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Dysoc/NIMBioS Webinar Series on Cultural Evolution

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The Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis are happy to announce a series of free webinars on cultural evolution.

This series is one of the outputs of a grant "Dynamic Models for Basic Theory and Applications in Cultural Evolution" funded by the John Templeton Foundation (PIs Sergey Gavrilets and Peter J Richerson) aiming to promote the Cultural Evolution Society. The grant has supported the development of online teaching modules on cultural evolution. Five modules have been completed and are currently available at The modules were selected after an international competition organized by the CES Working Group for Education and Outreach composed of Drs. Louise Barrett (University of Lethbridge), Sergey Gavrilets (UT Knoxvlle), Russel Genet (California Polytechnic State University), Patricia Izar (University of San Paolo), Luke Matthews (RAND Corporation), and Peter J. Richerson (UC Davis).

The webinar series includes live presentations by lead designers of the five completed modules, an opening lecture by the first President of the CES and the lead PI on the proposal Peter J. Richerson (UC Davis), and a lecture by CES Working Group member Patricia Izar (University of San Paolo).

There are also invited lectures by Drs. Peter Turchin (Complexity Hub Science Vienna) and Ruth Mace (University College London). Besides running their research programs, Drs. Turchin and Mace are the founding editors of two important journals in the field of cultural evolution: Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution and Evolutionary Human Sciences, respectively.

Upcoming Webinars:

Registration information coming soon!   NIMBioS hosts a Q&A via Zoom for these webinars. Viewers are able to submit questions throughout the talk, which are answered at the end of the talk. You can also up vote questions. Unable to attend the live presentation? Register to attend, and you will receive a link to the recorded webinar on our NIMBioS YouTube channel.

Outreach for the Cultural Evolution Society: Everybody needs to know a little bit about cultural evolution

P. Richerson photo. Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Speaker: Peter J. Richerson (University of California, Davis)

Moderator: Sergey Gavrilets (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics, DySoC Director, NIMBioS Associate Director for Scientific Activities, University of Tennessee)

Abstract: Biology education has a terrible problem. On the one hand it is a vast discipline webbed into all of natural science and mathematics. Specialization is a must, yet for any given specialty, any other specialty might become relevant. An ecologist might suddenly need to know molecular genetics. The US solution is to teach high school and 1st year college students a little bit about all of biology before they specialize. Practicing ecologists don't really have a working knowledge of molecular genetics but if an ecological problem presents itself for which molecular genetics might help, many ecologists will remember enough to head to the internet or down the hall to bone up. Biology is a successful mega-discipline in part because of those comprehensive if necessarily superficial courses. The human sciences, which really should be thought of as a sub-discipline of biology, have no such courses, and hence no good sense of how humans fit into the larger world. Cultural evolution and gene-culture coevolution are topics which illustrate how humans are webbed into the natural world. For example humans make extraordinary use of culture, but we are among a large number of species for which it is important. Human cultural phenomena are intimately connected with the rest of human biology. The physiological imperatives of raising highly altricial young have driven the evolution of our family systems. A mission of the Cultural Evolution Society is to help every biology student, especially every student of humans, know at least a little bit about cultural evolution.

Bio: Peter J. Richerson Is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis. His research focuses on the processes of cultural evolution. His 1985 book with Robert Boyd, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, applied the mathematical tools used by organic evolutionists to study a number of basic problems in human cultural evolution. His later books with Boyd include Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, an introduction to cultural evolution aimed at a broad audience and The Origins and Evolution of Cultures, a compendium of their more important papers and book chapters. He has recently co-edited a book Cultural Evolution with Morten Christiansen reporting the results of a Strüngmann Forum. His recent publications used theoretical models to try to understand some of the main events in human evolution, such as the evolution of the advanced capacity for imitation (and hence cumulative cultural evolution) in humans, the origins of tribal and larger scale cooperation, and the origins of agriculture. He and his colleagues also investigate cultural evolution in laboratory microsocieties.

