Interdisciplinary Science rules at the Blouin Leadership Summit

Sep 24, 2012, 5:22 PM EDT

Three bio-scientists at 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit stressed the need for interdisciplinary thinking in the field, particularly biologists who think like artists, and computer programmers.


“We don’t need to train the next generation of nerdy scientists, we need to train the next generation of artist scientists,” Dr. Ihor Lemischka, professor of Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said at the panel. As an example of the need for artistic thinking, Dr. William Haseltine, president of the Haseltine Foundation for the Medical Sciences and Arts, mentioned how most people in the field had no idea AIDS would be a crucial health issue until it became an epidemic. What opened Haseltine’s eyes to the big epidemic AIDS would be, earlier than many others, were books such as “The Past” by Camus.

Dr. Lemischka called the separation between the arts and sciences “artificial,” a concept also discussed by keynote speaker Louise Blouin, founder and chairman of the Louise Blouin Foundation and Louise Blouin Media. Ms. Blouin reminded us that arts are usually the first part of an educational budget to be cut. When in reality, she said, they are the most important part of any education, since creativity is the only area where robots could never replace students. Dr. Haseltine pointed out that religion was the first metaphysical area of study, but God and angels, much like subatomic particles, could not be imagined. We felt what they were by art, dance and music.

That is true, considering robots are already gathering and recalling information for humans. TakeIBM’s Watson, a robot who was offered a job on Wall Street after winning at jeopardy. 

Dr. Adesokan remarked that advances in any field come from creative paradigm shifts. He went on to say that universities usually teach information. But all the information we need is now on line. People and education should focus on processing the information, and creativity is key here.

Dr. Lemischka who has taught at Princeton University, says the solution is to move away from training people to find information.  “Now, creativity is even more important,” he said.

In addition to creativity, computer science is in high demand in the field, even though all three panelists agreed that more could be done to facilitate and increase communication between the two fields.  The need for computer scientists evolved because of the large volumes of information from which medical researchers draw. And as Dr. Lemischka put it “It is easy to pick up biology, but it is hard to pick up math.”

What all three scientists have in common, is that they continue to be in awe of the world and learn. Dr. Lemishka wondered how people, who are made of less parts than the space shuttle, can create and communicate, but the space shuttle can do neither.

All three scientists stressed the ongoing importance of funding, and how it has been decreasing lately. Funding is needed to make use of stem cell technology, gene knowledge and drug creation to prevent and cure disease. Dr. Lemischka suggested that Congress could easily solve that. Dr. Haseltine stressed that drug research, of instance, needs to be lead by scientists and doctors, not business people who have the market share in mind before the science. Dr. Adesokan sees personalized drugs as part of the future.