Focus: Education

David L. Parnas writes:

“I view SfP as an organization that should focus on public education … I want to emphasize reaching the public, not academics and not politicians. My involvement with the SDI issue in the last two years has convinced me that many of our colleagues are misleading the public about the potential reliability and safety of technology. We need an organized force to counter those who claim that security can be achieved through the development of arms and related technologies. I also believe that we cannot have much influence on politicians unless we develop influence with the public. Most politicians that I have met are followers rather than leaders.”

David Parnas is a computer scientist and emphasizes the insights generated by that branch of applied mathematics. Every other scientist will do the same. Physicists, biologists, chemists do the same. It is important to see the prophylactic role that some knowledge in these fields can play in peace education. It is important to render the people immune to explicit or implicit misinformation-disinformation — disseminated by weapons enthusiasts — the promised defence to be provided by Star Wars (once called civil defence), the passing over or silence or outright dismissal of the effects of nuclear explosions on the climate, on the ozone layer, etc., come to mind.

Knowledge about the physical and biological consequences of a war of total destruction is widely disseminated. Knowledge about the fallibility of computers to which decisions about nuclear launching may soon be completely delegated is wide spread. But nothing happens to slow the warmakers. What needs to be as widely known is how a minuscule group of persons have the power to decide the life or death of billions. What puts them and keeps them in positions of power over the life and death of the rest of us?

With Parnas I think the effectiveness of peace education depends on contacts between concerned scientists and the public, the creation of an alliance to counter the power of those who claim that “security” can be achieved through the deployment of high technology arms and ignoring the consequences of such deployment.

(To be continued)

— Anatol Rapoport