Is silence golden? Silence in interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists

06/07/2016

Abstract: 

In considering the ethos of science, Robert Merton [1973] posited that openness and secrecy reflect opposing values in the accomplishment of science. According to Merton, scientific inquiry required that all interested parties have access to and freely share scientific information. In our current epoch, this importance of openness in science seems even more widely accepted. It is a given nowadays that scientists are expected to work as part of a team, not only within their own department, but also with other departments different disciplines. To work interdisciplinary scientists must become more communicative and critically talk about difference, which asks maximum transparency and open communication of the participants. However, against the adage that openness and participation in science is an inherent good, one easily forgets that the actual practice of collaborating may also require things are not said. Navigating everyday interactional challenges may depend on postponing issues to keep the process going, for instance because scientists still have to figure out what they find important in the collaboration with others. But also issues like, withholding sensitive problems or not critiquing each other's options viewpoints, leaving points shrewdly of the agenda, and excluding relevant actors from the meeting table. Despite the idea of open innovation, shared visions, beliefs and knowledge we must focus on silence for the good and the bad as well.