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Hidden in the middle: culture, value and reward in bioinformatics

Lewis, Jamie ORCID:, Bartlett, Andrew and Atkinson, Paul ORCID: 2016. Hidden in the middle: culture, value and reward in bioinformatics. Minerva 54 , pp. 471-490. 10.1007/s11024-016-9304-y

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Bioinformatics – the so-called shotgun marriage between biology and computer science – is an interdiscipline. Despite interdisciplinarity being seen as a virtue, for having the capacity to solve complex problems and foster innovation, it has the potential to place projects and people in anomalous categories. For example, valorised ‘outputs’ in academia are often defined and rewarded by discipline. Bioinformatics, as an interdisciplinary bricolage, incorporates experts from various disciplinary cultures with their own distinct ways of working. Perceived problems of interdisciplinarity include difficulties of making explicit knowledge that is practical, theoretical, or cognitive. But successful interdisciplinary research also depends on an understanding of disciplinary cultures and value systems, often only tacitly understood by members of the communities in question. In bioinformatics, the ‘parent’ disciplines have different value systems; for example, what is considered worthwhile research by computer scientists can be thought of as trivial by biologists, and vice versa. This paper concentrates on the problems of reward and recognition described by scientists working in academic bioinformatics in the United Kingdom. We highlight problems that are a consequence of its cross-cultural make-up, recognising that the mismatches in knowledge in this borderland take place not just at the level of the practical, theoretical, or epistemological, but also at the cultural level too. The trend in big, interdisciplinary science is towards multiple authors on a single paper; in bioinformatics this has created hybrid or fractional scientists who find they are being positioned not just in-between established disciplines but also in-between as middle authors or, worse still, left off papers altogethe

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Publisher: Springer Verlag (Germany)
ISSN: 0026-4695
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 July 2016
Date of Acceptance: 28 June 2016
Last Modified: 11 May 2023 16:47

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