Evolution of ideas and team science at the Coweeta LTER
We examine the evolution of ideas in the Coweeta LTER in relation to the rise of integrative, interdisciplinary environmental science and its role in society. In effect, how have cultural, institutional, intellectual, and political factors shaped the content, growth and direction of Coweeta LTER science from its inception in the mid-1960s? We thus address how scientists and their scientific ideas intersect with the surrounding environment, what it means to ‘do science’, and that which “goes without saying” within a scientific community.
We take a "science of team science" approach to how the physical, biological and social science investigators on the project achieve integration. Our data consist of extended interviews with several former and all current individuals participating in Coweeta LTER research and the content of all proposals since the project was established. The context for the analysis are the evolving guidelines of the LTER Network, the precepts of NSF-LTER, and the content of Ecology over the same time period. We examine the occurrence of key terms using a combination of KWIC (key-word-in-context), count methods and concept mapping to reveal the major intellectual themes in the research, then analyze the organization of research, collaboration and engagement using semantic and social network techniques.
Our results show that successful integrative, interdisciplinary research entails terms of engagement among partners that are fundamentally different from other forms of research, and requires an ethic of resolute openness, tolerance, and respect for perspectives different from one's own. It also requires a commitment to mutual learning and mediation processes in which contrasting values and conflicts of interest are negotiated and accepted, if not entirely resolved. Success ultimately rests on a strong commitment by team members to common goals evidenced by the words and texts they use to describe their activities in the project.
The abstract opportunities of integrative research at the boundaries between disciplines are exciting. However, to achieve the potential it is thought to hold for society we need to understand the conditions that translate opportunity into practice, and be able to evaluate how concepts translate into outcomes. Developing reliable and valid protocols for measuring the processes and products of integrative, interdisciplinary research will help improve collaboration between scientists. It can also be used to design new training and educational opportunities for future scholars and practitioners.