Interdisciplinarity and insularity in the diffusion of knowledge: an analysis of disciplinary boundaries between philosophy of science and the sciences

Scientometrics 1 (117):331-349 (2018)
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Two fundamentally different perspectives on knowledge diffusion dominate debates about academic disciplines. On the one hand, critics of disciplinary research and education have argued that disciplines are isolated silos, within which specialists pursue inward-looking and increasingly narrow research agendas. On the other hand, critics of the silo argument have demonstrated that researchers constantly import and export ideas across disciplinary boundaries. These perspectives have different implications for how knowledge diffuses, how intellectuals gain and lose status within their disciplines, and how intellectual reputations evolve within and across disciplines. We argue that highly general claims about the nature of disciplinary boundaries are counterproductive, and that research on the nature of specific disciplinary boundaries is more useful. To that end, this paper uses a novel publication and citation network dataset and statistical models of citation networks to test hypotheses about the boundaries between philosophy of science and 11 disciplinary clusters. Specifically, we test hypotheses about whether engaging with and being cited by scientific communities outside philosophy of science has an impact on one’s position within philosophy of science. Our results suggest that philosophers of science produce interdisciplinary scholarship, but they tend not to cite work by other philosophers when it is published in journals outside of their discipline. Furthermore, net of other factors, receiving citations from other disciplines has no meaningful impact—positive or negative—on citations within philosophy of science. We conclude by considering this evidence for simultaneous interdisciplinarity and insularity in terms of scientific trading theory and other work on disciplinary boundaries and communication.

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Kathryn Plaisance
University of Waterloo


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