So yesterday the AAAS hosted an MIT panel and a high-level group of federal respondents (including FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburger and OSTP’s policy wonk, Tom Kalil) to discuss convergence and a report from MIT building on their Koch cancer center experience (it brings together phycisists, biologists, and chemists, mirabile dictu; they are all on each floor -we were shown a plan – though in segregated groups, not intermingled, we noted).
It was a very worthwhile morning, and the room was packed. Lucky me: arrived late, and got relegated to a front-row seat reserved for but unoccupied by the press.
The report is good, though curiously couched in terms of the history of biology – not a lot of convergent thinking there; convergence, of course, in one sense, is the recovery of a vision lost when the all-round “scientist,” who had briefly flourished in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, and who would combine A with B with C and probably numismatics, was lost to specialism and the new-style universities and information overload and modernity. But at one level, as I shared with some of the participants afterwards and would have with the assembled group had the Q and A not been controlled through 5×3 cards, there was nothing on offer that Mike Roco and Bill Bainbridge had not addressed in their tumultuous “Converging Technologies” series at NSF a decade earlier. And of course convergence goes back before then.
The question is: action. We need it, we need it soon, and it difficult to see our current structure delivering it. Alan Leshner, Mr. AAAS, said it well: funding and reviewing institutions will be threatened like hell by the prospect of inter-disciplinary approaches becoming serious.
An excellent report, and a stimulating morning. Wondering, here, what comes next.