Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

Status message

You are currently in UIA's online document archive. These pages are no longer maintained. To search the full archive click here.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !


A project of this scope, based on a multiplicity of sources of information, necessarily contains errors of the following kinds:

  • Errors of content, due to the sources of information used;
  • Errors of interpretation, due to the manner of selection and representation of the information used by the editors;
  • Errors of typography and form;
  • Errors arising from the process of selecting and registering cross-references;
  • Errors arising from circumstances unforeseen in the design of the many computer programmes through which the data has been processed.

Considerable editorial effort has been made to reduce the number of trivial formal errors, but it has not been considered feasible to eliminate all of them within the resources and time available.

With regard to substantive errors, many of the entries on world problems, for example, contain information from one international group which some other international group would consider erroneous. In this sense this book documents the "erroneous" perceptions of many international constituencies in the eyes of others. Often one groups's truth is an other group's error. It is such incompatible perceptions which are documented.

Through each successive edition, the editors have attempted to respond to error in the spirit advocated by Donald Michael:

"Changing towards long-range social planning requires that, instead of avoiding exposure to and acknowledgement of error, it is necessary to expect it, to seek out its manifestations, and to use information derived from the failure as the basis for learning through future societal experiment. More bluntly, future-responsive societal learning makes it necessary for individuals and organizations to embrace error. It is the only way to ensure a shared self-consciousness about limited theory as to the nature of social dynamics, about limited data for testing theory, and hence about our limited ability to control our situation well enough to expect to be successful more often than not." ("On the requirement for embracing error" In: On Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn. 1973).

1. Inconsistencies

The information collected in the Encyclopedia, and especially in the world problems section, is derived from a very wide range of sources. These reflect many levels of insight and expertise, as well as many cultures, ideologies, beliefs, priorities and biases. No attempt has been made to eliminate inconsistencies, although incompatible items have been treated as separate entries where appropriate. For example, both "capitalism" and "communism" are treated as world problems.

2. Juxtaposition

This Encyclopedia is deliberately organized in such a way as to juxtapose bodies of information which are normally kept apart. The hard reality of the "world problems" section is counterbalanced by various sections highlighting human values and development. Within both the strategies and the world problems section, for example, "counter-claims" are given (where such information is available) questioning or denying the facts presented in the description.

3. Perceptions

Wherever possible the information is compiled using extracts from documents of international bodies, whether governmental or non-governmental, formal or informal. In this sense the information may be viewed as "factual". Given the different interpretations of these "facts" however, the information presented, especially in the case of world problems, can best be viewed as a collection of perceptions with which significant international constituencies identify strongly in advocating (or resisting) any social change. The Encyclopedia provides an overview of the world's hopes and worries, whether real or imaginary -- and of the strategies envisaged in response to such concerns.

4. Editorial intervention

In honouring the biases active in the international community in this way, the editors have limited themselves to ensuring that the texts in the main sections, especially on world problems, make their point strongly and in as clear and concise a manner as the available material permits. In this period of imminent crisis, the editors have however accepted the need for a higher level of risk in exploring innovative possibilities. Some of the smaller sections are therefore the result of deliberate editorial experiments in gleaning and presenting information to highlight such possibilities, despite the risks of inadequacy and error.

5. Editorial bias

The basic bias of the editors is against limitation of information to reflect only a single viewpoint or paradigm, whether ideological, cultural, scientific or religious. Within any such paradigm, the information here also reflects different levels of ignorance, rather than attempting only to reflect a consensus prevailing amongst an elite group of authoritative experts (whose views may be poorly received outside their own circle). The bias is therefore to include information from some constituencies which may well be judged qualitatively inferior, misleading, irresponsible, or irrelevant by some other constituency.

6. Significance

The amount of information given on any problem, for example, does not reflect an editorial evaluation of its importance. Problems commonly accepted as important may be documented only briefly. This may be because of resource limitations, because of the profusion of relatively diffuse material available on them, or because they can be more effectively documented through their sub-problems. Little-known problems may be given relatively extensive coverage precisely because their existence is not well-recognized. Inclusion of information in this publication implies only that the editors considered the source from which it derived sensitive to and capable of reflecting the views of an international constituency, and therefore as being of significance to a wider audience.

7. Naivety

Information on phenomena such as world problems, values or modes of human development is widely assumed to be relevant to the design of any new broad-based initiatives in response to the global problematique. The editors have accepted the need for a certain naivety to break through the conceptual frameworks determining the general indifference of academic and governmental authorities to any questions concerning the actual number and variety of such phenomena. In identifying such phenomena within an open framework, some entries (on which whole libraries of books have been written) must necessarily appear naive. But despite the availability of such a wealth of detailed information, to the point of overload, there is a poverty of information on how to connect together this fragmented pattern. It is to this condition that this project responds by indicating possibilities, even if at times the result appears superficial or naive.

8. Pragmatism

The continuing development of these databases (whether in book CD or on the web), within the constraints of modest resources, has been feasible only because of an extremely pragmatic approach to the collection and processing of information. Within these constraints the editors have deliberately set out to "open up", or highlight, neglected categories of information, fleshing out the content to the extent possible. Where there has been conflict between ability to locate and process adequate information (within a reasonable time period) and the elaboration of the pattern of categories, the latter has been given priority. The intention has been to provide as broad a coverage as was feasible. Hopefully, even where the information supplied is inadequate, readers will be oriented to new features of the global system which others view as meriting their attention.

9. Incidence

For many of the less well-known problems and strategies described, examples and statistics concerning incidence are more readily available from industrialized countries where freedom of information is cultivated. However the use of such data from particular countries in no way implies that the problem, for example, is absent in other countries from which data is not available. The situation there may in fact be worse.

10. Non-completion

This Encyclopedia is the product of an ongoing project to explore ways of identifying and presenting categories of information relevant to the development process as perceived by international organizations. Major refinements will therefore continue to be made to many of the sections, and to the pattern of cross-references, especially in response to feedback on inadequacies. In this sense the Encyclopedia can only be regarded as an unfinished product.

11. Solutions

This volume in no way attempts to present an editorial view of "the answer" to the world's problems. Notably through the strategies section, it may be seen as an attempt to reflect the various kinds of answer, or bases for an answer, which are favoured within the international community. The editors have however endeavoured to respond to the challenge of how to interrelate inherently incompatible answers (see Strategies Commentary). The concern has been to respond to the possibilities of formulating an appropriate meta-answer of practical significance in such paradoxical circumstances.

12. Disclaimer

In the light of the above points, the editors disclaim responsibility for the views articulated. The material presented in any particular entry endeavours to reflect the views of groups of people holding that perspective, whether or not it is consistent with views held by others, notably public, academic or religious authorities. The editors cannot therefore be held responsible for whether the information is "correct" or "factual", or for the manner in which users may choose to interpret the information presented. As a participative Encyclopedia, users are encouraged to present counter-claims to views that they consider inappropriately presented. A feedback facility is integrated for that purpose to encourage recognition of the dynampics of the controversey that is often associated with this kind of information.