Peace Research Is Value-Oriented


Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service

Imagine you are sick and visit a doctor. He takes your temperature, pulse, listens to your lungs and looks at your tongue. Then he tells you, “You have a very interesting disease, I will write it up in my next scientific publication.” You ask, “But don’t you have a cure for me?” The doctor protests, “Oh no, I am objective! I simply observe, I do not intervene.”

This is how Johan Galtung demonstrated the absurdity of the claim of many political scientists that all science must be “value-free” (or of “war correspondents” that their job is simply to report the facts). They claim that peace researchers portray the world the way in which they wish it would be, rather than how it really is. Nothing is further from the truth.

There is nothing wrong with a goal-oriented science, like medical science and peace research. It does indeed have a preference for peace over war, but it is not alone in this respect. Medicine also has a preference for health over disease, and yet it must be strictly scientific if it is to serve the goal of promoting health. If a scientist–as has happened–paints black spots on tissue samples of mice in an effort to “prove” his hypothesis of the origin of cancer, he does not advance, but harms human health. To achieve a goal, it is necessary to be strictly scientific.

Another value-oriented science is engineering. A physicist may study how a bridge collapses under a heavy weight, which point breaks first and how the process unfolds. An engineer will want to use this insight to design a bridge that will not collapse. A biologist may study how an organ decays under the influence of microbes. A medical researcher will use that insight to develop ways to prevent or cure disease. Similarly, while political scientists and historians may study why and how countries went to war, a peace researcher will want to make use of these discoveries to develop ways to prevent or end wars. Being scientific and value-oriented is not incompatible. On the contrary, to achieve a goal, we must use scientific methods of careful observation and learning from facts. To say that because engineering has a goal it is therefore unscientific is nonsense. The same is true about peace research.

The well-known international lawyer Richard Falk once said, “The greatest utopians are those who call themselves realists, because they falsely believe that we can survive the nuclear age with politics as usual. The true realists are those who recognize that we need new approaches.”


Dietrich Fischer, born in 1941 in Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. 1986-88 he was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University. He has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities and been a consultant to the United Nations.

Excerpted from Dietrich Fischer’s Stories to Inspire You – TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Aug 2015.

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