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 These pages are no longer maintained.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 !

Entry content and organization

Ordering of entries

Entry numbers have been allocated randomly; they have no significance other than as a permanent point of reference to facilitate indexing, cross-referencing, and updating between editions.  Entries in the book version are in numeric order.

Index access to entries

In the book, the location of an entry in this sub-section may be determined from the Volume Index (Section PX) on the basis of keywords in the name of the entry or its alternate titles.



Structure of entries

Entries may be composed of the following descriptive elements:

  • Entry number: This number has no significance, except as a convenient method of identifying the entry (particularly for indexing purposes), of filing information on it, and as an identifier to which cross-references from other entries (possibly in other Encyclopedia Sections) may refer in this and future editions. The first letter of the entry number refers to the section of this volume in which the sub-section, denoted by the second letter, is located.
  • Problem name: The name selected as best indicating the nature of the problem. This is printed in bold characters. It may be followed by alternative problem names.

    • Unless unambiguously a problem (eg tuberculosis), a problem name must include at least one word establishing its problematic nature (eg  Discrimination against ethnic minorities; Alienation of youth; Unjust peace).
    • When other information is lacking, "name-only problems" provide a location for future descriptive information; a name also enables cross-references to be made from and to other problems, even in the absence of text.
    • Alternative names are included to hold keyword synonyms through which the problem may also be known. These may include colloquial or shorthand expressions.
    • See extended comments on problem naming, as well as on concept refinement and related challenges of language games.
  • Websites: A selection of relevant websites containing further information (where available).

    • Priorities should be given to international organizations specifically preoccupied with the problem except where the organization is already cross-referenced in the entry.
    • Other useful websites provide fact sheets, URL indexes, web resource pages, treaty texts, bibliographies and online references.
    • Website references can provisionally substitute for absent descriptive text.
  • Nature: Description of the problem which attempts to identify the nature of the disruptive processes involved.

    • The information included here and in following paragraphs is compiled directly, to the extent possible, from available published documents in the public domain. Much of it is reproduced, in a minimally edited form, from the publications of international organizations, such as those of the United Nations or its Specialized Agencies.
    • Descriptions emphasise the essential problematic nature of the problem, sharply focussed, rather than discursive theoretical, philosophical or administrative ways of approaching the problem.
    • Where the problem is in a hierarchy, care must be taken that information common to the entire hierarchy is placed in the broadest problem and not repeated in each narrower problem; conversely, that details of specific problems are not lost in vague and unfocused descriptions at higher levels.  No attempt should be made to develop a vague description at a broader level when the problem can be better explicated through descriptions of its narrow problems.
    • Length of description may vary considerably.  It is a function of the importance of the problem and the quality of the available text:  namely, no matter how important the problem, avoid extensive, unfocused descriptions; conversely no matter how good the text, avoid length especially if the problem is very specialized.  Exceptions may be made for problems that are rarely documented elsewhere or poorly understood.
    • Widely experienced, complex or multi-dimensional problems, such as war, do not lend themselves to useful descriptions.
  • Background: Describes the history of how the problem's importance was first recognized and subsequently understood.

    • If the description under "Nature" is rather long, consider transferring portions of it into "Background".
  • Incidence: Summary description of the extent of the problem which makes it of more than national significance.

    • Incidence should preferably reflect world-wide scope.  However, good information on world-wide incidence may be rare, or out of date, expecially in the case of problems that are difficult to quantify and/or are principally based on subjective judgements.
    • In many cases, good information on a problem may only be available in one or two countries where research and reporting have been undertaken.  When it is acknowledged that the problem also exists in other countries, such single country data may be used as an example to substantiate wider incidence.
    • Where a problem is recognized in different ways or in different regions of the world, then the description of incidence can usefully be done in separate paragraphs under appropriate regional or geopolitical headings (eg developing countries).
    • It is not useful to give too many statistics, particularly if they are dated or date quickly.  Indicative information is better that none where authenticated information is not available.
    • Exaggerated or unsubstantiated reporting from interested parties should preferably be used in the "Claim/Counterclaim".
  • Claim: Stresses, in the language of protagonists and vested interests, the special importance of this problem and why action is particularly urgent.

    • This text may deliberately exaggerate claims for the unique importance of the problem, as found in statements generated for public relations, press release, fundraining and budget protection purposes, for example.
    • Claims should preferably be pithy, for example "Some war criminals were tried in such a way that only 30 seconds was devoted to each crime they had committed".
    • Numbering claims conveys appreciation of their heterogenous source.
  • Counter-claim: Stresses the relative insignificance or erroneous conception of the problem as described in the previous paragraphs.

    • Use for well-reasoned statements showing how the problem is a false problem, non-existent, poorly formulated or analyzed by its protagonists, unsusbstantiated or merely subjective or misunderstood.
    • Can also be a critique of the problem as described, drawing attention to hidden assumptions or blind spots in its formulation.  This is expecially valuable in the case of perceptions arising from alternative ideologies.
    • This text may deliberately exaggerate the arguments refuting the evidence for the existence of the problem.
    • Counter-claims are not easy to locate since they are seldom given in the documents of those most preoccupied by the problem.  Absence of such arguments from the text does not mean that they do not exist.



