astrobiology. Astrobiology 12, 1143–1153.
In this article, the authors describe relatively recent efforts by scientific research agencies to promote, through various funding programs, the integration of social sciences and humanities with the natural sciences. This “integrated” approach seeks to study science through a broader interdisciplinary lens in order to better anticipate, understand, and address its ethical, legal, and social implications. The authors review the origins and evolution of this trend, as well the arguments which have been formulated by both proponents and critics of integration. By using Genome Canada's “GE3LS” Research Program as a case study, the authors discuss the successes and continuing challenges of this model based on evaluation results available to date. The authors then go on to examine and compare three possible models for improving the future success of the GE3LS research program, including: 1) enhancing the current integrated research approach through incremental refinements based on concrete evidence and lessons learned; 2) promoting greater interaction and synergy across GE3LS research projects through a deliberate, systematic and coordinated “hub and spoke” approach; and 3) taking a broad programmatic approach to GE3LS research by creating a central resource of available expertise and advisory capacity.
ELSI; GE3LS; genomics; integration; science; society
The EPOXI Discovery Mission of Opportunity reused the Deep Impact flyby spacecraft to obtain spatially and temporally resolved visible photometric and moderate resolution near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopic observations of Earth. These remote observations provide a rigorous validation of whole-disk Earth model simulations used to better understand remotely detectable extrasolar planet characteristics. We have used these data to upgrade, correct, and validate the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory three-dimensional line-by-line, multiple-scattering spectral Earth model. This comprehensive model now includes specular reflectance from the ocean and explicitly includes atmospheric effects such as Rayleigh scattering, gas absorption, and temperature structure. We have used this model to generate spatially and temporally resolved synthetic spectra and images of Earth for the dates of EPOXI observation. Model parameters were varied to yield an optimum fit to the data. We found that a minimum spatial resolution of ∼100 pixels on the visible disk, and four categories of water clouds, which were defined by using observed cloud positions and optical thicknesses, were needed to yield acceptable fits. The validated model provides a simultaneous fit to Earth's lightcurve, absolute brightness, and spectral data, with a root-mean-square (RMS) error of typically less than 3% for the multiwavelength lightcurves and residuals of ∼10% for the absolute brightness throughout the visible and NIR spectral range. We have extended our validation into the mid-infrared by comparing the model to high spectral resolution observations of Earth from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, obtaining a fit with residuals of ∼7% and brightness temperature errors of less than 1 K in the atmospheric window. For the purpose of understanding the observable characteristics of the distant Earth at arbitrary viewing geometry and observing cadence, our validated forward model can be used to simulate Earth's time-dependent brightness and spectral properties for wavelengths from the far ultraviolet to the far infrared. Key Words: Astrobiology—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Planetary science—Radiative transfer. Astrobiology 11, 393–408.
The study of the origin of life covers many areas of expertise and requires
the input of various scientific communities. In recent years, this research
field has often been viewed as part of a broader agenda under the name of
“exobiology” or “astrobiology.” In this review,
we have somewhat narrowed this agenda, focusing on the origin of modern terrestrial
life. The adjective “modern” here means that we did not speculate
on different forms of life that could have possibly appeared on our planet,
but instead focus on the existing forms (cells and viruses). We try to briefly
present the state of the art about alternative hypotheses discussing not only
the origin of life per se, but also how life evolved
to produce the modern biosphere through a succession of steps that we would
like to characterize as much as possible.
Under the auspices of the Society for Women's Health Research, a thought leaders' roundtable was convened at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in October 2002 to discuss recent advances in environmental health research, particularly those findings that explain sex differences in response to environmental exposures. Researchers discussed the latest findings on the interaction between sex and environmental exposures on health. Participants concluded that a greater focus on interdisciplinary, hypothesis-driven research is essential to advancing the field. To understand fully the potential effect of chronic exposures, researchers need to develop models to explore not only physiologic sex differences but also behavioral responses to low-dose and multiple chemical exposures. Future research should examine sex differences from the cell line to behaviors and should track these differences across multiple generations. Federal agencies should support such research in their awards of investigator-initiated grants.
