As the body of scientific knowledge in a discipline increases, there is pressure for specialization. Fields spawn subfields that then become entities in themselves that promote further specialization. The process by which scientists join specialized groups has remarkable similarities to the guild system of the middle ages. The advantages of specialization of science include efficiency, the establishment of normative standards, and the potential for greater rigor in experimental research. However, specialization also carries risks of monopoly, monotony, and isolation. The current tendency to judge scientific work by the impact factor of the journal in which it is published may have roots in overspecialization, as scientists are less able to critically evaluate work outside their field than before. Scientists in particular define themselves through group identity and adopt practices that conform to the expectations and dynamics of such groups. As part of our continuing analysis of issues confronting contemporary science, we analyze the emergence and consequences of specialization in science, with a particular emphasis on microbiology, a field highly vulnerable to balkanization along microbial phylogenetic boundaries, and suggest that specialization carries significant costs. We propose measures to mitigate the detrimental effects of scientific specialism.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases