“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.

10 thoughts on ““Journal of Cultural Evolution”, anyone?

  1. Another possible negative side is failure. Critics still delightedly point to the closure of The Journal of Ideas and The Journal of Memetics – as though they were health indicators of the field. If we have a Journal of Cultural Evolution, let’s try and make sure there’s some energy behind it.

    1. Well, failure tends indeed to be a possible negative side of many endeavours…
      Regarding the failure of The Journal of Memetics, its potential success was tied to the scientific success of the meme concept, and, in fact, to a “narrow” interpretation of it, i.e. a strong analogy with the gene concept. It seems to me clear that one can study cultural “evolution” without this constraint. Also – maybe – was it too early? I confess I never heard about The Journal of Ideas.
      Thanks for the encouragement!

      1. The study of genetics lagged by many decades behind the study of evolution. So, if there’s still no academic journal devoted to cultural evolution, a journal of memetics is probably somewhere way off in the future.

      2. All credible modern theories of cultural evolution have the ‘meme’ concept. Various meme synonyms are used. The difference in that area is terminological.

        It’s true that the memeophiles and the memeophobes were unlikely to unite in the Journal of Memetics – and that was a problem for the journal’s attempt to represent the broader sphere of cultural evolutionists. A Journal of Cultural Evolution would not have that particular problem – though no doubt some would hold out in favour of a Journal of Sociocultural Evolution [bleurgh].

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