Sunday, 4 September 2011

Which academic researchers actually understand memetics?

OK, so: Dennett, Blackmore, Dawkins, Hofstadter evidently understand memetics pretty well - but most of these folk don't hold academic posts any more. So, who in academia does have some understanding of memetics?

Here's my tentative list:

  • Daniel Dennett - External Professor at Santa Fe Institute and University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University, Center for Cognitive Studies. Dan is a longstanding meme enthusiast.

  • Marion Blute - Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. She has papers about memes and has big sections all about memes in her 2010 book on the subject: Darwinian Sociocultural Evolution: Solutions to Dilemmas in Cultural and Social Theory.

  • Kevin Laland - Principal Investigator in The Laland lab in Scotland. In 2000, Laland wrote: "We reject the argument that meaningful differences exist between memetics and the population genetics methods. We also believe that cultural evolution and gene-culture co-evolutionary theory will be much enriched by embracing memetics." Right - indeed. Laland had a section in his 2002 book all about memetics.

  • Dr Jeremy Kendal - The Principal Investigator in the Director in the Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture at Durham university. Jeremy co-authored the above paper with Kevin Laland.

  • Keith E. Stanovich - The Canada Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto. Memes feature heavily in his work, and he has produced a long defence of memetics entitled: Rationality, Evolution, and the Meme Concept.

  • Peter Richerson - Richerson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Department of Environmental Science and Policy. University of California Davis. He is one of the academic researchers who has come the closest to memetics - though he seems to be responsible for spreading much of the misinformation about it - and still seems to react allergicly to the "m"-word. However, in 2010, he wrote: "I reiterate that entertaining this idea is just to walk down Darwin’s straight and narrow path. It all boils down to heritable variation for fitness. Richard Dawkins followed this path in the Selfish Gene where he introduced the concept of memes. One of the problems with the meme concept as it evolved is that users of the term focused far too heavily on the selfish potential of memes. But I think it is near to undeniable that cultural variants are sometimes selected to become selfish pathogens along the lines that Dawkins suggested. Since some cultural variants can spread rapidly among people, as in the case of fads, they rather resemble the life cycle of a viral or bacterial pathogen.". I think it should be admitted that he now has a basic understaning of the subject.

  • Robert Aunger - Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Public Health at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and has written much on memes, including a book on the topic.

  • William Durham - A professor at Stanford. His 1991 book Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity was fairly saturated with memes.

  • Francis Heylighen - A research professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). Francis has published extensively on memes.

Not exactly an awe-inspiring turn out.


  1. Tim,

    I have a new post you might like:

    How to Use Softwarephysics to Revive Memetics in Academia

  2. Hey Tim! Thanks for this post. It will be really helpful in my decision to apply for colleges for my higher degree. :)