Three Metaphors to Aid Interdisciplinary Dialogue in Public Health

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Within this journal, authors have recently called for or discussed the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration. However, in practice such collaborations are extremely challenging, and little guidance is available to support researchers’ efforts to communicate with colleagues from other disciplines.

This article presents three metaphors from the sociology of scientific knowledge that can inform and support consideration and discussion of disciplinary issues. Disciplinary training acts as a “flashlight,” highlighting certain features of reality and leaving others in shadow. Our disciplinary sense of normal science is the metaphorical “box” into which we hope nature will fit, determining the manner in which we advance the frontier by recognizing the familiar in the unfamiliar. Finally, scientific training is a “lens” through which the world is perceived and understood.

In interdisciplinary and some multidisciplinary contexts, researchers are encouraged to (1) identify the set of fundamental concepts underpinning their approach to public health, (2) discuss methodological choices in terms that do not depend on familiarity with a common tradition of research excellence, and (3) maintain awareness that colleagues from other fields potentially hold different understandings of key public health concepts.

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