Application of an "interdisciplinarity" metric at the paper level and its use in a comparative analysis of the most publishing ERA and non-ERA universities

September 2015

Campbell, D., Deschamps, P., Côté, G., Roberge, G., Lefebvre, C., and Archambault, E.

(2015). Application of an “interdisciplinarity” metric at the paper level and its use in a comparative analysis of the most publishing ERA and non-ERA universities. Conference paper presented at the 20th International Conference on Science and Technology Indicators, Lugano, Switzerland, 2–4 September 2015.

Abstract

This paper presents the application—in a large bibliographic database—of an “interdisciplinarity” metric measuring the extent to which knowledge from a priori disconnected subfields is integrated within individual scientific papers. This metric is then used to study interdisciplinarity patterns over time and across subfields, as well as to perform a comparative analysis of the interdisciplinarity of ERA (European Research Area) and non-ERA universities. Excluding the social sciences and humanities, the results show that interdisciplinarity is increasing over time and that it is generally more pronounced in applied research fields. In fact, technical universities are over-represented among universities having a greater proportion of highly “interdisciplinary” papers. This suggests that research drawing on a broad range of knowledge can potentially spur the emergence of novel technologies as applied research is closer to innovation than the more fundamental research performed in the natural or health sciences. Although ERA universities did not score as highly for interdisciplinarity as non-ERA universities generally, technical universities within the ERA were highly over-represented among universities having a greater proportion of highly interdisciplinary papers. The lower score of ERA universities in aggregate is therefore attributable to the non-technical universities. It is somewhat intriguing why such a dichotomy is not observed outside the ERA between technical and non-technical universities. Note that the strong limitations of this indicator, as they are depicted in this paper, call for more research on interdisciplinarity metrics.

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