Tracking Exposure Science

Trandisciplinary collaboration has become highly valued across scientific fields, and within organizations like the U.S. National Academy of Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.  Universities have also invested considerably in interdisciplinary research and teaching. This study will create new understanding of the actual dynamics of transdisciplinarity, focusing on the emerging field of exposure science.

Human exposure science, as defined by the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (JESEE) “[is] the study of human contact with chemical, physical or biological agents occurring in their environments, and advances knowledge of the mechanisms and dynamics of events either causing or preventing adverse health outcomes (JESEE).” Exposure science, located at the nexus of the health sciences and the environmental sciences, engages scientists from very disparate scientific sectors such as atmospheric chemistry, systems biology, computer science and civil and environmental engineering. Indeed, from its very inception, transdisciplinary collaborations have been a defining characteristic of this field. Collaborating across disciplinary boundaries has, and continues to be, an important consideration for exposure scientists.  Exposure science thus provides an exciting opportunity for historical and social analysis of transdisciplinary formations.

Ethnographic and historical studies have examined how new modes of scientific practices and thinking emerge and become codified, and how people with different kinds of expertise interrelate in the production of scientific work. Ethnographic and historical studies have also detailed how “scientific imaginaries” and material culture shape scientific work.  This study builds on these streams of work, focusing on how exposure scientists themselves articulate the need for and challenges of transdisciplinarity.

This study revolves around the following two questions, each associated with various
secondary questions:

How is transdisciplinarity practiced among exposure scientists?

•    What is the array of scientific methods and imaginaries that come together in the work of exposure science? How, for example, do different practitioners think about “requisite precision”?

•    How are study designs for exposure science being developed, and how are different perspectives among participants being worked out?

•    What kinds of organizational structures support the work of exposure science, particularly its transdisciplinarity?

•    How are exposure scientists reaching out to collaborators in other scientific fields?

•    How are exposure scientists reaching out to policymakers, journalists and others in the public sphere?

•    How is awareness of the need for and challenges of transdisciplinarity in exposure science shaping educational initiatives?

What structural conditions have shaped the development of exposure science, and particularly its transdisciplinary dimension?

•    How have technological advances shaped exposure science?

•    What advances in other scientific fields have been critical to the development of exposure science?

•    How have funding patterns and other economic determinants shaped exposure science?

•    How have political trends have shaped exposure science?

•    What key events have shaped the identity of exposure science, amongst scientists, and amongst the lay public?

Material for this study is being drawn from published scientific literature, from interviews with exposure scientists, through observation at scientific conferences and workshops, and through analysis of the broad social, political and scientific context in which exposure science has developed over the last twenty years.