A key component of the National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research is the development of interdisciplinary research teams. How best to teach and foster interdisciplinary research skills has not been determined. An effort at promoting interdisciplinary research was initiated by the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH in 1999. The following year, twelve academic centers were funded to support 56 scholar positions for two to five years under the acronym “BIRCWH: Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health.” A second cohort of twelve centers, called BIRCWH II, was funded in 2002. In this article, the authors present the experience of the University of Michigan BIRCWH program including a practical approach to dealing with the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary research training. Scholars are mentored not only by their primary research advisor, but by a three person mentor team as well as by their peers. All scholars and a core of supportive faculty meet regularly to discuss interdisciplinary research career development and approaches to apply knowledge in new ways. Of the original cohort of 10 scholars at the University of Michigan, 7 have achieved independent research funding. Challenges include arranging times to meet, developing a common language and knowledge base, dealing proactively with expectations and misunderstandings, focusing on a conceptual model, and providing timely feedback.
Infections pose a substantial burden to the health of older adults. In this report, we describe the proceedings of a workshop to formulate and prioritize research questions about infections in older adults using an interdisciplinary approach.
Researchers from four sectors (basic science, clinical sciences, health services and epidemiology/determinants of health) and representatives from various Canadian local, provincial, and federal stakeholder groups were invited to a two-day workshop. Five multi-disciplinary groups and stakeholders from each of three healthcare settings (long term, acute care and community) discussed research priorities for each of the settings. Five to ten research questions were identified for each setting.
The research questions proposed ranged from risk factors and outcomes for different infections to the effect of nutrition on infection and the role of alternative and complementary medicine in treating infections. Health service issues included barriers to immunization, prolongation of hospital length of stay by infection, use of care paths for managing infections, and decision-making in determining the site of care for individuals with infections. Clinical questions included risk factor assessment for infection, the effectiveness of preventative strategies, and technology evaluation. Epidemiologic issues included the challenge of achieving a better understanding of respiratory infections in the community and determining the prevalence of colonization with multi-resistant bacteria.
The questions are of direct relevance to researchers in a wide variety of fields. Bringing together a multi-disciplinary group of researchers to frame and prioritize research questions about aging is feasible, participants valued the opinions of people working in other areas.
Abstract Objective: Medical informatics is an emergent
interdisciplinary field described as drawing upon and contributing to both the
health sciences and information sciences. The authors elucidate the
disciplinary nature and internal structure of the field.
Design: To better understand the field's disciplinary nature, the
authors examine the intercitation relationships of its journal literature. To
determine its internal structure, they examined its journal cocitation
Measurements: The authors used data from the Science Citation Index
(SCI) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) to perform intercitation
studies among productive journal titles, and software routines from
SPSS to perform multivariate data analyses on cocitation data for
proposed core journals.
Results: Intercitation network analysis suggests that a core
literature exists, one mark of a separate discipline. Multivariate analyses of
cocitation data suggest that major focus areas within the field include
biomedical engineering, biomedical computing, decision support, and education.
The interpretable dimensions of multidimensional scaling maps differed for the
SCI and SSCI data sets. Strong links to information science literature were
Conclusion: The authors saw indications of a core literature and of
several major research fronts. The field appears to be viewed differently by
authors writing in journals indexed by SCI from those writing in journals
indexed by SSCI, with more emphasis placed on computers and engineering versus
decision making by the former and more emphasis on theory versus application
(clinical practice) by the latter.
Academic institutions and researchers are becoming increasingly involved in translational research to spur innovation in addressing many complex biomedical and societal problems, and in response to the focus of the NIH and other funders. One approach to translational research is to development interdisciplinary research teams. By bringing together collaborators with diverse research backgrounds and perspectives, these teams seek to blend their science and the workings of the scientists to push beyond the limits of current research.
