Narrative CV as an experiment in convergent cultural evolution

NWO introduces a narrative CV, and I have some thoughts.

Sounds like a convoluted cultural evolution experiment: a high stakes game in which applicants and reviewers independently construe models of good narratives, everything passes through a reductive score bottleneck, and next generations never have direct access to prior rounds. Selection dichotomises continuous scores and only 25% of narratives survive the bottleneck, after which an interview phase introduces random noise.

New generations of reviewers and applicants must infer properties of adaptive narrative formats based on woefully incomplete data. Some successful applicants share their narratives with next-gen applicants through sparsely connected informal networks. Now a third class of players, ‘trainers’, enters the game, gathering narratives from the informal network to build metanarratives about successful narratives.

To be fair, writing this up, it’s not so different from how it worked anyway (everyone stabs in the dark, some get lucky, magical thinking ensues) — but the main difference is that preproposal rounds in Veni/Vidi now introduce new bottlenecks specifically trained on narrative CV formats. This will likely take a while to crystallize.

Shoot, did I just give away the idea for my next grant proposal on the cultural evolution of grant proposals? Working titles: Success Stories: the cultural evolution of stabs in the dark. Or maybe The Blind Matchmaker: the cultural evolution of narratives under random selection & noise.

Note that I am not opposed to the format change per se. In particular, some of the reasoning underlying it —to make more room for diverse forms of recognition and rewards— makes sense, and this may be a small step forward.

On the other hand, having been a reviewer in a preproposal round I see folks fumbling with finding the right format and I can’t help wondering about the cultural evolution of this format going forward. Ultimately, I would think a funding lottery would help prevent an industry growing around the magical art of narrative writing and help everybody embrace that it’s always been a (biased) lottery anyway

(Originated as a twitter thread.)

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