A Hit-Piece on Cliodynamics

  There is a remarkably biased and deceptive piece in Foreign Policy with a critique of Cliodynamics, among other things. The Past Doesn’t Tell Easy Stories About the West The author writes, “Peter Turchin and his collaborators have championed a new approach in which history as a discipline will be replaced by cliodynamics”. This is an outrageous falsehood. The relationship between cliodynamics and history is a mutualistic symbiosis. I stress it every time I have an opportunity, for example, here: https://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/historians-and-historical-databases/ and here, again: https://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/the-mad-prophet-of-connecticut/ Next, commenting on the Seshat project investigating the relationship between moralizing gods and complex societies, the author states, “But under scrutiny, those patterns show themselves to often be just results of omissions and lacunas in the underlying databases.” This is a lie of omission. The author provides a link to the critique of our results, but conveniently omits mentioning our very robust rebuttal. In fact, our response involved an enormous amount of additional work. We have consulted with dozens more historians and scholars of religion and summarized their collective knowledge in an analytical narrative running at over 100k words. The resulting publication has been published as a preprint months ago: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/2v59j/ and is currently undergoing review in an academic journal. And what did it tell us? Far from weakening our main result, extensive buttressing of our data and improved analytical techniques have only strengthened it. We invited our critics to respond — so far they’ve declined to do so. But the author of this hit-piece has decided to ignore our response. Finally, the author says, “History and historical data can still teach us so much if we take a guide with us on the way: a historian.” It may come as a surprise, but I am in complete agreement with this statement. But what the author (again, conveniently) fails to mention is that the Seshat project does precisely this. It would be impossible to build the Seshat Databank without historians and other experts on past societies. The author’s dismissal trivializes the enormous contributions to the Databank made by more than a hundred historians. You can see their contributions acknowledged here: http://seshatdatabank.info/seshat-about-us/contributor-database/ Or you can simply look at the author list of Seshat publications, for example, this one: https://journal.equinoxpub.com/JCH/article/view/18508