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The role of the social sciences in East–West relations

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Abstract

This paper explores the foundations of the current system of East–West scholarly exchanges in the social sciences, beginning with the Congress for Cultural Freedom in 1950. It traces the development of the social sciences in post-war Europe to philosophical differences between Polanyi and Bernal concerning long-term planning in science. This article argues that the development of the social sciences played a part in changing attitudes and tactics of war and in establishing channels of communication between East and West.

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In 1964, two researchers at RAND, Olaf Helmer and Theodore Gordon, presented what they argued was a general theory of prediction, a theory that, Helmer boasted, would “enabl[e] us to deal with socio-economic and political problems as confidently as we do with problems in physics and chemistry.” Work had begun at RAND in the early 1960s to find a systematic and scientific approach to the future. Computers had made it possible to “amass all available information” about ongoing developments and process it in a systematic way, providing “the kind of massive data processing and interpreting capability that, in the physical sciences, created the breakthrough which led to the development of the atomic bomb.” This meant a radical shift in notions of the future, a shift that was emphasized by many of the futurists of the period. The future, Helmer stated in another assertive piece, could now be liberated from the grip of utopian fantasy and superstition and be welcomed into the halls of science.
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As an overview of discussions at two international conferences on the role of scientists in international conflict resolution, this article examines changes in the concept of the nation-state, especially in relation to European unification, and differences between the self-image of science and its achievements in practice. It explores the question of how lessons drawn from scientific cooperation in Europe after World War II can be applied to conflicts that arise increasingly from the breakup of nation-states into tribal and ethnic divisions. It surveys the experience of scientists active in international relations during and after the Cold War, with special attention to conflicts in the Balkans, the Maghreb, and the Middle East. It is argued that scientists face increasing difficulty in promoting conditions for peace based solely on scientific facts and their own presumed neutrality.
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Note the number of sociologists who contributed to the report: Raymond Aron, Ralf Dahrendorf, Franco Ferraroti, Paul Lazarsfeld, alongside Robert Oppenheimer and the French planner
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