Everyone should try

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  20 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6322, pp. 227
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7460

The new year brings opportunities to think creatively about finding solutions to difficult problems. It's a chance to affirm that although views may differ dramatically, we should try to work effectively with one another. My namesake believed in this. Jeremy Stone, the long-time president of the Federation of American Scientists, passed away on 1 January at the age of 81. As a graduate student, Stone attended mathematics classes taught by my father, and he and his wife Betty Jane (B.J.) Stone, also a distinguished mathematician and statistician, babysat my brother and me. Stone's career followed a remarkable and unusual path for a scientist—indeed, for anyone—and highlights how individuals with training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can contribute to society in diverse and profound ways.


A 1998 meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, focused on reducing the number of strategic warheads (shown, left to right: A. Frye, T. Hoopes, E. Habiger, J. Stone, M. Bunn, C.D. Ferguson).

At the height of the Cold War, Stone's interests shifted from mathematics to issues of war and peace. He began working on the importance of information exchange in mediating the nuclear arms race, and found the intersection between science and world diplomacy to be his life's calling. In 1970, he became president of the Federation of American Scientists (formerly the Federation of Atomic Scientists). Stone is best known for opposing the development of antiballistic missile systems. He argued that rather than promoting safety, such systems could accelerate the arms race by spurring the development of more offensive nuclear weapons. This stance eventually led to the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972 by U.S. President Richard Nixon and the Soviet Union's General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Stone went on to contribute to a number of important issues involving the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Iran, and North Korea, and also to advocate for human rights for scientists. These efforts are described in his memoir “Every Man Should Try”: Adventures of a Public Interest Activist and in Catalytic Diplomacy: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Some of the challenges in today's world are disturbingly reminiscent of those that Stone's era faced, such as nuclear weapons control and human rights protection for political dissidents. Thus, Stone's life carries important lessons for us now. He recognized the importance of interpersonal relationships in world affairs and believed that people who know each other can interact more effectively with one another than can strangers, even if their world views differ sharply. He felt that this was especially pertinent to scientists because of their common understanding of technical issues and an often-shared challenge of influencing institutions in their own countries. Stone saw a personal approach as particularly applicable to individuals outside of formal governmental roles, a concept that underlies organizations such as the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS is the publisher of Science).

Stone also emphasized the importance of creativity in developing alternatives for solving diplomatic challenges. He often questioned dogma and put forth and explored alternative strategies. The solution to difficult problems frequently involves examining a wide range of possibilities before honing in on one. In some fundamental ways, this approach mirrors the mathematics that Stone worked on, where many possible solutions are examined for feasibility before choosing the optimal one.

Jeremy Stone's career reflects how someone with scientific training can interact with scientists and engineers to understand their perspectives of how technical issues might inform policy issues. He understood the importance of communication in all forms, simplifying complicated technical issues to their essence so that policy-makers could understand the implications without being put off by the details.

Stone entitled his memoir based on a quote attributed to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” We should all recognize the impact that individuals can make and strive to do our part in the coming year.

Navigate This Article