Commentary: Reflections On Glasnost, Perestroika, and the Role of Scientists

One's first emotions about the cultural upheaval in Eastern Europe are joy and relief. Joy for freedom; relief for dramatic changes in the fundamentals of a superpower conflict that has always carried with it the possibility of nuclear war. These first emotions, of course, must be tempered by certain harsh realities, including the ethnic conflicts that have raised grave concerns about the future of perestroika. Nevertheless, great progress appears to have been made, and the role that scientists

Joshua Lederberg
Feb 18, 1990

One's first emotions about the cultural upheaval in Eastern Europe are joy and relief. Joy for freedom; relief for dramatic changes in the fundamentals of a superpower conflict that has always carried with it the possibility of nuclear war. These first emotions, of course, must be tempered by certain harsh realities, including the ethnic conflicts that have raised grave concerns about the future of perestroika. Nevertheless, great progress appears to have been made, and the role that scientists have played in this period of historic change must not be overlooked.

For the most part, their role has been to stimulate reform rather than to fuel the virtual revolution of recent months. After all, the intense passions and the attachment to electrifying slogans that are needed to mobilize crowds are a poor mix with the reflective detachment of the scientific temperament.

Furthermore, while some activists - a playwright like Czechoslovakia's Vaclav...

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