profession, was particularly scathing in his rebuke: "Part of what underlies this is the fact that Taylor has no specialty or discipline of his own, and so would like every other unit to follow suit, and 'specialize' in intellectual superficiality across many topics." Ouch. Professor John Kingston of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst's linguistics department was a bit more charitable in his response, which appeared in the published reader comments on the New York Times' website:
Rather than looking inward as [Taylor] claims we all do, my colleagues and I are constantly looking outward and building intellectual bridges and collaborations with colleagues in other departments. In my department's case, these other departments include Psychology, Computer Science, and Communications – these collaborations not only cross department boundaries at my institution but college boundaries, too. Moreover, grants are increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary.
This seems to me to be a more sober description of the state of play today. While some of us might cautiously agree with Taylor's call for the radical restructuring of university departments (and, perhaps, the elimination of free-standing disciplines), virtually all of us seem to recognize the importance and power of collaboration across existing disciplines, and to recognize that (contra what Leiter has said here) generality is not necessarily the same thing as superficiality. The National Academies Press' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy recognized the emerging need to support this kind of collaborative structure at least as far back as 2004, publishing an exhaustive report titled Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. The report describes the then-current state of interdisciplinary research in science and engineering:
Interdisciplinary thinking is rapidly becoming an integral feature of research as a result of four powerful “drivers”: the inherent complexity of nature and society, the desire to explore problems and questions that are not confined to a single discipline, the need to solve societal problems, and the power of new technologies.
- Leiter (2009)
- Kingston (2009)
- Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (2004), p. 3