(1992) have called the Standard Social Scientific Model (sssm and its domain assumptions virtually preclude taking evidence of the werther effect seriously. Whilst the sssm might accommodate evidence to the effect that the media acts as gate-keeper and agenda setter in the process of communication, any evidence suggesting that we, our selves, are emergent properties of this communication process, rather than vice versa, is incompatible with the. An alternative understanding of human consciousness, perhaps similar to dennett's Multiple Drafts' functionalist model, will probably have to become firmly established in social science before memetics starts to be taken seriously. Put differently, until Cartesian materialism/dualism ceases to underpin social scientific explanation, the obvious parallel between Darwin and the Creationists will continue to run deep. However, i do think that Phillips' research has highlighted a weakness in the sssm, which might provide a more direct opportunity for the establishment of a memetic understanding of suicide and other social behaviour within "respectable social science". This opportunity lies in the very inability of the sssm to account for the phenomenon of replication/imitation from within its own homuncular paradigm.
The, sorrows of, young, werther - wikipedia
The reason for this is particularly relevant to memetics and thus merits a brief review. There are certainly some important methodological problems in Phillips' research that summary could partly explain why replication/imitation is not a now central concept in contemporary suicide research. In interpreting the results, Phillips appears to make individual-level inferences from aggregate findings (ecological fallacy he is uncritical of the reliability of official suicide statistics, and he completely ignores the key issues of definition, intention and performance (suicide as opposed to para-suicide (Platt 1984 suicidality. These problems have led to an inevitable discounting of his findings in social scientific circles (e.g. Baron and reiss 1985). The key lesson for memetics here is that it will be important for empirical research to take cognisance of, and address these issues of validity, reliability and meaning. The heterophenomenological approach adopted by dennett (Dennett 1991) may go some way to address the problems of definition, intention and performance, and the problems of official statistics may be obviated by directly recording prevalence rates. However, the greatest problem for the replication/imitation thesis is theoretical; the werther effect fundamentally undermines the still dominant Cartesian understanding of the human subject that underpins much social scientific explanation. Social contagions are fundamentally at odds with such an understanding that generally presupposes an irreducible source of intentionality and rationality (economic and cognitive) behind human behaviour. This homuncular understanding of the human subject is part of what Barkow.
This would raise the interesting possibility of an innovative memetic typology of societies derived from the various modes, and relationship to the means, of cultural reproduction. Again, this is a theoretical theme that falls outside the scope of the paper, but such a typology might usefully draw on the social evolutionary theory developed by jürgen Habermas (Habermas 1979). Turning now to the empirical results of this macro-memetic' research Phillips has provided evidence to support the claim that suicide does indeed behave as a social contagion. Specifically, he demonstrated that exposure to suicide in media stories was a significant variable in accounting for uk for and us suicide rates (Phillips 1974). He was also able to show that the intensity of meme transmission correlated positively with suicide rates. In a similar way, phillips also correlated aeroplane and car accidents, murder and violent crime rates to mass media reporting. (Phillips 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982a, 1982b, 1983, 1986). The implications of Phillips' research findings were radical; suicide appeared to behave as a contagion mediated via, and dependent upon, lines of mass communication. 2 However, despite consistent findings in favour of this replication/imitation thesis, the werther effect has not been widely integrated into a comprehensive social scientific understanding of suicide.
Such a research programme might yield results providing evidence to support the hypothesis that meme exposure partly determines the incidence and prevalence of meme infection. Put differently, phillips' macro-memetic approach would help determine whether patterns of behaviour in society do in fact operate in a manner similar to that of contagions. This would provide the empirical foundations for the development of a fuller memetic account of behaviour, providing not only evidence for replication/transmission but also incorporating the processes of variation and selection. If it can be established that social facts may sometimes operate as contagions, meta-studies of the epidemiologies of various different traits and practices (symptoms of meme infection) might yield clues as to what it is that makes a social contagion infectious, roles and which factors influence. 1 Further, it might then be possible to measure both the fidelity of sociocultural replication as well as the average time-lapse between exposure and replication (the incubation period). Thus we could begin to generate results around a complete evolutionary loop of variation, selection and replication operating within the (infra) structure of various lines of communication. Mapped over time, structural lineages of mediated traits and practices could provide the basis for a memetic phylogeny of society.
