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Investigating humanity’s cultural past and present to understand its possible futures.

Program Guidance for 2021: Information, Disinformation, and Cultural Authority: New Social Media and the Evolution of Social Learning

For the 2021 round of funding inquiries, we welcome projects on any of the topics described later on this webpage, but we are especially interested in projects that could contribute to one or both of the following goals.

  1. Understanding how contemporary media have changed the social transmission of information and cultural learning. How have social media changed our conceptions of the “public sphere?” What are the prospects for “public-interest technologies?” What cultural dynamics guide or emerge from the use of personal data via online algorithms, etc.? Does the rise of “fake news” represent a new kind of cultural disruption that lacks historical precedent in state propaganda, traditional media, textbooks, censorship efforts, etc., or are there meaningful parallels to be drawn with the past? How might we assess and shape these processes for greater contribution to human flourishing?
  2. Understanding changing perspectives on “cultural authorities.” What factors — biological, psychological, or cultural — influence who is listened to? How are these factors being influenced by contemporary media? Are contemporary cultural polarizations related to changes in how cultural authority is developed, composed and implemented? How are new or emerging cultural authorities changing how we think about traditional authorities or about the very idea of authority?

Project ideas should advance cultural-evolution scholarship and may draw from various disciplinary methods and insights from across the sciences and humanities. We are especially interested in comparative studies across demographic, national, or regional boundaries.


In this priority, we fund projects that aim to advance the following goals:

  • Finding ways to draw more richly and widely from the world’s cultures to enhance intellectual, especially scientific, progress.
  • Coming to a better understanding of how science and technology affect human self-conceptions and human potential.
  • Developing cultural possibilities for common human flourishing in response to contemporary global issues

Topics we are interested in exploring include the following. Those mentioned here are current priorities, but we are open to additional ideas in the spirit of the goals noted above.

Research on science in cultural contexts, including how these contexts might be used to further scientific progress. This could include ethnographic studies of science in place, research on the cultures of the disciplines, and work in such areas as evolutionary epistemology, conceptual thought and other aspects of evolving human reason that take culture into account.

Cultural influences on technology development and influences of technologies on cultures. This might include how databases and algorithms impose perspectives on data, uses of data for purposes not initially intended, and how technologies otherwise influence the social transmission of information. We are also interested in similar work beyond just information technologies.

Reciprocal influences of technology and human selfconception. Questions in this area are more well-known concerning bioengineering, including futurist perspectives like transhumanism. But we are also interested in research on other kinds of technology, as well as study of the relationship of technologies to other aspects of culture such as education, health, and distribution of freedoms.

Research on the role of cultures in causing or helping to resolve global issues. Issues addressed might include climate change, inequality, the benefits and pitfalls of human cooperativity, population disruption, rapid spread of misinformation, and the roles and effectiveness of human institutions.

Research on cultural virtues. Work is being done on humility as a virtue that might be essential to a well-functioning scientific enterprise. What other virtues, perhaps as core elements of some cultures but not others, need to be better understood?

Cultural evolutionary approaches to virtues and character. This would include the application of frameworks drawn from cultural evolution to theorize about moral and intellectual virtue in general, or about specific moral and intellectual virtues.

Research into the possibility of guided cultural evolution. While maintaining an emphasis on research, the Foundation is interested in projects exploring how the findings and methods of cultural evolution might lead to actual institutional or other cultural change.

Expansion of the field. Work in cultural evolution derives its current vitality in part through the meeting of ideas and disciplines from primatology to cultural anthropology to evolutionary economics. An important goal of this initiative is to expand the field in several dimensions, including (but not limited to) fostering work by emerging scholars; supporting those underrepresented in their disciplines; supporting disciplines underrepresented in the study of cultural evolution; and fostering work by scholars from non-Western cultures. We are also interested in efforts to create a richer interaction among participants, and wider dissemination of their work.

Projects connecting with the topics or goals of other strategic priorities are most welcome. For example, projects in science of purpose or programs in Islam.

Featured Grants

Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Gaymon Bennett
Grantee(s): Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Russell Gray, Simon Greenhill
Grantee(s): University of Auckland
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): David Wilson, Joe Brewer
Grantee(s): Evolution Institute
Natural Sciences
Project Leader(s): Rachel Kendal
Grantee(s): Durham University