Teamwork across departmental lines was once a rarity at the nation's most prestigious universities. But the practice, usually known as interdisciplinary research, is spreading rapidly. They are teaming psychologists and anthropologists with economists, laboratory biologists with computer-modeling experts, and scientists who study the brain with humanities professors who explore music and art.
One of the main reasons for the surge in interdisciplinary research is the complexity of today's crucial issues. "For any problem that has some importance today, you find that, really, it doesn't fit neatly into biology or into chemistry or into law" said Roberto Peccei, UCLA's vice chancellor for research.
Still, some experts say, the quality of some interdisciplinary research is questionable. In certain cases in the humanities and social sciences, "interdisciplinary work simply provides a home for misfits, malcontents, those who are anti-disciplines without being pro-anything," said Howard Gardner, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor studying interdisciplinary trends. (no longer available online)