Introduction: Interdisciplinary model exchanges


The five studies of this special section investigate the role of models and similar representational tools in interdisciplinarity. These studies were all written by philosophers of science, who focused on interdisciplinary episodes between disciplines and sub-disciplines ranging from physics, chemistry and biology to the computational sciences, sociology and economics. The reasons we present these divergent studies in a collective form are three. First, we want to establish model-exchange as a kind of interdisciplinary event. The five case studies, which are summarized in Section 2 below, show the relevance of this kind. Arguing for the relative unity of these cases will, we hope, re-orient the current debate over interdisciplinarity so as to reflect more appropriately the importance of this kind. We discuss our view of the current state of the debate in Section 3. The evidence from these cases also helps us to develop a taxonomy of interdisciplinary model exchanges in Section 4da taxonomy, we would like to add, that might be useful for the discussion of interdisciplinary exchanges beyond the context of models and their transfer. The second reason for presenting these studies together is that they provide an important source of evidence for the philosophy of science. Over the last three decades, philosophy of science has increasingly differentiated into philosophies of various disciplines. This differentiation in our view has greatly increased our understanding of the scientific practices of the respective disciplines, including the epistemological and methodological standards and conventions on which these practices are based and by which they are evaluated. But it has also made it harder to compare these practices and standards across disciplines. The studies we present here are case studies of interdisciplinary exchange: they focus on the transfer, collaborative construction or parallel use of models and similar representational tools. They therefore provide a unique opportunity to investigate various disciplinary treatments of the same or at least similar representational tools. This allows the identification and comparison of different disciplinary practices and their underlying conventions as well as of the respective normative standards of their evaluation. By tracing the paths along which models travel between disciplines and research fields we can observe to which extent discipline-external practices associated with an adopted tool are retained or replaced by disciplineinternal practices. This generates invaluable information about both disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. We develop this argument further in Section 5. The third reason for presenting these studies in collective form is that their philosophical analysis also has important normative implications for the notion of interdisciplinarity itself. Too often in the current (non-philosophical) discourse is interdisciplinarity cast as an exclusively integrative project: interdisciplinary exchange is often claimed to be successful only if the involved disciplines become mutually more integrated as a consequence of this process. In contrast to this, many of the cases presented here show that interdisciplinary exchange can be scientifically highly successful, even if at the end of the exchange disciplinary borders remain fully intact. Indeed, borders can be fruitfully crossed without any integration across these borders. Such considerations of divergence in scientific practices and tools offer arguments against a naïve plea for unitarian or non-pluralist versions of interdisciplinarity. Disciplinary divergences may have their justifications, and attempting exchanges that require the reduction of these divergences may consequently not be justified. We pursue this argument further in Section 6.


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Till Grüne-Yanoff
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

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