Institute Professor Philip Morrison and Kosta Tsipis, former Director of the Program in Science and Technology for International Security, stuck with their optimistic view of the future for humanity despite a bit of tweaking by a talk-radio host and worried probing by audience members during a recent event to celebrate the publication of their new book, Reason Enough to Hope: America and the World of the Twenty-First Century (MIT Press).
In the book, the two scientists outline their approach to problems of security and development in the post-Cold War era. Both men have expertise in arms control issues.
The radio presence, Christopher Lydon, served as moderator for the evening. Mr. Lydon, who hosts The Connection on WBUR, a daily discussion of current events, opened on a characteristic note by asking, "Reason Enough to Hopeï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Who would have thought hope would come from MIT?"
In responding, Dr. Tsipis first cited the inspiration and guidance of former MIT President Jerome Wiesner, whom the authors credit with being their "decisive but silenced partner" in producing Reason Enough. He also noted that John F. Kennedy and Professor Wiesner together are a "lasting monument to lower, slower nuclear fallout levels."
Mr. Lydon persisted. "There's a consistently euphoric thread in your book. Where does it come from? What is its mainspring?"
Professor Morrison: "The broad sweep of history shows what we can do if we try hardï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ to achieve a reasonably peaceful existence in the surround of friends and family.''
Mr. Lydon: "You sound like a stock seller."
Professor Morrison: "Read the book and stop teasing us about what's inside."
Dr. Tsipis, whose recent research interests include global programs for removing land mines, summarized the scientists' basis for hope: the slowdown of invention of nuclear weapons, the slowdown of the rate of human population growth and the end of the Cold War.
Threats to a reasonably peaceful life include large-scale war; the "huge asymmetry" in control of resources (one-fifth of the world's population consumes four-fifths of the world's goods and services), and environmental crises. Thus, the new book offers a "blue sky, partly cloudy" view of the future, Dr. Tsipis noted.
Professor Morrison added the perspective of both authors on recent history. "We remember WWII. Partly, it's generational--we saw what we did--science and unrestrained warfare of nation states can't go on."
In response to audience questions focused on world events, Professor Morrison commented, "States will come and go. What we try to push is the tendency to do these things peacefully."
The event, held in the Wong Auditorium, was organized by MIT Press and the MIT Libraries as part of the "authors@mit" series.
In this year's final "authors@mit" event, Robert Solow, Institute Professor emeritus and winner of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1987, admitted that yes, he had once described economists as intellectual sanitation workers.
"Our job is to clear up the really nutty ideas that are always out there," he said.
Professor Solow devoted the first part of a 40-minute evening talk in Rm 10-250 to debunking nutty but popular notions about how welfare recipients who are mothers feel about work. Looking back to President Clinton's welfare reform bill, known as workfare, he included himself among the nutty.
"My own knee-jerk reaction was against it," he said, referring to the program to substitute work for welfare. "I thought it was kicking people when they're down--the great American sport.''
But actual data, in the form of extensive interviews with welfare recipients, changed his view, and Professor Solow portrayed the benefits and costs of workfare to working mothers and the industrious working poor with compassion for these groups and with frustration at the federal government.
"What we need to take more seriously is improving the labor market prospects of people who fill low-wage jobs in the US," he said.
Other topics introduced by Professor Solow included the relationship between unemployment and inflation; the relative independence of the Federal Reserve; the role of central banks in Europe and especially Germany; and the potentially worrisome effect of an unmeasured and unmeasurable international drug trade.
Professor Solow spoke as part of an event to celebrate the publication of his new book, Monopolistic Competition and Macroeconomic Theory (Cambridge University Press). His talk was based on two earlier books, Work and Welfare (Princeton University Press) and Inflation, Unemployment and Monetary Policy (MIT Press).
Finally, we have an official name for the complex of buildings to house the computer, information and intelligence sciences, to be built on the site of Building 20 and to be named after Ray and Maria Stata.
The new complex will be called the Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, or the Stata Center for short.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 9, 1998.