You and Science for Peace in 2013

With a new year approaching, it’s time to reflect on what we should try to do next. If you’re not a member but want to know more about SFP, read on!

TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENCE FOR PEACE MEMBERS

Science for Peace has a fair number of useful projects going on, and our financial status is stable. However, the organization is more than 30 years old, so the founding cohort is aging and we need new vitality. I want to hand over a lively, functioning organization to the next generation. Thus we must recruit more scholars and experts who want make a difference and who can innovate solutions for the current problems threatening humankind—many of which were barely anticipated thirty years ago. This will involve expanding our mandate somewhat—but carefully.

Science for Peace originally comprised members who were scientists and university scholars with professional expertise on aspects of the main danger of the mid-1980s: the nuclear arms race. They prepared papers and gave talks appraising policies. Some members also met with policymakers to offer their observations, which sometimes were even taken into account.

The situation has changed since 1981. Nuclear weapons remain a grave concern, but they are now seen more as a chronic disease than as an emergency. Nevertheless, some of us realize that they could become the world’s greatest emergency without warning. This is not a time to relax. We need to re-invigorate our work on the nuclear age—the Janus-faced problem of weapons and energy. But we also need to do more than that.

At its best, Science for Peace functions as an interface between the university and public opinion. We need a good ratio of both researchers and activists. Universities are workshops for thousands of scholars who study issues that have policy implications. Some of them need a “platform” from which to present their ideas to the wider public. Our activist members are themselves part of that wider audience and know how to spread discussions throughout their own communities. All members of Science for Peace participate equally in the discourse about the emerging challenges. Ideally, we provide a public platform for people who are generating new knowledge that might otherwise be published in obscure journals without entering the public discourse at all.

There is probably some optimum (albeit indeterminate) ratio between the two components of our organization—the researchers in the university towers (which, thank goodness, are not ivory!) and the activists who concentrate on alerting the public and decision-makers to global problems and possible solutions.

Of course, many of us try to combine both types of activity, and indeed both are necessary, but it’s important to keep some balance between them. I think our ratio is getting skewed. Our connection to the university seems to be declining. We have slowed down when it comes to encouraging research and creative work on innovative solutions. As a result, our discussions increasingly are protests against bad policies rather than proposals for smart solutions. We need to recruit scholars and scientists with new ideas. All ages are welcome. Young scholars often see emerging issues best, but they may have less free time to contribute than retired academics.

WORKING GROUPS

Here’s one suggestion: Let’s select a few problem areas and form working groups to address them, inviting qualified scholars and scientists to participate. I say only “a few problem areas” because there is a potential risk in this strategy; we could lose focus and fragment SFP by setting up numerous groups to work on a variety of problems that, however worthy, are not connected to each other. Also, we need to choose issues that are not already being addressed by others. We don’t want to draw energy away from other effective organizations. Here are some other considerations:

Academic Freedom and Pluralism. Let’s suppress our ideological zeal when organizing a working group. Let’s welcome scholars whose notions may even clash. It precisely the incompatibility of findings that stimulates innovation. As activists, we naturally promote one position and oppose others, but as scientists and scholars we must listen to any coherent ones and even invite our adversaries to challenge our own findings. If we maintain intellectual diversity and an open forum, we can attract new faculty members and graduate students. Otherwise, we may not.

Structure. Heretofore, our working groups have been loosely organized; indeed, some of them have existed more on paper than in reality. To recruit busy scholars our working groups need more structure. For example, each group should specify: (a) its coordinator, (b) a list of its members with their interests and time constraints, © a project plan, (d) plans for meetings, and (e) a progress report at least for each AGM. Inactive groups should be dissolved and their resources re-directed toward new proposals. We already have some fairly new working groups— on “Climate Justice,” on urban sustainability (“Currents”), and on “The Muzzling of Scientists”—and may want to add a few more. We are confronting many problems that were traditionally in the domain of social scientists, and I hope we attract more such scholars to SFP. Here are some possibilities for working groups:

A Nuclear Age Working Group. We have a perennial commitment to work against nuclear weapons. Anna Jaikaran and Phyllis Creighton have been representing us in the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and there will soon be an opportunity to expand their working group. During the winter term, we shall be co-sponsoring with Physicians for Global Survival a series of lectures called “Confronting a Nuclear Age.” We hope it will evoke more concern about both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. See the program shown below and, if you are interested, plan to attend these events and form a “Nuclear Age” working group with the other participants. This working group will be open equally to members of Science for Peace, Physicians for Global Survival, and local university students.

Peace Education Working Groups. For a few years there was a peace education working group led by Julia Morton Marr. The number of SFP members participating dwindled over time, however, and the group was dissolved. It can be revived if there is interest, or there can be more than one such working group—including ones at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Peace education is a core part of our mandate. Although the Ontario teachers are working to rule just now, there is a good prospect that later some members, along with a Mississauga high school teacher, Zain Ghadially, will create after-school peace education clubs. Martha Goodings and Anna Jaikaran often give lectures about nuclear weapons in high schools and will engage with the new working group as well. Email me if you are interested in participating.

