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Research article2006Peer reviewed

Animal welfare science - Working at the interface between the natural and social sciences

Lund V, Coleman G, Gunnarsson S, Appleby MC, Karkinen K


Animal welfare science has pioneered in interdisciplinary work in many ways. However, this work has mainly taken place among researchers from the natural sciences. This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using broad interdisciplinary approaches to scientific animal welfare questions, including collaboration between the natural and social sciences. The word "interdisciplinary" has been interpreted in various ways: we discuss the conceptual framework associated with research across disciplinary boundaries on different levels. Among the advantages of such work is that it may enhance the understanding of issues and result in better problem-solving. It can also be used to obtain methodological gains, that is. models and concepts from one discipline can be applied to another. We give examples of both kinds of successful combinations. The challenges of an interdisciplinary approach are also discussed, for example methodological and cultural differences among disciplines, and communication problems among researchers from different fields. We present examples of fruitful interdisciplinary approaches, e.g., studies of the human-animal interaction combining ethology, physiology and psychology. Recommendations are outlined for how collabora-tion can be increased among disciplines and between the natural and social sciences in order to further advance animal welfare science. Animal welfare is a multi-faceted issue including important scientific, ethical, economic and political dimensions, and we conclude that dealing with such complex problems requires an integrated approach that utilises conceptual and methodological skills from many disciplines. Natural scientists will continue to be central for achieving improvements in animal welfare, but it also is necessary to include social scientists for better understanding of the role of human behaviour and animals' roles in society, as well as for implementing solutions in order to achieve animal welfare in practice. This kind of work needs better support among academic leaders, scientific publishers, and funding bodies, and training in interdisciplinary thinking needs to be introduced as early as in undergraduate education. An important aspect is that all participants need to learn to communicate and to learn the language of discourse of different disciplines so as to understand the issues and to appreciate the value of their contributions. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2006, Volume: 97, number: 1, pages: 37-49 Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV