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Cultural Evolution Society 2016 Progress Report

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The field of cultural evolution is maturing quickly—bringing a much needed process of unification to the social sciences. Nearly two years ago, an effort was initiated to birth a scientific society for this burgeoning field. Its founding membership was queried about the “grand challenges” the community must address through its mission and activities. Knowledge synthesis jumped out as the top-line objective: Bring coherence and integration to biology and the social sciences using the theories and tools of evolutionary studies to complement other methods and frameworks.

Our purpose here is to provide an update on progress we have made throughout 2016. We received a planning grant from the John Templeton Foundation for an 18-month period starting in December of 2015 and running through May 2017. Activities supported by the grant include:
- Formation of a functional body with bylaws, governance policies, and an elected leadership capable of adopting and managing them;
- Gathering together a global community of researchers, educators, and practitioners who work with cultural evolutionary studies;
- Creation of an interactive website with dynamic member database for managing society affairs;
- Mapping top-level priorities for integrative research and training vital to moving the field forward;
- Hosting an international conference of cultural evolution researchers to deliberate and adopt a shared agenda for the field overall;
- Preparation for launch of a peer-review scientific journal dedicated to cultural evolutionary studies;
- All of these activities coordinated and managed by a full-time staff person.

Progress has been made on all fronts. We have identified a set of grand challenges, managed an inclusive electoral process to elect the inaugural Executive Committee, formed various working groups in preparation for launch of our website and initiated the planning of a conference later this year. Read on to learn what we have achieved thus far. And the journey has only just begun!

Published in: Science

Cultural Evolution Society 2016 Progress Report

  1. 1. Cultural Evolution Society Progress Report for 2016
  2. 2. Executive Summary The field of cultural evolution is maturing quickly—bringing a much needed process of unification to the social sciences. Nearly two years ago, an effort was initiated to birth a scientific society for this burgeoning field. Its founding membership was queried about the “grand challenges” the community must address through its mission and activities. Knowledge synthesis jumped out as the top-line objective: Bring coherence and integration to biology and the social sciences using the theories and tools of evolutionary studies to complement other methods and frameworks. Our purpose here is to provide an update on progress we have made throughout 2016. We received a planning grant from the John Templeton Foundation for an 18-month period starting in December of 2015 and running through May 2017. Activities supported by the grant include: ✦ Formation of a functional body with bylaws, governance policies, and an elected leadership capable of adopting and managing them; ✦ Gathering together a global community of researchers, educators, and practitioners who work with cultural evolutionary studies; ✦ Creation of an interactive website with dynamic member database for managing society affairs; ✦ Mapping top-level priorities for integrative research and training vital to moving the field forward; ✦ Hosting an international conference of cultural evolution researchers to deliberate and adopt a shared agenda for the field overall; ✦ Preparation for launch of a peer-review scientific journal dedicated to cultural evolutionary studies; ✦ All of these activities coordinated and managed by a full-time staff person. Progress has been made on all fronts. We have identified a set of grand challenges, managed an inclusive electoral process to elect the inaugural Executive Committee, formed various working groups in preparation for launch of our website and initiated the planning of a conference later this year. Read on to learn what we have achieved thus far. And the journey has only just begun! Joe Brewer Project Coordinator Cultural Evolution Society Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1
  3. 3. Progress on Society Formation It has been essential to this entire effort for the volunteer (and ad hoc) steering committee that got things underway to be replaced by a democratically elected governing body capable of making decisions on behalf of the society. A great deal of care was taken to run an inclusive, transparent election and secure the diversity of leadership that our mission requires. Members of Volunteer Steering CommitteeMembers of Volunteer Steering Committee Joe Brewer Peter J. Richerson Michele Gelfand Peter Turchin Joshua Jackson Harvey Whitehouse Ian MacDonald David Sloan Wilson Peter Peregrine A formal Elections Committee was established to oversee the process through completion of elections. It was comprised of Peter Turchin (chair), Marcus Feldman, Cristine Legare, Sarah Matthew, Richard McElreath, and Joe Brewer. Concerns about diversity quickly arose as high priorities to adequately address—with criteria set out for representation of multidisciplinary