We should cooperate more with peace and conflict educators at the university level—obviously at the Trudeau Centre, but also throughout Southern Ontario. One of our directors, Tim Donais, is a professor of peace studies at Wilfred Laurier University, and is on the organizing committee for a convention that will be held in Waterloo in October 2013: the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA).

Peace and Justice Studies Association. The mandate of this organization is exactly the same as our own. It is primarily a professional association of peace studies instructors, mainly at the post-secondary level, throughout North America. In addition, some teach at the K-12 level; others work as peacebuilders overseas, and as mediators and community organizers, and as grassroots activists.

I was once on the executive committee of PJSA (which was then named COPRED) and I’d like to promote cooperation with them. Several other NGOs are co-sponsoring the October conference; we can do likewise and present a workshop or session there. Please see their call for papers at http://www.peacejusticestudies.org/conference/call.php. We may attract some local members of PJSA to a SFP working group on peace education at the university level.

Possible New Working Group: Hunger and War. I’m exploring the creation of another new working group: “Hunger and War.” I am meeting with food security researchers now. No other local food-study organization is addressing this topic, so we can claim it as our own area. The causal connections are complex. The most powerful cause of food insecurity in the world is warfare, which is certainly our bailiwick. Also, sanctions, imposed on a country as a substitute for war, cause malnutrition. A Hunger and War group of scholars and activists could study the effectiveness of humanitarian NGO and governmental and inter-governmental practices.

CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS:

Vital Discussions of Human Security Lecture Series. This is the second year of cooperation between Science for Peace, the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Canadian Pugwash, and the University College Programme in Health Studies. Every week during the academic season we present lectures on Thursdays, 7-9 pm in room 144 (NE corner of the building) University College, 15 Kings College Circle, U. of Toronto. All are welcome without charge. The video recordings of these talks are then posted on Science for Peace’s web page, and are watched by YouTube viewers—usually in far greater numbers than the size of the live audience. See http://www.youtube.com/user/Science4Peace . Please do attend some of them, and help by advertising the series. When you receive the email announcement of a talk, please forward it to your friends. Here is the program for the rest of this academic term:

10-Jan. Aysan Sev’er, Professor Emerita of Sociology, U. of Toronto.
Honour-Killings: Women’s Safety in Honour-based Cultures

17-Jan. John Bacher, Preservation of Agricultural Land, Ontario.
Toward a Billion More Trees in Ontario

24-Jan. Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Your Canada, Your Constitution, Founder of Democracy Watch, Director of GoodOrg.ca in Toronto.
What Makes Up an Actual, Working Democracy?

31-Jan. Shawn-Patrick Stensil, Staff of Greenpeace in Toronto.
Lessons from Fukushima: Implications for Nuclear Safety International

7-Feb. Valerie Zawilski, Associate Prof. of Sociology, Western University.
The Sexual Slave Trade in Kosovo

14-Feb. Seva Gunitsky, Asst. Professor of Political Science, U of Toronto.
Competing Visions of Democracy in the Post-Soviet Space

28-Feb. J.C. Luxat, Professor of Nuclear Safety, McMaster U, and Richard Denton, M.D. President, Physicians for Global Survival.
The Nuclear Safety Issue

7-Mar. Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
Can We Be Free of Nuclear Weapons and Still Have Nuclear Power?

14-Mar. Harriet Friedmann, Professor of Geography, U. of Toronto.
From “Feeding the World” to Sustainable Farming

21-Mar. Peter Victor, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University.
Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster

28-Mar. Jack Veugelers, Professor of Sociology, U. of Toronto.
The Far Right in France

4-Apr. Leo Panitch, Professor of Political Science, York University.
The Making of Global Capitalism: The Canadian Model.

Confronting a Nuclear Age Lecture Series: Last year Richard Denton, president of Physicians for Global Survival, and I agreed to do more cooperative projects together. We were going to offer a half-course for undergraduates at University College called “Public Health in a Nuclear Age,” with most weekly lectures given by either PGS or SFP members. I offered to coordinate the course and mark the papers. However, it seems that Paul Hamel, the director of the Program in Health Studies, did not apply to have the course approved, so it cannot be given as planned. Instead, the same speakers will give their talks as free public lectures extending through the winter term. As with the “Vital Discussions” talks, these lectures will be recorded and presented on the Science for Peace web site. You are all welcome to attend, and we hope that some participants will form a new “Nuclear Age” working group comprising members of both Science for Peace and Physicians for Global Survival. You can help by attending and by advertising the series to your friends. Most lectures will take place on Thursday from 3-5 pm in room 44, in the basement of University College, 15 Kings College Circle, U of Toronto. (Note the three time and venue changes.) Here is the schedule:

Week 1, Jan 10. Awareness of Risks and Opportunities (Metta Spencer)

Week 2, Jan 17: The Atom and the Bomb: The Discovery of Fission and the Development of Nuclear Weapons. (Anna Jaikaran and Martha Goodings)

Week 3, Jan 24: Cuban Missile Crisis: The Closest the World Came to Nuclear War (Walter Dorn)

Week 4, Jan 31: The Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation Regime (Cesar Jaramillo)

Week 5, Feb 7: Toward Nuclear Disarmament (Vinay Jindal and Barbara Birkett)

Week 6, Feb 14: Concerns About Fukushima and Other Situations, and About Clandestine Nuclear Activities (Shawn-Patrick Stensil)

Week 7, Feb. 28: Nuclear Energy: The Safety Issue ( J.C. Luxat and Richard Denton) Note: The lecture will be on Thursday evening instead, as in the Vital Discussion Series.

