“Journal of Cultural Evolution”: some material to discuss

In preparation of the meeting of next week (13:00, Wednesday 9 April at EHBEA in Bristol, see my previous post and the conference program), I post here some material we plan to discuss.

On the operative side there is one important news: we had a meeting with Peter Turchin (see his excellent Social Evolution Forum) who proposed the possibility to join forces. Peter is the editor in chief of “Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History“. In short, this option would involve broadening the scope of the existent journal (now mainly focused on historical, long-term, processes) to include other dimensions of cultural evolutionary studies, and changing the title – and renewing the editorial board – so to reflect the new scope. Notice this option will depend both on what we will discuss on the meeting and on the decision of the current editorial board of  Cliodynamics.

The journal currently publishes peer-reviewed articles in electronic-only form, and it is based on the eScolarship platform from the University of California.  Access is completely free (as it happens, in general, in Open Access journals), and no fees are required to publish (as it does not happen, in general, in Open Access journals). This model can be sustained by a mix of voluntary work and external fundings: if I understood correctly, a person supported by a grant is currently working part-time on it, and this grant will last for the next three years (so that, in principle, we would not necessary need, at least for the first period, other fundings).

An appealing aspect is that the journal has been submitted almost three years ago to Thomson Reuters’ review, so that, if the process will go smooth, it will be soon indexed in the Web of Science, which means, notably, that it will have an Impact Factor. (However, it is very important to understand exactly the effect of a potential change of name, scope, etc. on this process).

If one considers this publishing model appropriate, there are several advantages in pursuing this option, including importantly that the “platform” (by which I mean organisational as well as technical aspects) is already in place, and it could be used for a relatively prompt launch (“prompt” being intended with reference to the publishing time system).

For the sake of debate, one might legitimately prefer a more traditional publishing model, so to be sure to have on the side an experienced publisher and to concentrate on the more “scientific” aspects of the endeavour. Also, I understand a certain psychological attraction of having a “shiny” new start of the enterprise. Finally – but this may be my idiosyncrasy – why all the not-from-a-big-publisher academic journals that I know seem to look aesthetically unpleasant? Does it need to be like that?

See you in Bristol to discuss about it  – and, again, comments below are encouraged!

“Journal of Cultural Evolution” meeting at EHBEA 2014

Some months ago I wrote a post mentioning the difficulties that, at times, people working in the interdisciplinary field of “cultural evolution” may face in order to find an appropriate scientific journal to submit their research. Also, I wondered whether, given that the general feeling seems to be that the field is quite coherent, and that it is starting to be “mature”, it was perhaps time for a “Journal of Cultural Evolution” (If all this does not make much sense please go to the aforementioned post).

I was pleased to see that the reaction was  generally positive  – and, above all, that there was a reaction – which made me think that probably I was exposing a common concern, and indeed many people thought that there was an empty niche in the academic publishing that one could fill.

Therefore, with Fiona Jordan, we are organising a meeting at EHBEA 2014 (the European Human Behavior and Evolution Association Conference, which will be held in Bristol from 6 to 9 April, and which is with no doubts a cultural evolution-friendly conference) to discuss about this project, and possibly to start to do something concrete in this direction.

The meeting, which will be short and informal, will be Wednesday 9 April at 13.00 (lunchtime) in the conference venue (I’ve been told that people tend to run to pubs  at the end of the day after the talks; and anyway the lunch is provided on-site by the conference, so we would be there in any case).

I’ll try to post in the next days some material to start a discussion, but of course I’d be very happy if someone want to use this space (or elsewhere) to share some ideas before the actual meeting. Also, please, circulate the information to cultural evolutionists and EHBEA-goers who happen to not read this blog (shame on them).

See you in Bristol!

“Journal of Cultural Evolution”, anyone?

I admit this is due to my current situation (i.e. I have a couple of papers I don’t know where to submit), but I am wondering if it may not be of a more general interest.

A quite coherent field – scientific and (with nuances) evolutionary study of culture – had grown in recent years. I am referring to works à la Boyd and Richerson – if you are reading this you know what I mean – or to the use of phylogenetic methods for studying culture and language, but also to works inspired by “scientifically-oriented” cognitive anthropologists such Dan Sperber, Pascal Boyer, etc., or, more generally, the use of experiments and mathematical or computer models to study cultural dynamics. Finally, and this is an even more recent development, the availability of, and ease to access vast amounts of data, either because they are only now produced (e.g. twitter) or because they are accessible thanks to digitalisation (e.g. google ngram), opened new perspectives, with works from statisticians, or people specialised, for example, in machine learning or network theory, being very relevant for the study of cultural evolution.

If one wants to publish in this field, the first choice is, of course, the Triad of BIG interdisciplinary journals (Nature/Science/PNAS), but your work need to be very good and of general interest – and sometimes this is not, legitimately, the case – , or you need to be very lucky (it is not a rant, I’ve been able so far to publish once in the Triad). Another possibility is “classic” anthropological journals (e.g. Current Anthropology, American Anthropologists, etc.) but they are not especially sensitive to quantitative/modelling works. Then, certainly, there are  other journals where one can try to “fit” a manuscript. Proceeding of the Royal Society B and Evolution and Human Behavior publish works in this field (but sometimes – legitimately again – they are not enough “biological” or “evolutionary”), Theoretical Population Biology and Journal of Theoretical Biology also (but with a tendency towards heavy – especially mathematical – modelling), interesting works appear in Nature Communications or in the new EPJ Data Science. Psychology journals can at times fit, and even marketing-oriented publications (cognitive anthropologists have a journal though: Journal of Cognition and Culture). Finally, without fail, PLoS ONE is here for that, and, I have to say, my experiences with them have been very positive (and yes, I had very careful reviews). The impression is however of great fragmentation. Is there a need for a “Journal of Cultural Evolution”?

While it would probably make my scientific life easier, I want also point out two possible negative sides. First, people working in this field tend to proudly claim their interdisciplinary approach, so that a dedicated journal might look as an attempt to tame their (our) efforts and to make cultural evolution look like any other academic discipline. Second, academic publishing now is in such a great turmoil that the same idea of a traditional-style journal looks almost reactionary. But, yes, it would make my scientific life easier.

9, June 2013

A very quick update after some twitter feedback:

  • It seems that indeed there would be some interest in such a journal.
  • One topic I forgot to mention (strangely enough because one of the paper I don’t know where to submit is exactly on that!) is comparative study of social learning/cultural transmission in human and other animals.
  • Peter Turchin signaled to me “his” journal Cliodynamics. It is definitely relevant in respect to what I was saying, still I think the overlap is only partial.