First Panel Discussion Questions and Answers
What do we know about the process of communication? What evidence is there of the effect of training in communications on inter-group conflict? Carnegie is currently funding a project on communication between school children in Russia and the United States as a means for mitigating tensions between East and West. What, if any, insights from this research into the process of communications can be applied both to this forum and to the design of the global information infrastructure?
DAVID A. HAMBURG Answers
Let me quickly respond. On the question of training, much more attention is being given to training with respect to inter-individual conflict than inter-group conflict, at least in terms of systematic research. There is some rather interesting and encouraging evidence that, under the rubric of "life skills training," a particular category of behavior, learning to be assertive without being destructive is a very useful technique. Learning techniques of nonviolent conflict resolution in interpersonal relations, particularly in adolescence, is an ongoing, active field.
With respect to inter-group conflict, we and others are supporting all over the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere in the world, the training of people who really have had no exposure to concepts or techniques of conflict resolution, negotiation, and mediation. You really have to start it at a very basic level, mainly to have a sense that there are ways to resolve conflict short of violence. This includes sharing a sense of what is possible, engendering hope, and then teaching basic concepts and some techniques for conflict resolution.
It is going to be important to have people all over the world who are capable of mediating and negotiating. It is certainly teachable, but how it fits into particular cultures is a complex and often sensitive subject.
Concerning the question about the so-called "Vega Project," it started shortly after Gorbachev came to power at a meeting of the Academy's International Security and Arms Control Committee (CISAC), of which I was then a member. I had a private meeting with Velikhov, who was then chairman of the Russian group, in order to see what might be possible beyond the subjects on the agenda.
Gorbachev had just come to power at that time and I raised the question whether there was anything that might be of interest to him, beyond the arms control field, that might provide some opportunity to see the benefits of cooperation, explore any curiosities he might have that could improve communication between the United States and the Soviet Union.
So I had the opportunity to meet Gorbachev, an extraordinary human being, and he expressed an interest in having school children learn how to use computers.
In any event, Velikhov and I developed a project which was about elementary school children in both countries using computers for educational purposes, with communication between the children and between the teachers in the two countries, as well as between social scientists in both countries who were overseeing the work. It was a long-running project which is now being analyzed. It will be written up by Michael Cole, known to many of you, a professor at the University of California in San Diego.
The marvelous curiosity of children, which is, after all, what we tap into in science education and education in general, came through very clearly. These kids were terribly eager to learn not only how to use computers but also about their counterparts in the other country before they had developed powerful stereotypes and immense personal barriers. They had this remarkable opportunity to communicate directly with their counterparts across national boundaries, including across highly adversarial boundaries. So it was certainly a stimulating and worthwhile experience. What the ultimate sense of it will be for lessons about social science cooperation between adversarial groups is a matter that Michael Cole will clarify.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS Question
Tim, there is a question here from Jack Gibbons, who writes: Perhaps the national laboratories represent the largest concentration of science and technology for the United States or even the world. In view of the ongoing debate regarding the missions of the national laboratories, has the time come to consider redirecting their enormous pool of talent and technology to an international mission for promoting sustainable development? Is this potentially feasible?
TIMOTHY E. WIRTH Answer
Clearly, the national laboratories are going through a major transition. When I was in the Senate we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what a long-term mission for the national laboratories might be and how this might engage environmental issues overall, population issues, and a series of related concerns.
I believe that the movement toward sustainable development is still a broad term that sounds a little bit like Bambi for the environmental and economic communities. It is a good thing, but maybe people do not really understand it. I think sustainable development has a dynamic to it, an excitement that can be a deeply important instrument for grass roots organizations, community involvement in the country, for the engagement of the scientific community, and on a local basis and global basis.
I think it is an extraordinarily exciting idea. I think that it has potential that ought to be harnessed, not only in the national laboratories. It ought to be harnessed in the universities, in grass roots political organization, and in small political organizations. It ought to be harnessed in every way, and certainly getting the national laboratories engaged in this more broadly could be very helpful.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS Questions
Several people have asked about science and technology in the State Department. Let me read one of them: With the stated emphasis on science and technology for our good and the world's well-being, why is the science and technology part of the Department of State being reduced in size and stature? Would not the opposite be more appropriate if we really believe what we say?
TIMOTHY E. WIRTH Answers
I do not think the science and technology side of the State Department is being reduced in size and stature, at least not in fact across the street. It might be being done in theory in some of the legislation being drafted downtown, but not in fact across the street. For example, within the next six weeks we will be announcing two major new initiatives, one on a global AIDS strategy that came out of that group working very closely with NIH, HHS, and nongovernmental organizations around the community and the world, relating the scientific community and what we know to an overall foreign policy emphasis, particularly in Africa.
Second, we are going to follow that with introduction of a major program focused on infectious diseases. Both of these are extremely important initiatives that should be part of a foreign policy on the population side. Some of that relates to the scientific and population research community. How do we embed the ethic of focusing on stabilization of population in each embassy, into the mission of each ambassador around the world, and of cooperation between USAID, USIA, and the State Department? We are moving in that direction, and that is a lot stronger today than it was a year ago, two years ago, or three years ago. So I strongly disagree with the assumptions of the question.
If, however, the base of the question is, do we have the funding necessary to do this kind of a job, obviously the answer is no. It is becoming a more and more difficult to maintain the kind of support necessary not only to maintain our current momentum but to increase it as it should be increased.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS Questions
The perception of scarcity seems to be a leading cause of conflict, regardless of actual levels of abundance. Does this perception of scarcity motivate an identification of "out groups" to justify garnering resources for oneself? Can we mediate this perception of scarcity, and if so, how?