Measure the exposure rate within a population to this meme through a particular (mass) medium over time (circulation/viewing figures). Calculate an index of exposure intensity (exposure level multiplied by the share of total medium content (column length/no. Of days on front page). Define a series of control periods where media transmission intensity. Define an experimental period where media transmission intensity. Regress meme infection levels during control period(s) to generate an expectation for the experimental period based on the null hypothesis that media representations of the meme have no effect on the incidence or prevalence of that meme. Test for significance between the expected and actual results. If expected and actual results are significantly different, test for further relationships (host similarity/correlation of intensity and suicide rates) Figure 1: a new Approach for Memetics?
The, sorrows of, young, werther
Working with a null hypothesis that the front-page newspaper reporting of suicide stories had no effect on aggregate suicide rates, he compared the expected rates with the actual rates. After controlling for seasonal and environmental other spurious effects, Phillips tested for significance between summary the two values, and by comparing a number of different experimental periods, he was able to test for a correlation between suicide rates and the intensity of media representations. Phillips' technique was unusual in that other experiments on imitation and the mass media have tended to be conducted under artificial laboratory conditions. Whilst some of these experiments have yielded results that point to a correlation between media representations and imitative behaviour (e.g. Bandura, ross and Ross 1963 they have been largely discounted for failing to accurately replicate the conditions and environment under which memes are transmitted in the heterogeneous and multifaceted social world. The results of Phillips' quasi-experimental research could not be subjected to this "non-relevance" argument precisely because he was testing for a correlation between media representations and actual social behaviour in the social world. Importantly, phillips was not testing for the relationship between individual behaviour and media representations, rather he was testing for a relationship between suicide rates and media representations.
Put differently, phillips was attempting to provide an explanation of social facts (suicide rates and media representation levels) through social forces (imitation) mediated via the communication infrastructure of society. Such a macro-level of analysis is of important theoretical significance to memetics since it adds a structural element to a theory otherwise open to the charge of methodological individualism. Severe limitations on space preclude the development of this more theoretical tangent, but it is important to recognise that Phillips was testing for the replication of structural patterns in society rather than investigating the individual process of replication/transmission per. In this way, his approach is an example of what might usefully be called macro-memetics, in contradistinction to the equally valid micro-memetic approach that currently dominates our paradigm. Following Phillips' research protocol, such a macro-memetic analysis can be broken down into a certain number of stages that together might outline a possible method for investigating the structural epidemiology of memes:. Define the phenotypical expression/symptomatology that will be used to measure levels of meme infection (suicide). Measure the prevalence of meme infection over time within a given population (suicide rates).
The tale recounted how Werther's clumsy, but painfully sincere, attempts at winning Charlotte's heart ultimately failed. Destroyed by rejection, werther saw no way out of his desperate plight other than suicide, and using a pistol, he dramatically put an end to his sorrows. For a memeticist, the social consequences of the publication of Werther's tragic story are entirely predictable: Not only was Werther's dress code the object of imitation but so was his somewhat extreme code of behaviour. Anxious authorities around Europe received reports of increasing numbers of young men imitating Werther's desperate act. Goethe himself became convinced that his tale was responsible for a continental wave of suicides. "iends thought that they must transform poetry into reality, imitate a novel like this in real life and, in any case, shoot themselves; and what occurred at first among a few took place later among the general public." (Goethe"d in Phillips 1974:340).
In an attempt to prevent the suicides from reaching epidemic proportions, a number of authorities banned. The sorrows of young Werther in the hope that the imitative behaviour would cease. Two hundred years later, in 1974, the sociologist david Phillips coined the term "the werther effect" to describe imitative suicidal behaviour transmitted via the mass media. Phillips devised an empirical research programme to establish whether media reporting of suicide stories really did affect suicide rates. In over a decade of research, Phillips produced important evidence that supported the hypothesis that behavioural patterns in society can in fact operate as contagions. Methodologically speaking, Phillips' research was interesting because it described one possible solution to the general problem of operationalising the memetic paradigm which, to date, has been dominated by anecdotal evidence. Phillips' methodological approach could be described as quasi-experimental in that his analysis was based on an experimental protocol, but he worked with exclusively historical data sourced in the real, uncontrolled, world. Using newspaper records and official suicide statistics, he identified a number of control periods' defined by the absence of front-page newspaper suicide stories. Using the suicide statistics from these control periods, he generated a number of expected suicide rates for a pre-defined selection of experimental periods' during which front-page suicide stories were published.
