Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

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2.5 Problem exclusion

The following guidelines for problem exclusion have been used. As guidelines, exceptions are made whenever this appears appropriate. In particular, excluded classes of problems may be signalled by a single general entry, with, or without description.

1. General problems

Very general problems, such as the inadaptability of man to change, have been considered for inclusion if they have been precisely formulated. A number of widespread problems common to any form of organized action are also considered as general problems, as will be clear from the points below. These include problems of inadequate finance, training, knowledge, etc.

2. Operational problems (routine)

The normal operational problems of a problem-solving organizational system have not been included. This means that no problems which arise (are encountered and solved) as part of normal technical, academic, research, legal, administrative, or political activity (namely "contained" problems) have been considered. This includes: institutional development, technology development, programme or process implementation, and operation and maintenance of equipment and services.

However, whilst the problem of obtaining spare parts for maintaining a particular machine or group of machines (eg agricultural machinery) would normally not be considered, it may be considered if, as in the developing countries, this is recognized as an important obstacle to industrialization. In that case it would be considered as a general problem for developing countries.

Normal operational constraints, such as political problems, human resource problems, resource availability problems, and problems of public acceptance, have also been excluded, except as general problems.

In the case of problems of the supply of resources, these have only been considered if the resource in question was a basic item (eg cereals, construction materials, etc) and not a luxury item.

3. Operational problems (insoluble)

Insoluble operational problems, whether institution, technology, or concept dependent have not been considered as such.

4. Institutional change problems

Problems of institution building, management (including intra-organizational coordination), financing, and adaptation have not been considered as such. However, some consideration has been given to problems relating to inadaptability of institutions, or the inadequacy of financing, or the lack of management skills, but only as general problems. Although problems of building specific institutions have not been considered, some consideration has been given to the problems of specific institutions of world importance (such as the United Nations) or to types of institutions (such as transnational corporations).

5. Structural modification problems

Problems of changing attitudes, technology, institutions, or legislation have been considered only as general problems.

6. Coordination problems

Problems of coordination between institutions, between disciplines, between regions, or between sectors have been considered only as general problems and not in relation to specific disciplines, institutions, regions, or sectors. The exception made for institutions concerned the major international systems (eg United Nations, intergovernmental organizations in general, and international nongovernmental organizations in general). The exceptions made for regions concerned the relation between developed and developing countries, and between the major power blocs.

7. Planning problems

Problems of evaluation of objectives, strategy formulation, and resource allocation have been considered only as general problems. Problems of choosing between alternative courses of action have not been considered.

8. Compatibility problems

Problems of equipment standardization, compatibility of procedures and legislation, or problems of language in this context, have not been considered except as general problems.

9. Interaction problems

Problems of an inter-cultural, inter-ethnic, inter-faith, inter-ideology, or similar kind, have only been considered as general problems.

10. Consensus-formation problems

Problems such as that of mobilizing opinion, freedom of information, freedom of association, and over- simplification of issues, have only been considered as general problems.

11. Knowledge storage problems

Problems of language, technology, semantics, and cost, in relation to knowledge storage, retrieval and dissemination have only been considered as general problems.

12. Communication problems

Problems of language, technology, semantics, and cost, in relation to communication in general and public information in particular have only been considered as general problems.

13. Data usage problems

Problems of undemocratic control of data, invasion of privacy, and commercial abuse of collected data have only been considered as general problems.

14. Operational side effects

Problems arising from the deterioration of the natural environment and the normal operations of institutions and industries have been considered in detail with an effort to locate suitable cut-off points for nested problems.

15. Professional problems

The problems internal to a profession, as perceived by its members, have not been considered. However, those problems created by its activities, as perceived by outsiders, have.

16. Controversies

Controversies may be treated as resulting from the conflict between different schools of thought, applying their respective disciplines, over some unresolved and challenging issue (M Dascal, 1989). The existence controversy may signal the presence of a problem of interest here, but this is not necessarily the case, especially when the controversy is primarily over methodological rather than substantive issues. In the sense of interest here a controversy marks the defiance of a threatening real world issue in response to attempts to encompass it with the available disciplines.

17. Problems of belief

Problems of belief as such have not been considered although general problems such as evil, superstition and animism have been included, as well as extremes of belief such as fundamentalism and fanaticism. Problems of protecting or promoting a particular belief were not considered unless the belief related to human rights or other beliefs relating directly to societal problems.

