Next week will be precisely a year since we launched the Social Evolution Forum. Our initial idea for the Forum was to provide a service to the scientific community. However, the issues that we started to discuss – most importantly, the evolution of social cooperation – are also of high interest to general public and have significant implications for policy making. From the very beginning we asked our contributors to avoid obtuse academic jargon and write in a way that would be comprehensible and interesting to people outside the academic community. Now we are actively developing content that should appeal to this broader audience. This approach also fits well within the primary mission of our parent organization, the Evolution Institute (“to use evolutionary science to solve real-world problems”).
At the beginning our main content was special features, consisting of a lead (or focus) article that raised some important, and usually controversial theme, followed by commentaries from leading scientists specializing in the topic and a response by the initial author. There is also an opportunity for all readers to comment informally on such articles and commentaries, so the discussions can become quite lively. An innovative aspect of these SEF features was that after running on the Forum they are peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal, Cliodynamics. This approach combines the strengths of a discussion forum (rapid exchange of opinion, reply and counter-reply) and an academic publication (permanency or, at least, long-term storage in the corpus of scientific literature).
The latest SEF feature was initiated by David Sloan Wilson and was commented on by a variety of distinguished scientists taking positions both supportive and critical of David’s. I am personally very pleased about how this latest feature played out – we have finally worked out the kinks, and now are able to publish a SEF feature fairly smoothly. As you have probably noticed, pieces are now published at regular 2-3 day intervals, leaving enough time for discussion of each, but not too long so that the interest of readers starts flagging. Under ideal conditions I monitor traffic and advance or delay the publication of the next piece depending on how much discussion and traffic the previous one is generating.
We will continue with this model, and the next SEF feature is likely to be by Harvey Whitehouse, our latest addition to the editorial board. This also provides me with a good opportunity to welcome Harvey to the board!
The second type of main content, in addition to the features, is my blogging. I started in March and most of the time I aim to publish two blogs per week, although this obviously isn’t always possible. I did not blog last month for two reasons. First, we decided that it would be best not to interrupt the smooth flow of feature publication with different topics. Second, last month I was traveling in Europe, which completely disrupted my usual arrangements for writing blogs. But I am resuming my regular blogging schedule – that is, assuming that Connecticut Light & Power will restore our power in the next day or two! Thanks to Sandy, we have been without electricity at home, so I am writing this blog in the office, which is not a sustainable procedure for many reasons.
In the future I would welcome additional content. One thing that we would like to do more is to reflect the future and recent scientific meetings in the field of social and cultural evolution. We’d like to publish both adverts for future workshops, and reports from the concluded ones. So please get in touch with one of the editors if you wish to contribute. Second, I’d like to see more guest blogs, and eventually, perhaps, have additional regular bloggers.
The important thing, though, is that we seem to be developing in the right direction, both in terms of content and in terms of growing readership (as measured by people who subscribe to the Forum and the number of visits per month). This does not mean that I am not interested in suggestions for improving this Forum! Feel free to leave them as comments to this blog, or send me an e-mail if you feel more comfortable doing so. Now that the SEF has been one year in operation, it is a good time to take stock and determine what needs to be done to make it even better.