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Research Article

Random Drift versus Selection in Academic Vocabulary: An Evolutionary Analysis of Published Keywords

  • R. Alexander Bentley mail

    r.a.bentley@durham.ac.uk

    Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom

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  • Published: August 27, 2008
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003057

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Sure to create a buzz

Posted by Tehrani on 29 Aug 2008 at 15:20 GMT

Bentley has really put the cat among the pigeons here. We like to believe that the evolution of academic discourse is a cumulative process, whereby good ideas get taken on and bad ones dropped. Indeed, this is precisely what the Enlightement was supposed to achieve by freeing us from the dead hand of tradition. Bentley shows that we academics have a long way to go if we are to fulfil this goal, especially in the social sciences. The notion that many of the most popular concepts in these fields might simply be winners in a random lottery of ideas is as convincing as it is disturbing.