Meeting the Challenges to Economists of Pursuing Interdisciplinary Research on Human–Natural Systems

William K. Jaeger, Elena G. Irwin, Eli P. Fenichel, Simon Levin, Atar Herziger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Interdisciplinary research on systems jointly determined by human and ecological dynamics is critical for understanding and addressing environmental and sustainability challenges. Such research requires collaboration between the natural and social sciences. However, the high costs and irreversible investments in specialized information structures contribute to a gap between researchers’ willingness to engage in interdisciplinary research and the social value of interdisciplinary research. These attributes reinforce disciplinary specialization and lock-in. We find that the institutions and organizations needed to guide interdisciplinary research in ways comparable to disciplinary research have yet to be adequately established. Research produces a public good whose quality is uncertain and difficult to measure even within disciplines. Asymmetric information between disciplines raises costs and lowers rewards for researchers, publications, universities, and research funders. It has also led to market segmentation where some outlets publish research with insufficient quality control for either the natural science or economics components. Our survey of researchers in economics and natural sciences finds evidence of researcher perceptions and incentives consistent with disciplinary-based asymmetries and incentive incompatibilities between economists and natural scientists. The paper concludes with recommendations for individual researchers, research teams, publication and peer review, universities, and research-funding agencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-63
Number of pages21
JournalReview of Environmental Economics and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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