18. Moral dilemmas

In moral discourse this may refer to several distinct situations of moral conflict and perplexity:

    (a) when there is some evidence that an act is morally right or obligatory and some evidence that it is wrong;

    (b) there is conclusive evidence that an act is both morally right or obligatory and morally wrong; and

    (c) the moral reasons for (or against) an act are in conflict with nonmoral reasons against (or for) an act.

Problems are not included as dilemmas, but dilemmas may be associated with problems that are included for other reasons.

Extracts from commentaries to Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


19. Institutional protection problems

Problems of protecting existing procedures or institutions (other than the general problem of security) have not been considered unless such procedures were designed to protect human rights or other matters relating directly to societal problems. (Thus school absenteeism was not considered as a problem for schools but rather as a problem for the child or for society.)

20. Conflict problems

Territorial, political, and industrial disputes (including war) have not been considered individually (eg civil war has been considered as a problem but not individual civil wars).

21. Anti-group problems

Problems documented by one group of bodies as being caused by the dangerous activity of another group have not been considered unless recognized by the United Nations. Thus the problem of the existence and activity of a particular named capitalist or communist institution, for example, have not been considered, although the general problem of capitalism and communism to which they relate have been considered.

22. For-profit problems

Technical problems defined as an open challenge, with prize money offered to the solver (as in the case of man-powered flight, for example) have not been included. However "sponsored" problems, deliberately created in secret by a group in order to derive commercial or political profit from "solving" them would be included (eg bugging and bomb attacks by security firms, new diseases by pharmaceutical corporations, semi-addictive additives by food and beverage corporation, vulnerable varieties of seed by seed corporations).

23. Action obstacles arising from specific objectives

When a specific programme or objective is defined, problems are perceived as obstacles to its achievement. Such problems have not been included, unless they are common to many programmes or objectives. Examples of those excluded are:

(a) Problems affecting the progress of tourism in the developing countries are not included if they only relate to tourism.

(b) Problems of river development, such as improving hydrological services, improving analytical tools in water resource utilization, and encouraging scientific and technical investigation are not included.

The following quotations illustrate some problems of this kind that were not, for the purposes of this volume, considered for inclusion:

An immediate problem was the most-favoured-nation principle...

� The prevention of human rights violations was therefore a world-wide problem

� One basic problem is to break with the traditional belief that a national policy for children should be confined to dealing with the under-privileged and handicapped

� EEC spending and expansion problems

� The importance of the problem of the relationship between over-all and industrial programming derives from certain essential considerations

� The problem of intermittence (of power demand) may, however, be over-stressed and with it the storage of energy...

� If you have money to invest: you have a problem

24. Technological problems

Problems of application of research to solve some urgent technical problem have not been considered. For example:

(a) the problem of economic desalination of sea-water;

(b) the problems of adapting man to space travel;

(c) the problem of machine translation of texts;

(d) the problem of extraction of energy from the fusion process.


25. Measurement problems

Problems of quantifiability, data collection and comparability have not been considered. This means that problems such as the following have been excluded:

(a) the problem of measuring poverty;

(b) problems of quantifying the effects of special preferences;

(c) problems of the lack of suitable monitoring instruments for environmental pollutants.

The only exception is the general problem of comparability of statistics.

26. Research or scientific problems

Problems of research, methodology, and analysis have not been considered, as with theoretical problems in general (eg Hilbert's list of 23 outstanding unsolved problems for mathematicians in 1900), and problems of paradigm change. However some attention has been given to the general problems of inadequate concepts, logical or semantic fallacies, irresponsible research, or research which legitimates some abuse of human rights.

Different kinds of research have in fact been distinguished by Gunnar Boalt on the basis of the relationship between the problems considered and the theory in question:

(a) the problem independent, not associated with the theory;

(b) the problem independent, with a secondary association with theory, which is of lesser importance;

(c) the problem is of about equal importance with the theory used;

(d) the problem is of some interest, but the theory is of more interest;

(e) the problem consists of the testing of a theory.

Only the first two categories would merit consideration for inclusion here as problems of possible world importance.

A useful distinction between in-house research problems and social systemic problem is illustrated by the remarks of T S Kuhn (as quoted in an earlier Note on Problem disguises and problem evasion).

27. Regional problems

Problems specific to particular regions (eg "drought in the Sahel") are excluded or incorporated into more general problems (eg "drought") or possibly into more general sub-problems (eg "drought in developing countries" or "drought in arid zones") if this seems appropriate. Regional problems may be included for generalized regions as "developing countries", "tropical zones", but not for specific continental, geopolitical or geosocial regions (eg Africa, Caribbean).