Reply to Tosh et al.: Quantitative analyses of cultural evolution require engagement with historical and archaeological research

Thomas E. Currie, Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, Charles Spencer
PNAS June 14, 2018 Journal Link


We thank Tosh et al. (1) for their interest in our research (2) but note that their analyses do not undermine the main findings of our article. Their suggestion that polity population divided by polity area should be one of the social complexity dimensions raises a number of issues. What does this ratio mean at large spatial scales, where populations are concentrated in large urban centers and much of the territory is not heavily populated? How are societies distributed across this variable and why? For example, a small-scale “simple” society could have a very high population density if it has access to a rich resource base. Tosh et al. (1) do not provide sufficient information or context to meaningfully interpret their results. The study by Chick (3), cited by Tosh et al. (1), was based on the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, which is heavily weighted toward low-complexity, small-scale societies. The second component that Chick (3) found captures the differences in mobility and mode of production between agricultural and foraging societies, rather than complexity of organization per se. Tosh et al. (1) also argue without evidence that the proportion of variance explained by princip
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