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Response: Interdisciplinary research is more than sharing data

The strength of interdiscplinary research lies in targeting a problem with a combination of different methods — not using separate, isolated sets of data. Arne Astrup responds

If the article titled PhD student stood up to top scientist, creates the impression that we tried to increase our number of publications, by bullying a PhD student, you will be sorely disappointed. What happened is actually a success-story, on how parties in disagreement can amicably resolve a dispute, while also illustrating the difficulties faced in true interdisciplinary reseach, across disparate cultures.

Let us start by getting some facts straight:

Contrary to the impression one might get from the article, correspondence between the two groups was primariy between Annemette Nielsen’s group leader, Lotte Holm, one one side, and PhD student Annette Due and us on the other, in 2007, when Lotte Holm’s group was employed at the Institute for Human Nutrition.

Correspondance between us took place in a peaceful and friendly manner, and was characterized by mutal respect.

The sustance of the matter

In nutrition science there is growing recognition that we need to address the major societal challenges, such as physical inactivity and obesity. The solution lies in a multidisciplinary research approach involving research groups from the social sciences, humanities and health sciences.

We have 20 years of experience working across those disciplines, both in international, EU-projects, and national programs like the OPUS-center.

New scientific breakthroughs often occur in the intersection of scientific thought from disparate fields, though there are also cultural differences, especially within publishing, that can hamper cooperation.

Ordinarily, we will establish publishing guidelines in writing, prior to the initiation of research projects, which usually prevents the problems Annemette Nielsen desribes.

The story was a very placid disagreement between researchers in the same institute, where Thomas Meinert Larsen was in charge of a dietary intervention study, and where Lotte Holm got the opportunity to make a sociological study as an addition to the dietary intervention study, which was solely designed by us.

Younger staff in charge of the intervention study, were actively involved in ensuring the sociological study’s implementation. The sociological study also used data from health sciences, and we found that the young staff should have contributed to data processing, interpretation and discussion of the sociological results.

Our contributions would have strengthened the academic weight of Annemette’s work. Lotte Holm would only agree to this, under the condition that it did not involve co-authorship. The argument against health science staff receiving co-authorship was that they had not provided sufficient intellectual contributions to the articles, such as interpretation of results or writing of articles.

This was never verified, as they waited in vain to be invited to contribute, discuss, interpret, and write.

What did we learn?

The Practice Committee [which oversees issues on scientific practice at UCPH -ed.] ruled against us, and in future research projects we will always have written agreements regarding authorship.

This has so far been a successful strategy, and in the OPUS-center, we have invited no less than four social science groups, including Lotte Holm. And the partnership is working.

Has the case had an impact on Annemette Nielsen’s career?

Yes it has. The university needs young researchers, which go against the grain and ask questions. It is the ‘naughtiest’ young researchers that, which often have the greatest potential. This is why, department management Lotte Holm allocated an assistant proffesorship, which Annemette could apply for after her PhD. Which she did.

Arne Astrup also suggested her as a participant for to the universitys leadership training for women programme.

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