Tim Lewens on Lamarckian inheritance in cultural evolution

[This is a second post originating from reading Tim Lewens book Cultural Evolution. The first, on the application of the concept of population thinking to culture, is here.]

One of the most repeated criticism of the analogy between cultural and biological evolution is that inheritance in the former, but not in the latter, is Lamarckian. Things may be, to a certain extent, complicated (“Lamarckian” evolution might mean different things; the concept of soft inheritance, which might include “Lamarckian” forms, is no more a taboo in biology), but the nuts and bolts – which are, I think, what really matters for the analogy cultural/biological evolution – are not.

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How darwinian is population thinking? (applied to culture)

I am reading Tim Lewens’ new book Cultural Evolution (I am still halfway through it, so perhaps other posts will follow). One aspect I found interesting – and I imagine this will not come as a surprise to readers of this blog – is a peculiar conception of what identifies an approach to culture as “evolutionary”.

Lewens attacks the problem from a familiar perspective (see, for example, here), defining a taxonomy of possible evolutionary commitments for cultural explanations. As usual, some of them are too broad (Lewens calls them “historical” approaches), while others are too restrictive (he is skeptical of replication-based accounts of cultural evolution): things are more interesting in the middle.

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“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!