The Peace Science Digest: Offering Peaceful Alternatives To War

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” (Ingsoc)

In an era where information is freely available in developed countries, watching the news sometimes feels like Hate Week in Oceania. There is a war or a hostile situation to fret about for every day of the week. Western freedom is constantly at risk and the solution always seems to be throwing stronger and more deadly force at the problem.

This brings me to this week’s discussion with David Prater, Program Manager at the War Prevention Initiative. This organization recently started publishing the Peace Science Digest, a platform that aims to provide “analysis and access to the top research in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies.”

David, currently wrapping up a Master’s in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University, has immersed himself in this field, drawing from both practical experience as a navigation officer working for the Department of Defense in multiple locations around the world, and from his critical learning in academia. Aside from him being a close friend, what I find particularly compelling about this publication is the goal: to actively offer people information about intelligent alternatives to war.

He took some time to talk more about the Peace Science Digest, the publication’s objectives, and some of the challenges tagged onto the field in today’s hyper-connected digital climate.

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Can you tell us about how the idea for Peace Science Digest came about?

The original idea for the Peace Science Digest came from speaking with colleagues and other like-minded professionals about the lack of communication between the academic and practitioner communities in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies. As with most scientific disciplines, the slow migration of academic knowledge into practical application becomes a limiting factor in a field’s growth, impact and the overall effectiveness of its practitioners.

We really wanted to find a better way to bridge the important work being conducted by these two communities. Based on past attempts and the opinions of our peers, it seemed like a research digest could be an effective method to make that happen.

Peace Science tells us that people aren’t wired to support war, but the vast majority of media outlets and the rhetoric of public officials often make it seem like war is the last resort and therefore our only option.

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What are the biggest blocks you face when opening the floor to findings and actionable solutions to the ongoing notion of war to public opinion?

One of the biggest problems we see is the relative unfamiliarity most of us hold about the many, more effective alternatives to war. Some of the research analyzed in the Digest actually digs into this topic: that when the public is actually made aware of alternatives to war, there is a substantial decline in war support.

Peace Science tells us that people aren’t wired to support war, but the vast majority of media outlets and the rhetoric of public officials often make it seem like war is the last resort and therefore our only option.

In the debut issue of the digest, all of the articles thread in some conversation points that can be uncomfortable – specifically, the potential role of cell phones in the organization of violent groups, the presence of oil in countries in the midst of civil wars where third-party intervention comes into play.

These aren’t easy arguments to make in the face of our current social climate – which is always aggravated by social media and the ludicrous horseshit that politicians will say to stir and appease their audience.

How difficult is it to address topics like this, given the times we’re in?

Absolutely. A lot of the work being done in the field is contrary to the beliefs and norms we learn from the media and our public officials, but this is why it is so important to get this information out there. An informed constituency is one of the most important building blocks of a peaceful society.

I know that the Peace Science Digest won’t be able to reach everyone, but the more people made aware of the important, scientifically proven, findings that address these tough (and often uncomfortable) questions, the closer we get to seeing real change in controversial issues regarding war and violent conflict.

Its great that you mentioned the mobile phone article, too. Bailard’s (who wrote the article) research pointed to some surprising links between the communication advantages provided by cell phones and their utility to organize violent conflict in some cases. However, one of the aspects of the Digest I am most proud of is the Relevance/Talking Points/Practical Application section included after every analysis, where we talk about what this research means to various communities and provide brief, actionable take-aways to continue the conversation.

This is especially important with controversial or surprising articles such as the mobile phone analysis you mentioned because technology has played a huge role in contributing to nonviolent movements as well. Take the Arab Spring for example, the instantaneous communication provided by Twitter and texting gave organizers the ability to recruit, plan and improvise nonviolent protests in real-time, a tactic that eventually led to the success of many of the movements in region.

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What can the general public do with this knowledge to play a role in actioning change on a policy level – or at least to get behind the things that the study of Peace Science stands for?

Honestly, just maintain an open mind and talk about these important issues with your friends and coworkers.

The more we all learn about the social and economic costs of war and the viable nonviolent alternatives to conflict, the better prepared we will be to participate in the debate the next time we are faced with the question of whether or not to go to war. There are great organizations people can look into as well.

We at the War Prevention Initiative engage the public and policy makers through commentary and research, and the Institute for Economics and Peace and World Beyond War have created some amazing ways to get important information to the broader public.

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What are some of the most important things that the journal is trying to communicate?

The growing field of Peace and Conflict Studies is constantly producing significant research that often goes unnoticed by the field’s practitioners, public policy makers, the general public, and many other possible beneficiaries.

This research has proven its effectiveness and relevance to many of the problems we hear about every time we turn on the news.

By making this research available in an understandable and accessible manner to different audiences, we believe that the more people learn about the viable nonviolent alternatives to war and the ridiculous social and economic costs of violent conflict, the greater chance we will have to inform public opinion.

Some interesting findings in the research we analyze discuss various factors that have an effect on the outcome or probability of violent conflict. For example, some of our analysis goes into how democracies affect the amount of money spent on war, and the role of cell phones and social media in nonviolent conflict.

One study that really stood out to me found that a country is 100 times more likely to intervene in another country’s civil war if there is oil up for grabs. I’m fascinated by this because “going to war for oil” is such a buzz word in the media now days, but quality research featured in the Digest is actually proving these assumptions to be true.

The more we all learn about the social and economic costs of war and the viable nonviolent alternatives to conflict, the better prepared we will be to participate in the debate the next time we are faced with the question of whether or not to go to war.

Where are you getting data and studies from?

We examine the top peer reviewed academic journals in our field. Our selection of these journals is based on the knowledge and experience of a close network of academics and practitioners who have become familiar with the top publishers of this type of research.

Patrick Hiller, the Director of the War Prevention Initiative and Editor of the Peace Science Digest, holds a PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies, so we apply his in-depth knowledge of the field to filter out the top academic journals that publish the research we feature in the Digest. We also use a number of journal ranking metrics that provide us with data into the average readership and and article citations various journals produce, which helps us sort out which journals are publishing research that resonates with the most people

One of the quotes from the mission statement (It is crucial to challenge the mainstream narrative controlled by war proponents, who work tirelessly to conceal nonviolent alternatives between going to war, or doing nothing at all. (Tom Hastings, Peace Scientist)”.

Can you tell us a bit about how you’re approaching this and some of the challenges you face in a world that has gone media bananas?

Haha, definitely. Tom is an incredible man and a very important voice in our field. He writes a lot about public intellectualism, and how there is a desperate need for our professors, practitioners, and other knowledgeable professionals to engage the media and become more present in the public debate.

He also founded the peace and justice op-ed distribution service PeaceVoice which feeds the informed opinions from our field to more than 4,000 newspaper editorials in the U.S.

Our universities house a vast network of brilliant people, that are often infinitely more informed than your typical news pundit. The challenge is overcoming the barriers we have built between the pubic and the academic communities so that these important voices can be heard. We hope the Peace Science Digest contributes to getting those voices and findings out to larger audiences so that more people can make use of this important body of knowledge.