Social stress generated by concern for the environment is in cases imposing great financial burdens to address "problems" which have no real scientific basis. What initiatives can social scientists take to foster the education of societies to adopt risk-based versus emotionally-based priorities for environmental protection and restoration?
"In-group, out-group" dynamics are well understood at all levels of society. Is it also clear that the dynamic becomes more intense as resources become scarcer? It is hard to be generous when you are poor. How will we move academic concerns out of the ivy tower and into more intense application of our long-standing understanding?
DAVID A. HAMBURG Answers
There is a lot there. Before I try to answer any of that, let me add a coda to Tim's response. I feel obliged to say that the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government recommended a science advisor to the Secretary of State, and I think we will probably make another run at that problem before long.
There is a great richness embedded in those three questions, and I cannot possibly do justice to them. It certainly is true that the perception of scarcity is a very important exacerbating factor and intensifies the dynamic of "in-group, out-group" tensions. Political demagogues and tyrants have long known how to utilize that perception.
In a general context of perceived economic decline, it is not too difficult for a clever politician or a putative leader to inflame that by accentuating the negative, by making the case that the deprivation or the perceived scarcity is very lop-sided. It may be lop-sided, but that lop-sided character can be sharply accentuated and add much to the tensions that are involved.
These maneuvers go on all the time. In fact, if you listened this morning to so-called "talk radio" in this country, much of which is "hate" radio, you will see exactly that dynamic going on. It is a pervasive one, and I think the main antidote is a much more general understanding of the dynamics of these tensions and the way they can be artificially and dreadfully exaggerated. So that is why I think it really has to be a fundamental part of education.
Now, a rather specific proposition, mentioning "hate" radio: "Hate" radio has been used in Rwanda and Bosnia, to name two countries, to very disastrous effect, as a way of vividly dealing with perceptions of scarcity, injustice, and vulnerability. When people are feeling afraid, you turn their fear into desperation and challenge them to anger against well-specified targets.
It could be Serbs against Bosnians, or whatever you want: just fill in the blanks, but the essential dynamic is very similar around the world, and yet very little has been done. There has been some effort to undertake what you might call "reconciliation" radio.
The pervasive character of radio is really dramatic. The interior of East Africa is wall-to- wall papered with radio. There is no place in the world that you cannot reach with radio, and we have only begun to think about ways of getting information about conflict resolution and conflict prevention to masses of people through the use of radio.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS Question
David, for most of the issues that Tim raised, their management depends on our ability to act now on issues that will affect our children or great-great-great-grandchildren and our ability to basically care about the future. Are we such an adrenaline-driven species that we will always have to wait for crises to act? Will we ever be able to develop the means to anticipate and act early?
DAVID A. HAMBURG Answer
At one time when I was deeply involved in evolutionary research, I searched the then- existing evidence as to whether long-range foresight was a part of our heritage, and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that it was not. I could not find evidence that our ancestors over millions of years adapted very much to the kind of long-range time scale that we are now faced with. By and large, our ancestors did not have the capacity to destroy the environment, even if they intended to do so. Now we are just "lucky;" we can do it.
I think it is a wrenching psychological transition for our species to take the kind of long- time horizon that we simply have to take now, to recognize impending dangers and the inadvertent damage that we can do and are doing to the environment. I think that needs a lot more attention, and for some cultural reasons that I certainly do not understand, we seem to have a harder time in this country with the long-time horizon than some of the other major democracies in the world do. I do not understand why that should be the case, but I think we need to face up to it.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS Summary
Thank you. As I listened to both talks, a line of Gregory Bateson's kept echoing in my head, which I will leave with you. It is a wonderful one, I think. He wrote that the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way man thinks. I think it is probably applicable to both talks we heard. I want to thank both of our speakers.
TIMOTHY E. WIRTH Summary
Jessica, can I make one brief comment? We believe there are four priority issues which we face: (1) Population stabilization, (2) climate change, (3) biodiversity, and (4) the extraordinary spread of persistent organic pollutants around the world. I think these are the four fundamental issues. Each one of these has the long-term scale that Jessica is referring to.
I come out of an institution where two years is a long-term planning cycle. These are ones that really demand us to think more broadly, and we cannot do that without your help. We ca not focus on climate change without clear messages and understanding of what the evidence shows put in a way that is understandable to the public. That is a problem that we have, and it is a problem that Alan Bromley in the previous Administration had.
We cannot bring about population stabilization without your help, both in looking long-term at contraceptive research as well as at the very kind of social science that David was talking about.
Concerning biodiversity, can you imagine the country saying we are not going to send John Wesley Powell to explore the West, or Lewis and Clark to explore the country? That is what we are doing now, in terms of the biological survey; we need that information, we need your help, and we need your engagement.
On the question of organic compounds moving around the world and threatening our very reproductive capability, we need your help desperately. We need it not only in terms of a scientific base, but also in terms of helping us to explain to our publics why these issues are important. If we do not have that kind of explanation as to why they are important, there is no way we are going to be able to take a long-term perspective which we are trying to do at this meeting and overall in this Administration.
I really wanted to jump in on that question, Jessica, because in many ways it summarizes what this conference is all about. It is your expertise, your knowledge, and your engagement in these kinds of issues that help us to take a longer-term perspective that goes beyond the next election and can help to explain to the American public where their taxpayers' dollars are going and why.
Return to Forum Homepage
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore