M. Fontana, M. Iori, V. Leone Sciabolazza, D. F. De Souza (2022), The interdisciplinarity dilemma: public versus private interests, Research Policy, 51(7), 104553

Researchers often receive contrasting incentives when conducting their work. On the one hand, an interdisciplinary approach is required to produce scientific advances and access to funding. On the other, academic scholarships and evaluation mechanisms are still organized following the criteria of traditional disciplinary fields. If pursuing interdisciplinary research results in contrasting outcomes, science may face an interdisciplinarity dilemma: should researcher pursue their own private interest to build a reputation? Or should they endeavor towards public interest? How costly in terms of reputation is to choose interdisciplinarity research (IDR) over (more) specialized research?
We answer these questions by exploiting data on 23,926 articles published by 6,105 researchers affiliated with the University of Florida in the period 2008-2013. Through individual fixed-effect, we compare articles of the same scholar to roll out the influence of individual characteristics on the scientific impact of their research.
We find that the diverse dimensions of IDR (Variety, Balance, and Disparity) have a different effect on the reputation of a scholar and on her contribution to societal research. We confirm the existence of trade-off between private and public interest. We also point out that the increase of IDR aiming at connecting distant disciplines reduces the usefulness of the resulting knowledge. Results are robust to various specifications and apply to all scholars, regardless of their gender, collaboration behavior, discipline, and performance. These findings pose challenging questions to policymakers.

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