While team-science promises individual and team benefits in creating and implementing innovations, its increased complexity poses challenges. In particular, since academic career advancement commonly focuses on individual achievement, team-science might differentially impact early stage researchers. This need to be recognized for individual accomplishments in order to move forward in an academic career may give rise to research-team conflicts. Raising awareness to career-related aspects of team science will help individuals (particularly trainees and junior faculty) take steps to align their excitement and participation with the success of both the team and their personal career advancement.
Smoking remains one of the most pressing public health problems in the United States and internationally. The concurrent evolution of the Internet, social network science, and online communities offers a potential target for high-yield interventions capable of shifting population-level smoking rates and substantially improving public health.
Our objective was to convene leading practitioners in relevant disciplines to develop the core of a strategic research agenda on online social networks and their use for smoking cessation, with implications for other health behaviors.
We conducted a 100-person, 2-day, multidisciplinary workshop in Washington, DC, USA. Participants worked in small groups to formulate research questions that could move the field forward. Discussions and resulting questions were synthesized by the workshop planning committee.
We considered 34 questions in four categories (advancing theory, understanding fundamental mechanisms, intervention approaches, and evaluation) to be the most pressing.
Online social networks might facilitate smoking cessation in several ways. Identifying new theories, translating these into functional interventions, and evaluating the results will require a concerted transdisciplinary effort. This report presents a series of research questions to assist researchers, developers, and funders in the process of efficiently moving this field forward.
Smoking cessation; social support; social networks; addiction; treatment; tobacco
A key element of Philip Morris's (PM's) corporate social responsibility initiatives is “societal alignment”, defined as “strategies and programs to meet society's expectations of a responsible tobacco company”. This study explored the genesis and implementation of Philip Morris' (PM) societal alignment efforts.
The study retrieved and analysed approximately 375 previously undisclosed PM documents now available electronically. Using an iterative process, the study categorised themes and prepared a case analysis.
Beginning in 1999, PM sought to become “societally aligned” by identifying expectations of a responsible tobacco company through public opinion research and developing and publicising programs to meet those expectations. Societal alignment was undertaken within the US and globally to ensure an environment favourable to PM's business objectives. Despite PM's claims to be “changing”, however, societal alignment in practice was highly selective. PM responded to public “expectations” largely by retooling existing positions and programs, while entirely ignoring other expectations that might have interfered with its business goals. It also appears that convincing employees of the value and authenticity of societal alignment was difficult.
As implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control proceeds, tobacco control advocates should closely monitor development of such “alignment” initiatives and expose the motivations and contradictions they reveal.
In September 1990, the University of Washington (UW) received a Phase I IAIMS Planning Grant from the National Library of Medicine and embarked upon a planning process involving the entire health sciences center. As a result of our relatively late entry into IAIMS planning, we have been able to learn from the experiences of other health sciences centers and to leverage our existing institutional efforts. Consequently, our progress has been rapid, and in a little over a year, we drafted a long-range plan and embarked on several related research and development projects. The hallmarks of our planning process include careful study of both the UW institutional environment and the experiences of other IAIMS institutions throughout the United States; broad, interdisciplinary participation of faculty, librarians, and administrators; an intensive educational process; a focus on people rather than technology; and, above all, leveraging of existing institutional and research projects that support our vision for the future.
