Are the scientific journals ready for trans-disciplinary research publications?

by Anastasia Topalidou

There is a lot of talk of trans-disciplinary research these days. Is it a sign of the times, a new trend or a new requisite need? Maybe it is just a combination of all these, plus the simple assumption that research can no longer provide many essential and groundbreaking solutions unless individuals and/or groups of different disciplines cooperate. However, is teamwork and the common goal enough to produce a trans-disciplinary research. Of course not. Trans-disciplinary research is something more than this.

Once during a course a student asked me: “Although I have read a lot the last days, I find it difficult to understand the difference between inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinary research.  Can you give me some examples instead of definitions?”  I will therefore refer to the example I gave. Multi-disciplinary research is like a glass with water and olive oil. They are in the same glass, they touch each other, maybe they interact, but if you look at the glass, water stands out from the oil and vice versa. Looking at the glass you know that what it has in is water and oil. Inter-disciplinary research is like a glass with cold coffee. You can see that it is a coffee and maybe you can descry some ice cubes and guess if it contains milk. But you have to taste it to identify if it contains sugar and insure if it contains milk. The ingredients were mixed, interacted and exchanged their flavorings; but still you can recognize and distinguish them. Trans-disciplinary is just a smoothie in a glass, with several fruits, ice-cubes, honey, even soy protein powder. You know it is a smoothie, but if someone ask you to describe what it contains without taste it, you just can’t… Even if you will taste it, probably there will be a big confusion to distinguish the ingredients. The ingredients become one mixture, one unity.

Undeniably, there is a growing trend to forge bridges between disciplines; there is a growing trend to produce “smoothies”. However, we have to realize that the trans-disciplinary research does not produce new scientific knowledge, but new trans-disciplinary knowledge. This means, that the new trans-disciplinary knowledge will be written in a created trans-disciplinary language, and will concern many disciplines and/or new trans-disciplinary disciplines and will use integrated problem-oriented methodologies.

So let’s say that a project is successfully completed and the trans-disciplinary team is ready to publish the results. Is it easy? Are the scientific journals ready for this? Indistinctly, there are trans-disciplinary journals or journals that accept trans-disciplinary research or are more flexible. But if someone considers the total number of the available scientific journals in relation to the number of “trans-disciplinary” journals, then the disproportion is obvious.

Although the ratio of demand for trans-disciplinary research from the funders and/or the academic community is increasing, as is the production of the work, the number of journals that could potentially publish such studies either stays stable or increases disproportionately slowly. One of the results is that some journals accept a multitude of manuscripts and therefore have to reject a large portion of valuable manuscripts. Of course there are other results, as well. So, is there an urgent need for change? Probably!

Is there a need for new journals? Is there a need for the existing journals to become more flexible and open up their “borders”? Maybe both! The only sure thing is that there is a need!

In Working Group 2 we conducted inter- and trans-disciplinary studies. We’ve managed to create a common language. We’ve managed to understand each other. We’ve managed to think as one unit. We’ve managed to think to multiple directions. And many more… The only remaining issue to overcome is the publication of the results. It has happened that there was a manuscript, for example, that it had mainly two fields (not only, but mainly): the “A” which was more medically-related and the “B” that was more technically-related. First, an editor from a journal more close to the “A” field was contacted on whether the manuscript is within the scope of the journal. The answer less or more was that potentially it could be but it is too technical/mechanical for the audience of the journal and suggest to submit it in a “B” journal. So we contacted with the same question an editor from a “B” field journal. His answer was that it was too medical for their audience. So what was this manuscript at the end, too medical or too technical? Maybe it was just too trans-disciplinary…

So the question is out there “Are the scientific journals ready for trans-disciplinary manuscripts, for trans-disciplinary language, for trans-disciplinary methodologies?


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