knowledge; stages of career; gender; and geography. A Diversity Mandate1 was issued to the membership, accompanied by an Election Manual2 outlining the nomination process, descriptions for officer positions, and general protocols for running the election. Then a rigorous effort was undertaken to gather nominees, rank them according to the diversity criteria, secure candidate commitments, and create a formal ballot. A Voter Manual3 was then issued to assist with voting. Included in this document was a careful elucidation of the full process to ensure transparency regarding how diversity was maintained throughout. Elections were held online between July 11th and August 22nd. When voting came to completion (379 votes cast), we had clear winners for all 14 Executive Committee positions. A report was drafted to share the election results with the full membership.4 The Executive Committee is made up of: Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 1 http://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/a-mandate-for-deep-diversity-in-the-cultural-evolution-society 2 http://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/cultural-evolution-society-election-manual 3 http://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/cultural-evolution-society-2016-voters-manual 4 http://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/cultural-evolution-society-2016-election-results
  4. 4. CES Executive CommitteeCES Executive Committee Peter J. Richerson, President Michele Gelfand, Member-at-Large Dan Sperber, President-Elect Monique Borgerhoff-Mulder, Member-at-Large Fiona Jordan, Secretary Robert Boyd, Member-at-Large Alex Mesoudi, Treasurer Michelle Kline, Member-at-Large Kenichi Aoki, Member-at-Large Joshua Jackson, Male Student Rep Sumitava Mukherjee, Member-at-Large Nicole Wen, Female Student Rep Purity Kiura, Member-at-Large The newly formed Executive Committee began its work on September 1st—debating a set of bylaws drafted previously by a member-based volunteer Bylaws Committee. Care was taken to keep the bylaws simple and make changes using a resolution process. These bylaws have been approved by the Executive Committee and will soon be sent out to the membership for a vote. A dues structure has also been prepared for tiered membership, along with formation of special committees for publications, conferences, and education. More on these topics are outlined below. Progress on Seeding Global Community We successfully attracted more than 1000 founding members in the initial recruitment drive during the summer months of 2015. This community has since grown to more than 1700 subscribers to our newsletter and 650 completed member profiles (required for voting in the inaugural election). Cultural Evolution Society (CES) members hail from at least 54 nations around the world and are active in dozens of research fields. The Executive Committee is working to finalize a membership dues structure. It will be rolled out as part of the registration process for our upcoming conference (outlined in the next section). We will get a better sense for the actual size of the society when we see how many list subscribers become dues-paying members in good standing. When we completed the Grand Challenges Survey5 in the fall of 2015, it was clear that knowledge synthesis would be central to the agenda for this society. This finding prompted us to conduct a follow-up survey as part of data gathering for member profiles to see which other professional societies our members are active in. The network graph on the next page was created from these survey responses—clearly showing that the founding membership of CES is broadly active in many different academic fields. Each member was invited to list the five other professional societies they are most active in to create this Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 5 http://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/what-are-the-grand-challenges-for-cultural-evolution
  5. 5. image. What we discovered was that a rich tapestry of social relationships already exists across biology, social sciences, and the humanities. This discovery offers a glimpse of what an evolutionary lens can do to help bring consilience to the integration of biology and society. Imagine what becomes possible as cultural evolutionary studies continues to mature—accelerated and guided by active intent through CES activities in the years ahead. Figure 1 Each line represents a CES member who is active in the professional associations for both end points. The resulting pattern is one of branching fields into several major domains of knowledge. Human Behavioral Ecology Animal Behavior Behavioral Analysis Archaeology and Paleoanthropology Social and Cross-Cultural Psychology Sociology and Humanities Economics Humanism Theoretical Biology Religious Studies Cognitive and Developmental Psychology Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1