Teams of scientists representing diverse disciplines are often brought together for purposes of better understanding and, ultimately, resolving urgent public health and environmental problems. Likewise, the emerging field of the science of team science draws on diverse disciplinary perspectives to better understand and enhance the processes and outcomes of scientific collaboration. In this supplement to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, leading scholars in the nascent field of team science have come together with a common goal of advancing the field with new models, methods, and measures. This summary article highlights key themes reflected in the supplement and identifies several promising directions for future research organized around the following broad challenges: (1) operationalizing cross-disciplinary team science and training more clearly; (2) conceptualizing the multiple dimensions of readiness for team science; (3) ensuring the sustainability of transdisciplinary team science; (4) developing more effective models and strategies for training transdisciplinary scientists; (5) creating and validating improved models, methods, and measures for evaluating team science; and (6) fostering transdisciplinary cross-sector partnerships. A call to action is made to leaders from the research, funding, and practice sectors to embrace strategies of creativity and innovation in a collective effort to move the field forward, which may not only advance the science of team science but, ultimately, public health science and practice.
Many academicians assume that anyone can engage in interdisciplinary research, but it is clear that successful interdisciplinary efforts require mastery of specific competencies which can be learned and improved. This article describes the development and implementation of a course designed for Master’s, pre- and post-doctoral students and research faculty on models of interdisciplinary research skills, based on a set of core competencies. Major challenges included working through institutional structures which made it difficult to offer cross-school courses, and interpersonal challenges among a diverse group of students from a number of disciplines. Although universities may be poised for interdisciplinary research, strategies for faculty preparation and support are lacking. Institutions embracing the concept of team and interdisciplinary science must focus not only on the structural barriers and facilitators, but also on direct support to faculty. The didactic course described in this paper is one approach to enhance interdisciplinary research skills of scholars-in-training and faculty, and we recommend that similar efforts be widely implemented.
A 'societal impact factor' that complements the scientific impact factor would contribute to a more comprehensive evaluation of scientific research. In order to develop a practical tool for its assessment, it is important to learn about perceptions of scientists on how to measure a societal impact factor.
This qualitative study presents the development of a practical tool to measure the societal impact of publications based on 8 focus group discussions with 24 biomedical scientists at the Medical University Vienna between May 2008 and May 2009. Topics focused on (1) features of an ideal tool, (2) criteria that should be considered in the assessment, and (3) the identification of practical pitfalls. In an iterative exercise involving the repeated application of the drafted tool to scientific papers, criteria for the assessment were refined. A small-scale exercise to evaluate the tool in terms of its comprehensibility, relevance and practicability was conducted using questionnaires for 6 external experts in leading positions of public health, and yielded acceptable results.
The tool developed consists of three quantitative dimensions, that is (1) the aim of a publication, (2) the efforts of the authors to translate their research results, and, if translation was accomplished, (3) (a) the size of the area where translation was accomplished (regional, national or international), (b) its status (preliminary versus permanent) and (c) the target group of the translation (individuals, subgroup of population, total population).
Focus group discussions with scientists suggested that the societal impact factor of a publication should consider the effect of the publication in a wide set of non-scientific areas, but also the motivation behind the publication, and efforts by the authors to translate their findings. The proposed tool provides some valuable insights for further research and practical applications in the topic area.
The OBML 2010 workshop, held at the University of Mannheim on September 9-10, 2010, is the 2nd in a series of meetings organized by the Working Group “Ontologies in Biomedicine and Life Sciences” of the German Society of Computer Science (GI) and the German Society of Medical Informatics, Biometry and Epidemiology (GMDS). Integrating, processing and applying the rapidly expanding information generated in the life sciences — from public health to clinical care and molecular biology — is one of the most challenging problems that research in these fields is facing today. As the amounts of experimental data, clinical information and scientific knowledge increase, there is a growing need to promote interoperability of these resources, support formal analyses, and to pre-process knowledge for further use in problem solving and hypothesis formulation.
The OBML workshop series pursues the aim of gathering scientists who research topics related to life science ontologies, to exchange ideas, discuss new results and establish relationships. The OBML group promotes the collaboration between ontologists, computer scientists, bio-informaticians and applied logicians, as well as the cooperation with physicians, biologists, biochemists and biometricians, and supports the establishment of this new discipline in research and teaching. Research topics of OBML 2010 included medical informatics, Semantic Web applications, formal ontology, bio-ontologies, knowledge representation as well as the wide range of applications of biomedical ontologies to science and medicine. A total of 14 papers were presented, and from these we selected four manuscripts for inclusion in this special issue.
