President's Inaugural Message

Colleagues—It is an exceptional honour to follow the footprints not only of Eric Fawcett, my immediate predecessor and the founding President of SfP, but also of such distinguished scholars and scientists as Anatol Rapoport, the late George Ignatieff and David Parnas. But there is a warning concealed in the honour — both to me and for the organisation as a whole. Unlike most of my predecessors I have only limited scholarly credentials in the various areas of peace studies. As a practising research scientist with an NSERC operating grant, students, postdoctoral fellow and research assistant, I may be part of the problem rather than of the solution.

The problems are both local and global. The local problem is, that our organization may be in danger of losing direction and ceasing to function effectively. It is when such dangers exist that organizations choose to change their officers, in the hope of changing their fortunes — the final spin of the wheel. It rarely works.

The global problem is that a practising scientist has a certain world view, and changing that world view may be the key needed to change the future prospects of humanity in the direction of peace and justice. Since the Reformation, science has provided a secular alternative to religious faith in giving us an understanding of the physical world, our place in it and the potential to change that world for our perceived benefit. Its successes, which are immense and obvious, have also come at a cost, which was high but hidden. In a separate short essay in the Science for Peace section of Peace Magazine*** (Vol. XII, July/August, 1996, page 23), I try to explain how some changes in mental outlook as well as some operational changes may be needed. I shall probably not personally be among the first to change my outlook. J. B. Priestley said: “The world will change. It will probably change for the better. It won’t seem better to me”.

I am in this position at least for the coming year. At the end of that time I should like evidence that both organizationally and politically SfP has changed — adapted to the new world environment. Organizationally it needs to change by bringing fresh people into its decision-making structures, into the Board and onto the newly extended executive committee (see the reports of the AGM and May Board meetings). Those people should include more representatives of the social sciences, to balance the past preponderance of physical scientists, and even non-scientist political activists who (unlike me) are sceptical of the Baconian enterprise. There should also be an approximately even balance between men and women on the executive, the Board and in the working groups.

Politically, as explained in Peace Magazine, SfP needs to change to take account of the many misuses not only of science but of the name of science, which accompany the drive for commercial and economic success in a world where ‘progress’ — in its form of continuous personal and societal enrichment — is less certain than it was during the first three quarters of the 20th. century. Society continues to ride rather rough shod over those who challenge it — whether those challenges are to destruction of woodland to make highways or to sales of potentially lethally contaminated foodstuffs to maintain economic viability in a branch of agribusiness.

Science, technology and the need for ‘progress’ are publicly invoked in political support of such dubious societal enterprises, as well as being used to underpin their actual implementation. This needs to be questioned from within the house of science as well as from outside it. To do so we need to be sure of our facts, where facts are to be obtained. Science must be used to subvert its political misuse. Every member of Science for Peace should be a member, at least by e-mail, of one of the working groups. At each Board meeting during the coming year (the dates of which are listed elsewhere in this bulletin) there should be both members and non-members of the Board present to report on the activities of both old and new working groups. At each extended executive committee meeting I want to have one of the working groups report on a current political problem that involves and misuses science. At the end of the year there could be enough new activity that my election to the Presidency this May will not be looked back on as the last gasp of an enterprise that had lost its ‘raison d’etre’ in a changed world. There are currently very few political organizations, fewer major political parties, that seek actively to create a different and better world. Hope for the future is at a low ebb. Of this too we should take advantage, so that when optimism returns it will not be the old unthinking optimism of the past.

Peter Nicholls, Dept. Biol. Sciences, Brock University,
St. Catharines On., Canada L2S 3A1.

Footnote: All members of SfP should have a subscription to Peace Magazine because this is now our regular vehicle for communication of ideas. Canadian subscriptions (including GST) are $17:50 for one year, $30 for two years, for 6 issues/year, from: 736 Bathurst St., Toronto M5S 2R4 tel: 416-533-7581; fax: 416-531-6214