Evolution of Diversity
My current research as a post-doc at UCLA aims to implement a quantitative macro-evolutionary approach to examining the diversification of material culture in the past and present. This approach aims to estimate rates of material culture innovation and extinction through time and test for the influence of various intrinsic and extrinsic factors. I have recently developed a tutorial to help interested researchers in examining the diversification of cultural data. The tutorial can be found here.
We demonstrated some of the benefits of this approach in an analysis of car models (Gjesfjeld et al. 2016) which make a model system to this approach given their detailed historical record. Results from this research indicate a nearly four-fold decrease in the innovation and extinction rate of car models since the early 20th century with major rate shifts occurring in the 1930's and 1980's. Further details of the research can be found in the Palgrave Communication article as well as articles from a range of online blogs and magazines (see below)
The encouraging success of our approach has led us to current and future research that explores the dynamics of innovation and extinction in other technological systems. This includes archaeological pottery from the American Southwest, FDA approval pharmaceutical drugs, Linux operating systems and iPhone apps.
The broader contribution of this research is to demonstrate that methods born in biology, when applied to similarly structured cultural data, can produce robust quantitative insights into the diversification of material culture and help to illuminate the evolution of contemporary cultural and technological diversity.
2016 Gjesfjeld, Erik, Jonathan Chang, Daniele Silvestro, Christopher Kelty, Michael E. Alfaro. Competition and extinction explain the evolution of American automobiles. Palgrave Communications (2): 1-6.
Find article here (open access).
Popular Media Coverage
Los Angeles Times: From Duryea to Tesla: cars have evolved much like Darwin's finches
Boston Globe: Darwinian Evolution in the Auto Industry
MIT Technology Review: How Data Mining Reveals the Hidden Evolution of Automobiles
UCLA Newsroom: Technique from biology helps understand the evolution of the American car