An interdisciplinary audience from all areas related to biomedical ontologies attended OBML 2010. In the future, OBML will continue as an annual meeting that aims to bridge the gap between theory and application of ontologies in the life sciences. The next event emphasizes the special topic of the ontology of phenotypes, in Berlin, Germany on October 6-7, 2011.
The Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institutes and Centers and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) have sponsored an interdisciplinary research career development program in five funding cycles since 2000 through a K12 mechanism titled “Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH).” As of 2010, 407 scholars have been supported in interdisciplinary women's health research and a total of 63 BIRCWH program awards have been made to 41 institutions across the U.S.
In an effort to share practical approaches to interdisciplinary research training, currently funded BIRCWH sites were invited to submit 300-word bullet-point style summaries describing their best practices in interdisciplinary research training following a common format with an emphasis on practices that are innovative, can be reproduced in other places, and advance women's health research.
Results and Conclusions
Twenty-six program narratives provide unique perspectives along with common elements and themes in interdisciplinary research training best practices.
The complex relationship between globalization and health calls for research from many disciplinary and methodological perspectives. This editorial gives an overview of the content trajectory of the interdisciplinary journal ‘Globalization and Health’ over the first six years of production, 2005 to 2010. The findings show that bio-medical and population health perspectives have been dominant but that social science perspectives have become more evident in recent years. The types of paper published have also changed, with a growing proportion of empirical studies. A special issue on ‘Health systems, health economies and globalization: social science perspectives’ is introduced, a collection of contributions written from the vantage points of economics, political science, psychology, sociology, business studies, social policy and research policy. The papers concern a range of issues pertaining to the globalization of healthcare markets and governance and regulation issues. They highlight the important contribution that can be made by the social sciences to this field, and also the practical and methodological challenges implicit in the study of globalization and health.
Recruiting research participants based on genetic information generated about them in a prior study is a potentially powerful way to study the functional significance of human genetic variation. However, it also presents significant ethical challenges that, to date, have received only minimal consideration. We convened a multi-disciplinary workshop to discuss key issues relevant to the conduct and oversight of genotype-driven recruitment and to translate those considerations into practical policy recommendations. Workshop participants were invited from around the U.S., and included genomic researchers and study coordinators, research participants, clinicians, bioethics scholars, experts in human research protections, and government representatives. Discussion was directed by experienced facilitators and informed by empirical data collected in a national survey of IRB chairs and in-depth interviews with research participants in studies where genotype-driven recontact occurred. A high degree of consensus was attained on the resulting 7 recommendations, which cover informed consent disclosures and choices, the process for how and by whom participants are recontacted, the disclosure of individual genetic research results, and the importance of tailoring approaches based on specific contextual factors. These recommendations are intended to represent a balanced approach—protecting research participants, yet avoiding overly restrictive policies that hinder advancement on important scientific questions.
Ethics; research recruitment; informed consent; disclosure of research results; human genetic variation
Scholars and practitioners from multiple perspectives, including developmental science, sociology, business, medicine, and public health, have considered the implications of employment for young people. We summarize a series of meetings designed to synthesize information from these perspectives and derive recommendations to guide research, practice, and policy with a focus on young worker safety and health. During the first three meetings, participants from the United States and Canada considered invited white papers addressing developmental issues, public health data and findings, as well as programmatic advances and evaluation needs. At the final meeting, the participants recommended both research and policy directions to advance understanding and improve young worker safety.
The authors present a framework, developed in an introductory physics for life sciences majors course, for analyzing interdisciplinary tasks. This framework will be useful for both curriculum designers and education researchers seeking to understand how integrated science curricula can be designed to support interdisciplinary learning objectives.
