At the beginning of November, large part of the philosophy of science community convened in Chicago for the bi-annual meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. This is usually combined with the annual meeting of the History of Science Society. This year, the programme figured two sessions on interdisciplinarity, one on the history and the other on the philosophy of interdisciplinarity organised by Hanne Andersen.
I contributed to the philosophy of interdisciplinarity with a paper on the social causes of diseases, which I co-authored with Mike Kelly and Rachel Kelly. The paper provides an argument for a mixed aetiology of diseases, especially non-communicable diseases (or, as it was suggested during Q&A, socially communicable diseases). We argue that recent attempts to include socio-economic-behavioural factors do not go far enough, as the explanatory import of these factors is not properly or sufficiently spelled out. If you are interested in the paper, look at the slides, or email me for the latest draft.
But there is another aspect that I wish to focus on in this post. What can ‘interdisciplinarity’ contribute – if anything – to ebm+? A terminological note first. Without too much sophistication*, I take interdisciplinarity to be the collaboration of scholars active in different fields in order to shed light on a shared problem. In this case, I am active in the area of philosophy of science, Mike Kelly has a sociological background and is active in public health, and Rachel Kelly works in molecular epidemiology and has competences in epigenetics. Our shared problem is offering an account of the mixed aetiology of diseases, one that integrates the perspectives coming from sociology (via the concept of ‘lifeworld’) and bio-medicine, and that ‘exploits’ conceptualisations of mechanisms, evidence, or causality developed in philosophy of science.
In this sense, interdisciplinarity is, I think, at the service of ebm+, where the plus precisely indicates what we might add to available eb-approaches in order to improve our understanding of health and disease or the design policies to reduce the burden of disease. The article mentioned in this post is but one example of how to work in an ‘ebm+ perspective’.
* Interdisciplinarity studies is a rich and complex area of research. The kind of interdisciplinarity alluded here is just one aspect of the many possible facets.