Power of the Humanities Publication

Friday, 18 September 2015

The Power of the Humanities publication, launched by the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Education and Training, has profiled University of Newcastle (UON) excellence in interdisciplinary research.

The book, published by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, highlights the ground-breaking work of University of Newcastle Professors Hugh Craig and Pablo Moscato in applying data analytic techniques.

In his speech to launch the publication, The Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Education and Training said Professors Craig and Moscato had made significant contributions to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases including Cancer, Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis.

"One case study, 'Enlisting Shakespeare to Help Fight Cancer', is a remarkable story of collaboration between two University of Newcastle researchers, one in linguistics, Hugh Craig, and the other in bioinformatics, Pablo Moscato," said Minister Pyne.

Working together, the researchers found a way to determine whether a disputed play was written by Shakespeare – and then used the same methodology to help diagnose cancer.

Professor Craig's use of supercomputers to analyse works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries caught the attention of Professor Moscato, who applies advanced computing techniques to the diagnosis of cancer, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. Pooling their skills, they found a way not only to identify a writer's stylistic 'signature', but also to pinpoint a molecular 'signature' indicating a sub-type of cancer that could be treated with narrowly targeted drug.

Renaissance literature expert, Professor Craig said the research was a rare success story of curiosity-driven research collaboration across faculties and disciplines.

"The subtle variations in the use of words by different authors manifest characteristics which are typical of the genre but also give a signature of authorship which is hard to find but very distinctive with the right approach," said Professor Craig.

Professor Moscato explained that the same methodologies can be applied to investigating a corpus of literary Shakespearean era works and cancer subtypes.

"It comes down to the mathematical methodological approach that is taken which can be easily adapted to suit many application areas from medicine, social science, literature and more," said Professor Moscato.

Professor Moscato and his team form one of the University's Priority Research Centres whose primary goal is to work towards a more personalised medicine approach and "disrupt" what has been the mould of medicine for the past 1000 years. They are achieving this through data-driven research based on novel quantitative approaches such as the method they used with Professor Craig's datasets on English Renaissance literature.

Professor Moscato added that continuous support to his work, via the PRC, made such a collaboration possible over the years. It is the result of UON support to his interdisciplinary PRC and its research for almost a decade. The pair has just submitted another paper for publication in the subject.

For the humanities, collaborations like these also mean a new and innovative source of "disruption" of the field. The relationships between literary works can be displayed visually in networks and maps, and the power of authors to create their own separate styles of language is demonstrated beyond doubt.

"This approach is based in ideas from Information Theory, it has wide applicability not only in medicine but in other areas in which we need to select the best characteristics or attributes to improve our prediction ability. We are keen to explore other interdisciplinary applications," said Professor Moscato.

The Power of the Humanities Publication focuses on global challenges such as health, social cohesion, the environment, the economy and food security.

Read the Power of the Humanities chapter on Professor Craig and Professor Moscato's work here.

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