The President's Corner

With this issue of the Bulletin, Brydon Gombay takes over as editor from Edward Barbeau (Math, U of T), who has served since the inception of the Bulletin. Ed wants to think through alternative ways of working for peace. Brydon was secretary of S4P last year, has previously edited and written for journals.

Since Science for Peace acquired charitable status, the chances of receiving financial support from individuals, foundations, or corporations in sympathy with the aims of our organization have substantially increased. However, such support is usually rendered for specific projects. Of these several are listed in the recently disseminated brochure Science for Peace — The First Three Years. Surely many more projects — research or educational — in various states of readiness to be formulated are percolating in the minds of many of our members. Are you thinking of a research programme, a conference, a workshop, which you want to see realized? To be realized, any of these activities must be funded. To be funded, each proposal must be formulated in a way that explains why it deserves to be supported. The more concretely it is described (e.g. with a schedule of work, a budget, etc.) the more likely it is to find support. The Central Office of Science for Peace can assist in routing these applications for support.

There is another important way in which you can take advantage of your membership in Science for Peace: by participating in an exchange of ideas. This Bulletin is a natural medium for such exchanges. If you are thinking of a project – a piece of research, a course to be introduced in a curriculum, an edited publication of important documents that should be available in compact form, you name it -– send this idea to the Central Office. To the extent that space permits, we will publish it in the Bulletin. Your fellow members will read it. Surely, at least some will respond to some of the ideas. In this way, we can start a multilogue (see the item about Bill Eckhardt’s program in this issue). The level and effectiveness of the activity of an organization depends crucially on how strongly its members are bound together. Of course, initially there must have been a bond among us because we were motivated to join together. But the initial impetus is not enough. As in marriage or friendship, the bond must be constantly nourished and rejuvenated.

So let me tell you about my project, for which the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada has just given a grant. It is called “Investigations of Conditions Facilitating or Inhibiting Escape from Social Traps”. The best known model of a social trap is a deceptively simple game called “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. It has been so widely publicized that I assume you know what the dilemma is about (If you don’t, write me c/o the Central Office, and I promise to send an explanation). There have been several hundred papers published on experiments with this game. It has attracted so much attention, especially among social scientists, because it is a perfect condensation of the most tantalizing problem of social life – the “dialectical opposition” between competition and cooperation.

Another widely known social trap is called “The Tragedy of the Commons”, originally formulated by the noted biologist G. Hardin (If you want to know about this one, write me). My project deals with variations on the theme of the “Tragedy of the Commons”. One of these is called “The Volunteer’s Dilemma” (information supplied on request), an idea I stole (with his blessing) from a colleague of mine when we were working together in Vienna. He now works in Munich and has started a project there to dovetail with mine.

Social traps are important in peace research and peace education because they are prototypes of the trap into which the struggle for power between the superpowers is leading the people of this planet. Escape from this trap depends on collective understanding of the “dialectical opposition” between “security” and the risk of extinction aggravated by attempts to increase one’s security, while attempting to do exactly the same.

Now it’s your turn. With best wishes for a productive, peacemaking New Year. – A.R.