  6. 6. Progress on Conference Planning The decision was made to host our first international conference at an existing research hub for cultural evolutionary studies. After consulting with the Executive Committee, we narrowed the location down to the School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHES)6 at Arizona State University and the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for the Science of Human History7 in Jena, Germany. The current plan is to hold a meeting at MPI in 2017 and a second meeting at SHES in 2018. Local hosts at MPI, Russell Gray and Fiona Jordan, have volunteered to help with the first conference. The dates of September 13-15, 2017 were selected and planning has begun to shape its format and content areas. Two committees have formed to help with the preparations—one comprised of MPI staff for organizing locally and another from the general membership for overall program content and event coordination. A venue was selected that holds up to 200 people and we anticipate reaching full capacity, possibly needing to turn people away. This will be our first test of member engagement to get a sense for how large the society really is. The Program Committee is made up of: ✦ Michelle Kline, Chair ✦ Joe Brewer ✦ Michele Gelfand ✦ Andrew Whiten ✦ Russell Gray, Ex Officio, Local Organizer ✦ Fiona Jordan, Ex Officio, Local Organizer ✦ Olivier Morin, Ex Officio, Local Organizer A large portion of our grant budget remains set aside for conference purposes. We have blocked out rooms at the venue and will provide discount rates to dues-paying members. A conference website is nearing completion and registration for presenters is slated to open in February. Progress on Website and Member Database A major area for infrastructure development has been devoted to creating an interactive website and member database. We initially scoped out the use of CiviCRM software (commonly used by nonprofits) for member data management, but found it preferable to combine web development and database design for an integrated “”platform” solution. We selected the University of Washington’s Center for Environmental Visualization (CEV)8 to help us with this technical project in the early fall of 2016. They have an extensive portfolio of scientific Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 6 https://shesc.asu.edu/research/research-areas/sociocultural-anthropology 7 https://www.shh.mpg.de 8 http://www.cev.washington.edu/
  7. 7. visualization projects, specializing in Earth Systems Science and oceanography in particular. This combination of technical web skill and scientific visualization expertise stood out as vital to the branding and storytelling of cultural evolution as a field. Earlier market research (scanning the web and analyzing other institutional branding for relevant organizations) revealed a near-total absence of public discourse about cultural evolutionary studies. This uncovered a clear opportunity to use the CES website as a “central hub” for gathering resources about the field and communicating them to various audiences.9 Thus the need for custom visualizations of scientific concepts alongside more standardized web functionality. We negotiated a work plan that includes visual design work; CES logo development; database architecture, and interactive web design to start out with highly agile IT supports in place. One of the design choices we made early on was to create a member portal for secure access to CES member data and message boards for job postings, grant offerings, and the self-organization of “working groups” led by members. Careful thought has been given to the data structuring to enable us to create “data trails” for member activity—so that we can conduct analysis on the social dynamics of the CES community as it evolves over time. An interactive World Map has been created as an early prototype using member profile data to visualize where our members are based geographically. It will also be useful as a navigation tool for members to seek out one another based on location. We anticipate building out an array of similar tools for our members to discover each other and collaborate in peer-to-peer fashion. The web site will go through a beta release in the early spring 2017 for testing purposes, then is scheduled to go live before summer arrives. Progress on Research Agenda In the fall of 2015, we launched an initiative to survey the “Grand Challenges” for cultural evolution.10 Our findings inspired the mapping effort in Figure 1 to see how diverse the existing knowledge ecology is for CES members around the world. It has also informed how we are approaching the thematic content for our first conference in Jena later this year. One significant output has been the drafting and acceptance of a manuscript that is soon to be published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The figure below reveals a rich tapestry of connections between the grand challenges identified so far—highlighting the linkages between the major themes of knowledge synthesis and prosociality. A similar richness can be seen in the other themes prioritized in the original survey (e.g. cultural transmission, environmental issues, economics, theory development, cross-cultural comparisons, etc.). Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 9 Existing communication outlets include This View of Life and the Social Evolution Forum on the Evolution Institute’s website and the new EES Update site funded by the Templeton Foundation. CES anticipates active collaboration with them to promote science communication and educational outreach in the future. 10 http://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/what-are-the-grand-challenges-for-cultural-evolution