How to Teach Modeling, or Thoughts on a Pedagogy for Cultural Evolution

Tutorial image. Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Speaker: Paul E. Smaldino (Cognitive and Information Sciences, University of California, Merced)

Module description: Models of Social Dynamics: An Introductory Module. This module takes an interdisciplinary approach to modeling social behavior, drawing on insights from across the social sciences and evolutionary ecology. It focuses on constructing and analyzing simulations using the NetLogo programming language.
Module designer: Paul E. Smaldino (Cognitive and Information Sciences, University of California, Merced)

Animal Cultures: Core Discoveries and New Horizons

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Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Speaker: Andy Whiten (University of St Andrews, UK)

Module description: Animal Cultures: Core Discoveries and New Horizons. This module offers an overview of core discoveries and new developments in the study of animal cultures. The significance of animal culture for evolutionary biology and ecology, understanding human cultural evolution, and conservation are highlighted.
Module designers: Andy Whiten (University of St Andrews, UK)
Lucy Aplin (Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour, Germany)
Nicolas Claidière (CNRS, Aix-Marseille University, France)
Rachel Kendal (University of Durham, UK)

The Neverending Story: Cultural Evolution and Narratives

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Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Speaker: Joseph Stubbersfield (Psychology, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)

Module description: The Neverending Story: Cultural Evolution and Narratives. This module explores the universal and uniquely human behavior of narrative and how cultural evolution theory has provided vital insights into the transmission and evolution of narratives and why some become culturally successful.
Module designers: Joseph Stubbersfield (Psychology, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)
Jamie Tehrani (Anthropology, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Oleg Sobchuk (Max Planck Institute the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany )

Foundations of Cultural Evolution

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Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Speaker: Adrian Viliami Bell (Anthropology, University of Utah)

Module description: Foundations of Cultural Evolution. An introductory guide to the body of formal theory in the study of the cultural evolution in humans and other animals, this module guides participants through the basic machinery of dynamic models and key results from a variety of cultural evolution topics.
Module designer: Adrian Viliami Bell (Anthropology, University of Utah)

Modeling the Dynamics of Cultural Diversification

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Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Speaker: Bernard Koch (Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles)

Module description: Modeling the Dynamics of Cultural Diversification. This module trains researchers in a model-based Bayesian framework that allows them to estimate rates of cultural change, distinguish stochastic fluctuations from actual rate changes, and identify when major events, trends, or evolutionary mechanisms shaped the history of a cultural population.
Module designers: Bernard Koch (Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles)
Erik Gjesfjeld (Archaeology University of Cambridge, UK)
Michael Alfaro (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles)
Jacob Foster (Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles)
Daniele Silvestro (Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Sweden)

Cultural Macroevolution: Understanding the rise of large-scale complex societies in human history

P. Turchin photo.

Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Speaker: Peter Turchin (Complexity Science Hub Vienna and University of Connecticut)

R. Mace photo.

Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Speaker: Ruth Mace (Evolutionary Anthropology, University College London)
Topic TBA

The Impact of a Tradition on the Life of Capuchin Monkeys

P. Izar photo.

Date: 11:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Speaker: Patricia Izar (Experimental Psychology, Animal Behavior, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil)

About the CES Modules. Without the aid of mathematical models, human intuitions about dynamic systems of any complexity can be quite faulty. These online modules present many basic and applied issues in cultural evolution and introduce students to methods of dynamical systems theory as applied to the evolution of human systems. The module materials have been developed with self-guided study in mind, using a variety of online learning methods that allow students to work independently to gain both a theoretical understanding of the concepts and practical experience with modeling techniques. The modules could serve as a basis for intensive short courses, seminars, or as components of a regular quarter or semester course. It is our hope that they will facilitate interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations.

For questions, please contact DySoc Director Sergey Gavrilets at

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NIMBioS is supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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