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A renaissance for polymaths

Devakumar, D; Russell, NJ; Wolfe, I; (2019) A renaissance for polymaths. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 10.1177/0141076819879682. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

In medicine, the generalist is the most common, and central, profession. Generalists are uniquely positioned to provide a comprehensive perspective and to coordinate care for the most complex and demanding problems. Their skill is in knowing enough about everything, while keeping the central purpose and humanity of care at the heart of their work. Their importance in an ever more complex world of medicine is clear.1 By contrast, generalists, or polymaths, in research and academia are rare. With increasing volumes and complexity of data and information, the sphere of specialism narrows, and the academic ivory tower grows higher and more remote from the needs and complexities of health research. The accepted narrative is that academic specialists define the cutting edge of research. Research funders generally favour supporting established world experts in their field, despite the narrowness of that field. This results in research echo chambers, where increasingly technologically sophisticated methods are applied to ever more refined questions, resulting in limited human benefit. The current model for addressing complex problems places specialists together in a multidisciplinary approach to combat siloed thinking. Boundaries are built up and then encouraged to be knocked down. But this is not always possible. We argue that research generalists or polymaths should sit at the centre of efforts to address complex problems.

Type: Article
Title: A renaissance for polymaths
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/0141076819879682
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0141076819879682
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute for Global Health
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10086220
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