  8. 8. Figure 2 This image shows how topics clustered together in survey responses about grand challenges for cultural evolution. The red lines show how prosociality is connected to various related themes. Blue lines do the same for knowledge synthesis. Discussions have been initiated about how to apply findings from cultural evolutionary studies to clearly needed processes of institutional change among academic units. This includes the cultivation of joint-funding initiatives; formation and expansion of interdisciplinary partnerships; development of networks for collaborative research; and so forth. Two areas of cultural evolutionary research that directly apply here are cultural transmission (including topics like how social learning works and the diffusion of innovation) and cliodynamics (the formal study of evolving social complexity across history—whether increasing or decreasing over time). We anticipate our members taking proactive steps to apply what is known in cultural evolution to the field itself. One of the significant outcomes we anticipate from the first conference is coherence around possible research agendas for knowledge synthesis across biology and the social sciences. Steps taken so far will be helpful in guiding us along as we garner support from the membership. We Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1
  9. 9. anticipate hosting a productive dialogue among the representatives of various research areas that the members are already active in. Progress on Communication and Outreach Impacts can be achieved quickly by setting up active channels for communication and outreach. We have been promoting the field of cultural evolution on multiple fronts by setting up a Facebook page11 and Twitter account12 to actively share content from our members online. A special Publications Committee has been created to develop a peer-review scientific journal that will be open access and easily accessible by researchers and the general public. The Publications Committee is made up of: Alberto Acerbi, Chair Victoria Reyes-Garcia Emma Flynn Fiona Jordan Peter Peregrine Peter Turchin Olivier Morin In conjunction with these efforts, there have been several feature article series published in the Social Evolution Forum13 that stimulate discussion about key topics in cultural evolutionary studies: ✦ What Are the Roles of Scientists in Policymaking? ✦ Humans: The Species That Changed the Earth ✦ The One Culture: Four New Books Indicate that the Barrier Between Science and the Humanities is Breaking Down ✦ Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution Each is a lead article accompanied by numerous response pieces that deepen the dialogue about critical topics. We anticipate having more collaborative online exchanges like this in the future, through partnerships with other organizations (in this case, the Evolution Institute) as our community grows and matures. Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 11 https://www.facebook.com/CulturalEvolutionSociety/ 12 https://twitter.com/CulturalEvolSoc 13 https://evolution-institute.org/social-evolution-forum/
  10. 10. There has also been a growing enthusiasm among the membership itself to communicate the activities of CES. We have received multiple reports of bubbling conversations at other cultural evolution symposia and in presentations given at them. Commentaries have also been posted to popular blog sites—like this one14 and this one15 on the Medium platform. We are seeding the story about cultural evolutionary studies in many places to see what grows and takes hold. This pluralistic approach to science communication, member recruitment, and interactive dialogue will remain a valuable component of society activities moving forward. Yet even at this early stage, there is evidence of unmet needs in the research community and among the lay public. Progress on Education and Curriculum Design A novel approach was taken to begin exploring the topic of education for cultural evolutionary studies. We went to the premier educational website on Earth, Wikipedia, and typed the phrase “cultural evolution” into the search box. Figure 3 shows what popped out—a redirect to the thoroughly discredited 19th Century social theory of cultural evolutionism! Further inquiry revealed that a permanent redirect had been set up back in 2005 because the entry on cultural evolution lacked sufficient detail to warrant its own existence. We recognized an opportunity here, both to update the first place on the web where prospective students might go to learn more about our field and to begin a creative process for curriculum design. A newsletter was sent out to the CES membership inviting volunteers to join a special “Wikipedia Group” tasked with drafting a contemporary articulation for what cultural evolution is today. More than 20 members signed up and an active dialogue ensued about which topics should be A talk by Dr. Heidi Colleran mentioning the upcoming CES con- ference at the Max Planck Institute. There have been multiple reports of members promoting society activities at other events. Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 14 https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/the-grand-synthesis-of-biology-and-society-df21147cc2c8#.g9ga5eawj 15 https://medium.com/@joe_brewer/the-field-of-cultural-evolution-is-vital-now-c783ab84cd0e#.erq72ewye Figure 3 The search result on Wikipedia revealed there was not an entry for cultural evolution, redirecting us to a discredited 19th Century social theory.
