Jacob Foster

Assistant Professor

Contact Information

Email    foster@soc.ucla.edu
Office  204 Haines Hall
Phone  310-825-1031
I am interested in the birth, life, and death of ideas.

I am a computational sociologist interested in the social production of collective intelligence, the evolutionary dynamics of ideas, and the co-construction of culture and cognition. My empirical work blends computational methods with qualitative insights from science studies to probe the strategies, dispositions, and social processes that shape the production and persistence of scientific and technological ideas. I use machine learning to mine the cultural meanings buried in text, and computational methods from macro-evolution to understand the dynamics of cultural populations. I also develop formal models of the structure and dynamics of ideas and institutions, with an emerging theoretical and empirical focus on the rich nexus of cognition, culture, and computation. I am currently writing a book on knowledge as an emergent feature of complex adaptive systems. I am founding co-Director of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute, a program that aims to build community, collaboration, and creative thinking among early career scholars interested in the study of mind, cognition, and intelligence of diverse forms and formats—from ants and apes to humans and AI.

After studying mathematical physics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, I received my Ph.D. in Physics (with a specialty in Complexity Science) from the University of Calgary. I then spent three years as a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago before moving to UCLA in 2013. My work has appeared in American Sociological Review, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Poetics, Sociological Science, and Social Networks, among other venues. 


BS, Physics, Duke University; PhD, Physics, University of Calgary

Selected Publications

Foster JG, Evans JA (2019) Promiscuous inventions: Modeling cultural evolution with multiple inheritance. Beyond the Meme, Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science, Vol 22, eds. Love A, Wimsatt W (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis).

Foster JG (2018) Culture and computation: Steps to a Probably Approximately Correct theory of culture. Poetics 68: 144-154.

Foster JG, Cartmill EA(2018) Managing the multiplicity of meaning. Co-operative Engagements in Intertwined Semiosis: Essays in Honour of Charles Goodwin, Tartu Semiotics Library, Vol 19, ed. Favareau D (University of Tartu Press, Tartu).

Rzhetsky A, Foster JG, Foster IT, Evans JA (2015) Choosing experiments to accelerate collective discovery. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112(47): 14569-14574.

Foster JG, Rzhetsky A, Evans JA (2015) Tradition and innovation in scientists’ research strategies. American Sociological Review 80(5): 875-908. Winner of 2016 Star-Nelkin Paper Award, ASA Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology.

Shi F, Foster JG, Evans JA (2015) Weaving the fabric of science: Dynamic network models of science’s unfolding structure. Social Networks 43: 73-85.

Vilhena DA, Foster JG, Rosvall M, West JD, Evans JA, Bergstrom CT (2014) Finding cultural holes: How structure and culture diverge in networks of scholarly communication. Sociological Science 1: 221-238.

Evans JA, Foster JG (2011) Metaknowledge. Science 331(6018): 721-725.

Foster JG, Foster DV, Grassberger P, Paczuski M (2010) Edge direction and the structure of networks. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 107(24): 10815-10820.