Journal of Cultural Evolution: an update

Around two years and a half ago (!), I wrote a post discussing the opportunity for the creation of an academic journal dedicated to the field of cultural evolution. The rationale was that a publishing niche was empty, with a fast-growing field that was starting to have a precise identity, and a large enough number of practitioners, that often found difficult to publish in more disciplinary-oriented journals.  The post had a good success, and many cultural evolutionists showed their support to the idea.

As a consequence, after abandoning the clearly naive hope that someone would have said “Great idea, I’ll do it!”, I tried to see what I could have done. Initially, together with Fiona Jordan, we got in contact with Peter Turchin, to explore the possibility of extending the scope of “his” journal Cliodynamics. The option had plenty of positive aspects, especially the publishing model already in place and the strong interdisciplinary approach of Cliodynamics, but, for completely understandable reasons, Peter Turchin wanted to maintain the continuity with the “historical” focus of the journal (I just discovered the subtitle is now “The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution”).

In a meeting hosted by the EHBEA 2014 conference in Bristol we decided, together with a couple of dozen persons interested in the project, to keep the journal separated from Cliodynamics, and, with a minority of negative opinions (which I might start to consider, sadly, realistic) to not go through the “big” academic publishers, and keep the project independent and open-access. In the same meeting, Russel Gray offered to host the journal in the newly founded Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, potentially providing some funding for a website and a part-time person for the administrative and editorial tasks. Excellent, of course.

At that moment – April 2014 – it was  going to take a year for the new Max Planck to kick off, so I kept the project in the background for a while, and we sent an email around, summarising the situation, and asking opinions about a series of preliminary tasks, such as forming an editorial committee of 10-12 persons, drafting journal guidelines (width of the scope, OA policy, publishing times, etc.), deciding the name of the journal, evaluating the possibility for members of the editorial committee to submit a manuscript for the inaugural issue, etc.

But…one year and a half is passed and we are basically in the same situation. On one side, a new Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution – which has, by the way, all my support – has just been founded, and this project could fit quite well with the goals of such a society. It would be, to say the least, not really useful to have two journals of cultural evolution. However, I have not been able to understand whether they are interested in the idea, or perhaps whether they are doing something else in parallel. On the other side, investing time and money in this project does not seem to be – and this is also completely understandable – among the priorities of the new Max Planck. Unfortunately, the result is that, for the time being, the Journal of Cultural Evolution, for reasons not really in my control, is not moving forward.

3 thoughts on “Journal of Cultural Evolution: an update

  1. Dear Alberto,

    Your timing for this article could not be better! 😉

    As the coordinator-in-chief setting up the SSCE, I can share that we absolutely want to see a Journal of Cultural Evolution (JCE) created and will have capacity — both personnel and financial — to make progress on doing so. Please include me in correspondence with your peers who have already been involved and let’s make this happen.

    I’ve also been in close dialogue with Peter Turchin about this topic and can state that he shares your desire for a JCE to be created and published in open-access manner. Taking this approach will help us advance the field of cultural evolutionary studies more quickly (by making it easier to get set up and running) and for widening the dialogue to share scientific advances with broader audiences and building bridges to the many applications of our research to real-world challenges — as an example, ponder how JCE findings can support efforts to tackle the climate crisis or increase public health outcomes through policy guidance and strategic initiatives.

    Very best,

    Joe

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