  11. 11. included in a representative Wikipedia entry. These same topics became a skeleton outline for things that need to be included in an adequate educational program for those seeking to study cultural evolution. A partially completed new entry now exists,16 with progress continuing intermittently as the volunteer working group finds time to add more content. We anticipate developing a major focus area for design of education and training programs. Our members routinely send requests for us to announce their upcoming workshops in the CES newsletter. Once we get into the rhythm of annual conferences and ongoing organizational activities, this work will be picked up again and taken to the next stage of development. Progress on Budgets and Project Management All of the activities described in this report were made possible by the planning grant we received from the John Templeton Foundation. The total budget we had to work with was $217,362 allocated for the 18-month period between December 1st, 2015 and May 31st, 2017. Major budget items include costs for project personnel, the inaugural conference, website and data collection. Using expenditures tallied through the month of December 2016, we currently have a remaining budget of $99,362 and are on track to complete all activities at the projected budget level or below it in some categories. Said succinctly, we are within budget and on schedule for everything laid out in the initial grant proposal. Project management has been led by Joe Brewer—the dedicated full-time staff member funded under this planning grant—with administrative assistance from the Evolution Institute (EI). Ashle Bailey-Gilreath, operations manager for EI, has been very helpful with contract management and budget reporting. The executive director, Jerry Miller, has contributed to contract negotiations and provided general counsel on an ongoing basis throughout this work period. EI president David Sloan Wilson proved vital to the writing projects on the Social Evolution Forum and has served as liaison for drafting a memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) between CES and EI to navigate an eventual separation of organizations. It become clear right away that CES would become its own organization, having been incubated as a project of the EI throughout an earlier development period. The reasoning is simple: both entities have their own governance structure—the non-profit board for EI and Executive Committee for CES—making it unwieldy as the society grows toward full operational capacity. We have a business arrangement with EI, but have our own policy-making elected leadership and a set of Bylaws approved by the Executive Committee that is almost ready to submit to the membership for a vote. Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1 16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_evolution
  12. 12. What remains unclear at this point is how the relationship between these entities will evolve in the future. For now, CES is able to receive the benefits of administrative management by EI staff. There will come a point in the future when this arrangement may be reconsidered. The new arrangement, whatever form it may take, will be explored through an updated MOU negotiation at the appropriate time. Concluding Remarks and Next Steps As this report documents, we are making excellent progress on all of the activities necessary to forming a highly relevant and influential scientific society. The field of cultural evolution grew slowly following seminal work in the 1960’s and 70’s and then more rapidly after 2000. It has historic roots going at least as far back as the original writings of Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man back in 1871 through to the publication of more recent works like Sociobiology by E.O. Wilson (1976) and Not by Genes Alone (2010) by Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd. There has also been a huge outpouring of new research articles, edited volumes, and popular books in the last decade that will need to be surveyed and curated into a cultural evolution library at some point in the future. The global expression for joining this society—with more than 1700 researchers and practitioners on our email roster from more than 50 nations—demonstrates that the field is poised to rush forward with the right combination of coordination, supports, and vision. We are delighted to share what we have been up to in the last year as CES takes form through this concerted effort. In the coming months, we will launch our website and begin soliciting dues for membership. Preparations are underway for our first international conference to be held in September of this year. Seeds have been planted for curriculum design, communication, and outreach. We are inspired by what is becoming possible through these activities and hope you will join us to help create what is to come. Cultural Evolution Society -- Progress Report for 2016 1

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