Helena Miton at SFI (Photo: Doug Merriam/Santa Fe Institute)

How can scientists account for the popularity and longevity of certain cultural ideas, practices, and artifacts, while numerous others are quickly forgotten? SFI Complexity Postdoctoral Fellow Helena Miton takes up this question in her award-winning dissertation by providing a framework for empirical research in her field of cultural evolution. 

For her accomplishment, Miton received Central European University’s 2021 award for “Best Dissertation.” She was one of three recipients of the award, which recognizes dissertations that “are based on significant original research, raise thought-provoking questions in the field, and open new perspectives.”

Each chapter of Miton’s dissertation presents a study that stands alone as a contribution to a question in cultural evolution and supplies evidence for the robustness of the framework she outlines. The work encompasses diverse cultural objects from the evolution of complexity in writing, to heraldic motifs, forward-bias in human portraiture, and how physical constraints affect the transmission of rhythmical sequences.

Miton is a long-time advocate for open science and her dissertation was the first in her department to have all studies pre-registered and with publicly available data and code. She says, “my work would be very different if colleagues in my field weren’t sharing their code or data. I strongly believe that open science is better than just science.”

Read the announcement from Central European University (June 17, 2021)

Register for Miton's free open science course on Complexity Explorer