Week 8, Mar. 7: Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons (Gordon Edwards) Note: Lecture this week will be on Thursday evening 7-9 pm in Room 144, as in Vital Discussions series.

Week 9, March 14: Choosing Energy Sources and Incentivizing Conservation (José Etcheverry)

Week 10, Mar. 21: Stress (Frank Sommers)

Week 11, Mar. 28: Thorium Technology (Michael McNamee)

Week 12, April 4: Necessary Changes in the Human Future (Derek Paul)

Global Day of Action on Military Spending. Science for Peace belongs to the International Peace Bureau, the oldest and most distinguished umbrella organization of peace groups in the world. The main project of IPB is to call for the re-direction of funds from military purposes to development. Each year in April member organizations are asked to hold a “Global Day of Action on Military Spending” on the day after the release of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual report on world military spending.

In carrying out our part of the project, two years ago we organized a panel discussion with three prominent speakers (Sergei Plekhanov, John Siebert, and Bill Robinson). In 2012 we organized a flash mob in downtown Toronto where we pantomimed shooting into the air, then smashed our invisible guns, stomped on them, and walked away. We handed out leaflets and performed the short drama in three different places. This was unusual because we attracted several participants from other communities, such as youths from the Occupy Toronto movement, and women from local churches.

In 2013 let’s try something different. It’s time for someone else to take over the organizing of this event. Please offer to do so!

Ethics Project. During the 1980s Eric Fawcett led a working group in a study of the ethics of science. The result was a document called “the Toronto Declaration.” More recently, a number of members have been working in a group to explore the ways in which scientists have been encountering censorship and other forms of social pressure, which has sometimes led to a suppression of research. This fact poses new ethical problems for scientists, so a discussion is emerging again about the possibility of developing something like a Hippocratic Oath for researchers. If you are interested in this project, email: margrit.eichler@utoronto.ca.

Documentary Movies: In the past we have held regular weekly screenings and discussions of documentary films about social justice, environment, and military dangers. If any members are interested in taking on such a project, please contact me or Bryan Eelhart at the SFP office: sfp@physics.utoronto.ca . Probably once a week is too often, but monthly would be excellent.

Dinners: In the past, we have held dinners in downtown Toronto restaurants, followed by speeches by some of our own members or by notable visitors from abroad. More recently we have held a couple of potluck suppers. I would like to know which you prefer. We can meet every couple of months to share our concerns and the results of our working groups’ activities. One of the likely events this winter is a talk by the Globe and Mail journalist Doug Saunders about what to expect regarding Iran’s alleged nuclear aspirations.

The Membership Directory. To maintain a truly democratic organization with a highly participatory membership, we need to know each other. Hence Margrit Eichler created a directory of members to disclose a bit about our respective backgrounds and interests, as well contact information. This only works if people fill out the questionnaires, so please do yours. The only people with access to the directory are other members of Science for Peace, and you can leave some questions blank if you are worried about your privacy. Bryan will be sending links to the directory to all members.

The Global Pub. I have longstanding contacts in Moscow, and am preparing an epilogue for a Russian edition of my book, The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy. This book explores the continuing challenges of establishing democratic governance in Russia. I believe that the most useful thing we can do to support that process is to increase transnational conversations. The contacts that took place during the Cold War have diminished. Today, although Russians can travel abroad, they need even more sustained dialogues with foreigners—and so do we. I have a project I’m calling “the Global Pub.” People will choose one or more issues that they would like to explore deeply. I will try to put together groups of people with common concerns–say, four Canadians in front of a computer in Canada and four Russians in front of their computer in a Russian city. These groups of eight will meet once a month for six months and talk in English about their chosen topic for an hour or so. They will use Google Plus, the easiest and best videoconferencing tool that is cost-free. Such conversations will be casual—as in a pub, not a university seminar. If you are interested in participating, see details and list of topics at http://metta.spencer.name/?The_Global_Pub.

WELCOME TO SCIENCE FOR PEACE

I’ll prepare a report of SFP’s past activities in 2012 for our members within a couple of weeks.

If you are not a member of Science for Peace but want to know more, please see our web site: www.scienceforpeace.ca. Or call Bryan Eelhart at our office in Room 045, University College, 15 King’s College Circle, U of Toronto. sfp@physics.utoronto.ca. (416) 978-3606. You can put your name on our email list to be notified about upcoming events. Or just come to one of our public events and introduce yourself. If you belong to other like-minded organizations, we encourage cooperative interactions with you and your partners.

Good wishes to you all for a wonderful 2013.

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