Transforming Strategy

The most obvious barrier to the emergence of a successful science of memetics is the lack of a unified scientific community to create it. We suggest that three kinds of major projects would be needed to establish the nucleus for this vital new field:

1. Professional conferences, scientific journals, and a formal organization devoted to memetics. A scientific community needs communication. Because memetics spans biology, information science, cognitive science, and cultural studies, the people who will create it are strewn across many different disciplines that hold their annual meetings at different times in different cities. Thus, a series of workshops and conferences will be essential to bring these people together. Out of the conferences can emerge publications and other mechanisms of communication. An electronic communication network at the highest level of scientific quality needs to be established.

2. Data infrastructure, in the form of multiuse, multiuser digital libraries incorporating systematic data about cultural variation, along with software tools for conducting scientific research on it. Some work has already been accomplished of this kind, notably the decades-long efforts to index the findings of cultural anthropological studies of the peoples of the world, accessible through World Cultures Journal (http://eclectic.ss.uci.edu/~drwhite/worldcul/world.htm), and cross-cultural questionnaire surveys such as The World Values Survey (http://wvs.isr.umich.edu/). However, existing data were not collected with memetic analysis in mind. They typically ignore most dimensions of modern cultures, and they lack information about the networks of communication between individuals and groups that are fundamental to memetic mutation and diffusion. Thus, entirely new kinds of cultural data infrastructure are needed, to provide the raw material for memetic science.

3. Specific major research projects assembling multidisciplinary teams to study distinct cultural phenomena that are most likely to advance fundamental memetic science and to have substantial benefits for human beings. Because culture is highly diverse, it is essential to support multiple projects in different domains. This strategy would connect data infrastructure projects with teams of scientists oriented toward answering specific but profound scientific questions. One recent suggestion that has merit on both scientific and practical grounds is to create an distributed digital library devoted to all aspects of Islamic culture, with special attention to understanding how it evolves and divides. Another worthwhile project would be to link existing linguistic data archives, for example represented by the Linguistic Data Consortium, then transform them into a laboratory for studying the constant process of change that goes on within and across languages. A very different project, with a wide range of intellectual and economic benefits, would be an institute to study the transformation of engineering and manufacturing by the development of nanotechnology, gaining fundamental scientific understanding of the innovation process, to improve the methods by which new technologies are developed.

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