As one might guess from our organization's name, the Student Pugwash network is our core program, and most important expression of our mission: "Empower and equip students and young professionals to identify, critically analyze, and shape ethical, policy, and societal dimensions of science and technology."
Student Pugwash programs and events bring together students at institutions ranging from high school to postgrad and professional schools, for programs and events that feature engaging presentations, interesting debate, and the kinds of questions you find yourself thinking about hours or weeks afterwards. Our students are inquisitive, opinionated, passionate, and either well-informed or seeking to become so.
What we cover:
- Any ethical issue in science and technology, which can include the basic underpinnings of the topic (e.g., whether it's ethical to change the genome of a human in a way that affects future generations), through the anticipated outcomes of the topic (e.g., the ethical implications if genome editing is available to the wealthy but not the poor). Topics can be presented in a way that are appropriate for beginners, or complex enough for a graduate seminar—but in general, a Pugwash event is structured so the anticipated audience can keep up, and leaves with more information and more to think about than when it began.
- We have a specific focus on science and technology that could lead to dangers to or the extinction of humanity, which is the mission of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, our namesake.
- Both of these topics are presented using the Pugwash Approach: all opinions are welcome so long as they're backed up by scientific and factual accuracy. Everyone can bring their own ethical perspective, and everyone is free to be persuaded or not by the presentation and discussions—we don't dictate the conclusions you draw. But a Pugwash discussion follows logical structure and cites science and facts as evidence. For example, in the 1980s we held events debating the existence of climate change and whether it was anthropogenic. Now the evidence is in, and this is not a valid Pugwash debate, but what we should do about it certainly is.
- We don't just talk about these topics. We train and organize our student and Rotblat members to be more effective advocates for the Pugwash approach, and to become activists for whatever conclusions they draw from Pugwash debate and discussion.
We are nonpartisan: Due to our mission and our legal nonprofit status, we don't engage in partisan politics. It's fine for a chapter to discuss either the Green New Deal or why fossil fuels must continue to be used, and it's fine for that discussion to note which politicians support which approaches, and then to decide that one particular approach is best. But the next step, "therefore you should vote for or support that person" is where the line is drawn. However, when student members decide they want to take action on their discussions, if we're not allowed to do your kind of activism we can connect you with someone who does in our Alliances of other organizations.
We are open and respectful: Likewise, we promote ethical considerations on our topics, but not which ethical standards to adopt. For example, historically most of our members have been pro-environment, even before such issues were mainstream, and that's pretty much the same now. But if you're at a Pugwash discussion and you wish to promote burning all the oil because you think we'll be able to clean everything up twenty years from now, so long as you're making a cogent argument and listening to facts that dispute your position, you're on topic for Pugwash. In fact, providing a venue for respectful and science-based divergences of opinion from the norm is one of the more important things we do—with emphasis on respectful and science-based. Those promoting conventional wisdom and more common positions should also come ready to be respectful and hear facts that may upset their worldview.
However, those who come looking for an argument that will deliberately disrupt a meeting should go elsewhere; we sometimes attract a few antisocial nutbars who are not open to facts that cause cognitive dissonance, and our doors are not open to them.
We promote lifetime engagement: Student Pugwash is the primary program of Student Pugwash USA, and for our first forty years, was our only program. We started the Rotblat Society, our general membership program, primarily in order to improve the resources and networks we can make available to our student members. All Student Pugwash members are automatically members of the Rotblat Society, which is intended to mix students with general members further along in their careers, to provide valuable information sharing and networking for everyone concerned. Likewise, having two groups provides a place for graduating students to land, so they can continue their Pugwash activities in their careers and in their communities.
As for the specifics of what Student Pugwash members do, since we're membership-driven and anyone can propose a program, the range of activities is up to their imagination. If you're already pretty convinced, just go ahead and join.