The national conversation around undergraduate science instruction is calling for increased interdisciplinarity. As these calls increase, there is a need to consider the learning objectives of interdisciplinary science courses and how to design curricula to support those objectives. We present a framework that can help support interdisciplinary design research. We developed this framework in an introductory physics for life sciences majors (IPLS) course for which we designed a series of interdisciplinary tasks that bridge physics and biology. We illustrate how this framework can be used to describe the variation in the nature and degree of interdisciplinary interaction in tasks, to aid in redesigning tasks to better align with interdisciplinary learning objectives, and finally, to articulate design conjectures that posit how different characteristics of these tasks might support or impede interdisciplinary learning objectives. This framework will be useful for both curriculum designers and education researchers seeking to understand, in more concrete terms, what interdisciplinary learning means and how integrated science curricula can be designed to support interdisciplinary learning objectives.
As part of an empirical study investigating how life scientists think about ethical and societal implications of their work, and about life science research in general, we sought to elucidate barriers that scientists might face in considering such implications.
Between 2005 and 2007, we conducted a study consisting of phone interviews, focus groups, and a national survey of life scientists at biomedical research institutions. The study population included graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, clinical instructors, and research staff. We analyzed data through qualitative and quantitative methods.
In analyzing the data, we found that life scientists do, in fact, face barriers to considering ethical and societal implications of research. We categorized these barriers as falling into four broad domains: (1) lack of awareness of ethical and societal implications; (2) lack of relevance of such concerns to their specific research; (3) self-confidence in their ability to resolve such concerns; and (4) aspects of the daily practice of science itself.
Life science researchers experience elements inherent in their training and in the conduct of science as barriers to thinking about ethical and societal implications related to their work. These findings suggest areas in which research ethics educators, bioethicists, and the scientific community can focus their efforts to improve social and ethical accountability in research.
Bioethics; qualitative methods; quantitative methods; empirical research
Mercury and other contaminants in coastal and open-ocean ecosystems are an issue of great concern globally and in the United States, where consumption of marine fish and shellfish is a major route of human exposure to methylmercury (MeHg). A recent National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences–Superfund Basic Research Program workshop titled “Fate and Bioavailability of Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems and Effects on Human Exposure,” convened by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program on 15–16 November 2006 in Durham, New Hampshire, brought together human health experts, marine scientists, and ecotoxicologists to encourage cross-disciplinary discussion between ecosystem and human health scientists and to articulate research and monitoring priorities to better understand how marine food webs have become contaminated with MeHg. Although human health effects of Hg contamination were a major theme, the workshop also explored effects on marine biota. The workgroup focused on three major topics: a) the biogeochemical cycling of Hg in marine ecosystems, b) the trophic transfer and bioaccumulation of MeHg in marine food webs, and c) human exposure to Hg from marine fish and shellfish consumption. The group concluded that current understanding of Hg in marine ecosystems across a range of habitats, chemical conditions, and ocean basins is severely data limited. An integrated research and monitoring program is needed to link the processes and mechanisms of MeHg production, bioaccumulation, and transfer with MeHg exposure in humans.
bioaccumulation; human health; mercury biomonitoring; mercury exposure; methylmercury
One way to ensure that social and ethical implications (SEI) of nanotechnology research are taken into consideration early in research projects is to incorporate ethical concepts into university science education. In this paper, we describe an interdisciplinary nanotechnology university science course and the ways in which the opinions of students regarding the ethical implications of nanotechnology research were influenced by the course. From an SEI perspective, there is value in scientists being aware of the need to make explicit the uncertainties that always exist in scientific and technological research and development. By the end of the class, a majority of the students felt that risks and ethical issues are not well understood by scientists working in nanomaterials, and ethical training was recommended for these scientists. Findings from this study speak to the importance of this type of interdisciplinary class in preparing students for collaborative research and making them aware of issues important to the general public who someday will become consumers of products derived from nanotechnology research.
Social and Ethical Implications; Multidisciplinary Course; Nanotechnology Curriculum