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Chandler Davis: Science for Peace in Perspective

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

October 29, 2020  by Chandler Davis

When Eric Fawcett gathered a nucleus of colleagues into a new activist organization, it was natural that most of us were in the so-called hard sciences.  This was a replay of what happened in 1945, when a few of the scientists who had created new disastrously destructive weapons and left them in the hands of generals and politicians stepped back, aghast, too late, to see the effect on the world.  But the horror at the reckless misuse of science is felt by many in all fields, not only by the whistleblowers in the fields misused; and it is felt not only by those who missed the moment to act to stop the destruction, but also by the next generation.  I am sorry some of my non-scientist colleagues felt they were second-class members of Science for Peace, and I hope that many alert students will also know they are fully valued allies.

Science for Peace has not been a voice of the physicists’ conscience, nor has it been primarily an information archive.  Its value seems to me to have been as a channel for sharing concern among colleagues and seeking effective responses.  This calls for welcoming all the like-minded, and respectful communication between us.  It also calls for drawing on the skills and energy of the many organizations which have arisen with similar motivation.  Let me recall briefly a few of the successful efforts which still seem in retrospect to have been a contribution to world peace— along with a few ways where I feel we should have done more.

When Anatol Rapoport was the organization’s President, he undertook, with permission from University College, to found and direct a new program in Peace and Conflict Studies.  This was donated by us to the University of Toronto, for it was a valid for-credit program at no expense: Anatol drew no salary and UC contributed the office.  With vagaries I will not detail, the program survived to this day, though our ties to it are much weakened.  I am proud to have been part of this contribution, without endorsing all the turns it took.

We can be proud too that when Yugoslavia was falling apart, and governments of more stable states were behaving less than honourably (or just indecisively), Metta Spencer and John Valleau organized a Science for Peace symposium which in two days brought to campus a variety of knowledgeable analyses doing justice to the complexity of the conflicts.

Similarly, at a time when most media were tardy in reporting the greenhouse effect emergency, Judy Deutsch and others organized a Science for Peace meeting where James Hansen and Clayton Thomas-Muller told a full hall of its urgency.  Here and in our later open letter calling for government action, we were able (though few of us are qualified specialists in relevant fields of science) to ensure that we were getting the climate science right.

We don’t replace the Pugwash Movement and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and we don’t aspire to.  We do work closely with them, as in presenting Ray Acheson of ICAN at a recent meeting, and this should continue.  In the same way, Canada has vigilant watchdogs on the arms industry in Project Ploughshares and the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, and here it seems that Science for Peace should find more ways to help.  We did sponsor a good meeting where Richard Sanders of COAT pled his case, but the issue deserves more attention from us.  A third area which is well served by others is criticism of the nuclear power industry.  In particular, Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility manages to cover all the bases very well indeed; but though he is a member of Science for Peace and we give him a platform on campus, we ought to be able to contribute more.

Can we maintain our watchdog role, along with our offshoot Our Right to Know and other groups, in sounding the alarm against attacks on support of honest research?  Can we serve, along with the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the like, as guardians of campus independence and academic freedom?  Can we open new avenues in struggle to refute racist pseudo-science?

And in all these efforts, should we stick to our de facto status as mostly a University of Toronto organization, or should we renew our attempts, mobilizing our many allies around the country, to spread our wings and become a truly national voice?


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