the, sorrows of, young, werther, summary
For no immediately apparent reason, young men started dressing in yellow trousers, blue jackets and open-necked shirts. This business mildly eccentric fashion spread from region to region in a manner strangely similar to the epidemics that were continuing to plague the Old Continent. It turned out that these 18th century fashion victims all had one thing in common; they had all been exposed to first novel of Johann Wolfgang von goethe, the sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe's novel recounted the desperate plight of Werther, a young man hopelessly in love with a happily married woman called Charlotte. In this intense and romantic tale, goethe describes Werther's rather peculiar penchant for wearing a colourful mélange of blue jackets, yellow trousers and open-necked shirts. Shortly after being published in 1774, goethe's novel was banned in several areas across Europe. This was not because database certain authorities held it responsible for the spread of a fashion of rather doubtful taste, but because there were signs that the book was also the vector for an altogether more serious contagion.
Ss homicides in the us increased following heavyweight championship prize-fights in a relationship that persisted after correction for business secular trends, seasonal and other extraneous variables. The increase was found to be largest following heavily publicised fights. American Sociological review 1983 Vol. Ss between 19 teenage suicides increased significantly following 38 nationally televised stories of suicide. The intensity of publicity devoted to the suicide stories was significantly correlated to its effect on teenage suicide rates. New England journal of Medicine 1986 Vol. 315.11: 685-9 "No fact is more readily transmissible by contagion than suicide.". Emile durkheim (le suicide :141). In the mid-1770s a peculiar clothing fashion swept across Europe.
crashes was proportional to the degree of coverage that these stories received. Social Forces 1980 Vol. Ss daily us suicide rates increased significantly (for a period of less than ten days) following the appearance of highly publicised suicide stories on television evening news programmes. American Sociological review 1982 Vol. Ss suicide rates, motor vehicle fatality statistics and non-fatal accidents all rose immediately following the transmission of fictional televised suicide stories in 1977. American journal of Sociology 1982 Vol.
Summary of empirical research on social contagions conducted by Phillips. The werther Effect: Fact or Fiction - summary of Research. Key findings and Conclusion, source, ss suicide rates increased significantly after suicide stories were reported newspaper stories. The increase was proportional to gender the amount of newspaper coverage devoted to the suicide stories. American Sociological review 1974 Vol. Ss car accident fatalities increased following media representations of suicide implying that some car accident fatalities were in fact imitative suicides. Science 1977 196: 1464-65, ss car accident fatalities, particularly those resulting from single-car accidents increased significantly three days after a suicide story was publicised in the newspaper press. The increase was proportional to the intensity of the publicity, and the age of the accident victim was positively correlated with the age of the suicide story victim.
The, sorrows - of, young, werther
Operationalising memetics, paul Marsden, graduate research Centre in the social Sciences. University of Sussex e-mail tel/fax (44) (0). Abstract, one of the major challenges currently facing memetics is the issue of how to shredder successfully operationalise the emerging paradigm. In other words, how can we exploit the innovative analytical framework of memetics in order to generate a body of theoretically informed empirical research? Whilst there are some important theoretical issues that have yet to be resolved, the future success of memetics, qua academic discipline, may depend not so much on elaborate theoretical developments, but on the results of empirical research findings. Operationalising memetics will not only involve subjecting memetic theory itself to empirical testing, but it will also mean assessing the usefulness of the paradigm in describing, understanding and explaining the sociocultural patterns and phenomena that are the traditional foci of the social sciences. To this end, the following paper will explore the operationalisation of memetics by reviewing the work of the david. Phillips, a sociologist who has been publishing empirical research on social contagions since 1974. Although Phillips has not explicitly referred to memetics, it will be suggested that a number of practical lessons and guidelines may be drawn from his research, and a possible outline for operationalising memetics will be proposed based on his approach.