Overcoming disciplinary boundaries and expanding the use of biological and social science analyses: A methodological exchange workshop

When and Where

Monday, May 10, 2021 1:00 pm to Friday, May 14, 2021 1:00 pm


The biological and social sciences have been marked by lively conceptual and methodological exchange arguably since their inception. Charles Darwin himself was strongly influenced by social thinkers of his times, including Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and Harriet Martineau. The Chicago School of Sociology developed its foundational approach to social research in the early 20th century through adapting ecological concepts drawn from biology. Building on these common ancestries, methodological exchange continued through the 20th century. Social researchers for example adapted ecological methods for measuring diversity, while biologists adapted network analysis methods pioneered by sociologists.


While such exchange has been extremely fruitful, it has also been hampered in the past by differing disciplinary conventions around statistical software packages. These barriers have dramatically fallen in recent years with the rise of free open source platforms. Most notably, R and Python have emerged as a contemporary lingua franca across diverse fields. The proposed workshop aims to capitalize on these recent trends to reinvigorate the tradition of methodological and conceptual exchange between the biological and social sciences.


Proposed Activities


The workshop will bring together biological and social researchers at the University of Toronto over a 4-day period (May 10–14, 2021). The goal is to foster exchange of methodological techniques between fields and to create a platform for future collaboration and conceptual synthesis. To this end, we have selected topics that in our view hold the greatest promise for impact and innovation within each field. We envision the workshop proceeding along the following lines:


Day 1R basics and refreshers. As the R language and environment will be used throughout the workshop, the first day will provide an opportunity for those unfamiliar with R to gain basic competency or for others to refresh their knowledge. We envision two sessions (Morning and Afternoon).


Day 2Social >> Biological. We envision two sessions devoted to methodological transfer from the social to the biological sciences. The first would cover computational text analysis, and be led by Professor Alicia Eads (Dept. of Sociology, UTSG). The second would cover Age, Period, Cohort analysis and be led by Professor Ethan Fosse (Dept of Sociology, UTSC).


Day 3: Biological >> Social.  Similar to Day 2, we envision two sessions devoted to methodological transfer from the biological to the social sciences. The first would cover building phylogenies from character matrices and be led by Joe Moysiuk (PhD Candidate, ROM). The second would cover phylogenetic analysis and be led by Professor Marc Cadotte (Dept. of Biological Sciences, UTSC).


Day 4: Synthesis and Reflection.  This session would bring participants together to reflect on learnings from the previous sessions and consider possible ways to build upon them. Possibilities include collaboration on research projects in overlapping substantive areas (such as environmental policy or the causes and consequences of invasive species spread in urban areas), historical studies of methodological and conceptual exchange between the fields, forward-looking statements about new possibilities for mutual learning, or more.


***The workshop will take place over Zoom and use R.***

Click here to register


For more details, please contact Tyler Bateman at tyler.bateman@mail.utoronto.ca. This workshop has been generously supported by the Global Urban Biological Invasion Consortium, The Urban Genome Project at the School of Cities, and the University of Toronto - Scarborough Department of Sociology.