Why aren’t there more cross-disciplinary research collaborations?

Why aren’t there more cross-disciplinary research collaborations?

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Wed, 10/09/2013 - 2:55pm

Matt Kahn poses question while welcoming collaboration during IOES/Luskin Seminar

UCLA professor Matthew Kahn kicked off this year’s IOES/Luskin seminar series with a call for collaboration. As a micro economist, Kahn began his talk with an overview of the value that his field can provide to natural scientists who are thinking about the policy implications of their scientific work. He grouped the relevant work of micro economists into two categories, while emphasizing the importance of the second:

  1. Prospective policy analysis: described by Kahn as tantamount to consulting because there is no real way to evaluate the consequences of a policy that has not been tried before. This means that this type of work, while important, is harder to justify as a faculty member seeking to publish in highly regarding journals.
  2. Retrospective policy analysis: described by Kahn with a focus on studying the unintended consequences of specific policies.

The discussion among Kahn and other faculty underscored a subtle but important shift in the field of micro economists. There is now an emphasis on the use of the scientific method to look at smaller questions and the use of natural and field experiments to back up larger questions.

This seemingly creates opportunities to collaborate with natural scientists. Kahn would like to work with more natural scientists on projects that could results in publication in Nature or other well-regarded scientific journals. Kahn then gave several specific suggestions about environmental research areas for which he welcomes collaboration. This included topics such as water scarcity and drought, using Los Angeles as a case study for how to adapt to a mega drought by raising water prices.  

Interdisciplinary collaboration, however, is easier said than done. Part of the issue involves the system for evaluating faculty performance. Each field has their respective journals of high regard and faculty are incentivized to publish in these often field specific journals.

Another related but separate issue involves limited incentives in academia for prospective policy analysis and other more applied research to inform decisions in the real-world. This is a need that the Luskin Center seeks to fill by conducting applied, policy-informing research in collaboration with government agencies, NGOs and other external partners.

“We need to think outside the box,” stated Roberto Peccei, professor & former UCLA vice chancellor for research, as he participated in the discussion about the importance of applied research.”

We agree.

Matt Kahn poses question while welcoming collaboration during IOES/Luskin Seminar