Cross-referencing of entries

At the end of any entry, there may be cross-references to other entries. These indicate the number and name of the cross- referenced entry, whether within this Section or in other Sections. There are 3 types of hierarchical cross-references between problems in the database, and 4 types of functional cross-references between problems.

It is possible to isolate vicious cycles of problems. A cycle is a chain of problems, each aggravating the next -- with the last looping back to aggravate the first in the chain. The more obvious loops may be composed of only 3 or 4 problems. Far less obvious are those composed of 7 or more.

Such cycles are vicious because they are self-sustaining. Identifying them is also no easy matter and computers are being used for this purpose. Serendipitous loops of problems that reduce one another are also possible, but rarer.

Relationships between problems, other than hierarchical ones, are included either where they were specifically mentioned in the available documents or where they could be reasonably inferred from such material. It is rare for documents to be systematic in their description of the relationships between problems. Relationship networks have to be built up from several different sources. Often it is not clear whether the relationship applies for the whole of a problem hierarchy or for only some component part. There is a continuing effort to refine such networks, but even when a relationship is contentious the practice is to retain the relationship provisionally rather than exclude it and lose a  potential link.  This said, it is generally easier to criticize errors of commission than to undertake the extra effort to remedy errors of omission. There are also cross-references to other databases:

  • Broader: More general problem of which the problem described may be considered a part. The described problem may be considered an aspect of one or more broader problems. (In the example below, Endangered marine birds has two broader problems: Endangered birds and Endangered marine animals, not shown). Care is taken to ensure that a problem is not linked directly to a problem that is too broad (see example below: Endangered birds is not the preferred broader problem of Endangered spotted owl -- when Endangered birds of prey is a direct intermediary link). Another example: Torture might be an aspect of both Cruelty to living beings (notion of pain) and Infringement of human rights (legal notion).
  • Narrower: More specific problem which may be considered a part of the described problem. Care is taken to ensure that a problem is not linked directly to a problem that is too narrow (see example below: Extermination of whales is not the preferred narrower problem of Endangered mammals --when Endangered marine mammals is a direct intermediary link).
  • Related: A problem that is associated in a hierarchically undefined way with the described problem. Care is taken to ensure that a problem is not linked directly to a problem that is too distantly related (see example below: Endangered marine mammals is related directly to Endangered marine birds --but not directly related to Endangered freshwater birds). The related category may also be used as a temporary catch-all in those exceptional cases when the relationship cannot immediately be expressed through any of the other cross-reference types.

      • Endangered birds

        • Endangered birds of prey

          • Endangered spotted owl
        • Endangered marine birds
        • Endangered freshwater birds
      • Endangered  reptiles
      • Endangered  fish
      • Endangered  mammals

        • Endangered marine mammals

          • Extermination of whales

      Clarifying complex hierarchies may usefully serve to point to absent problems.  The number of levels it is worth including in the hierarchy is a matter of judgement. Clearly the more there are, the greater the risk of "opening up" excessively detailed problems for which no descriptive information is readily available. Hierarchies are indicative but not definitive; relationships are subject to change in the light of further information.

    • Aggravates: Problems aggravated by the described problem: a forward or subsequent negative causal link indicative of a negative feedback loop.
    • Aggravated by: Problems aggravating the described problem: a backward or prior negative causal link indicative of a negative feedback loop.
    • Reduces: Problems relieved, alleviated or reduced by the described problem: a forward or subsequent positive causal link indicative of a positive feedback loop.
    • Reduced by: Problems relieving or alleviating the described problem: a backward or prior positive causal link indicative of a positive feedback loop.
      Most problems aggravate or reduce some other problem(s). Such links may be difficult to identify, although they may be apparent in "Counter-claims".  As with hierarchical relationships, mentioned above, care must be taken in indicating such functional cross-relationships.

      • It may be that the problem is mentioned as aggravating, for example, another named problem.   The latter may however be one of a cluster of sub-problems similarly aggravated.  Inserting the cross-reference to one raises the question why the 19 others are not included.  Wherever possible it is better to cross-reference some major problem of which the 20 are all a part.  Example: Heavy metal pollution may be indicated as aggravating Accumulation of toxic susbstances in grasses.It is important to determine whether this should not preferably be indicated as Accumulation of toxic substances in plants, since otherwise there is the question of how such pollution affects non-grass plants.
      • When a source document does note problems that are aggravated, this may have been done with excessive enthusiasm.  Such lists disguise the fact that the effect on those problems is via other problems which are more directly connected to them.  The result is that such major problems become too heavily cited.  It is not useful to note that all European cities are linked by rail to Paris. It is more useful to note that Amsterdam is linked to Brussels which is linked to Paris. Amsterdam is not directly linked to Paris. Example: Overpopulation may aggravate Malnutrition. But it might be better to indicate it as aggravating Shortage of food supplies which in turn aggravates Malnutrition.
        • Alienation > Youth gangs > Neighbourhood control by criminals > Psychological
          stress of urban environment > Substance abuse > Family breakdown > Alienation
      • Bibliographical references: Used primarily for authorative international publications, preferably produced by international organizations (listed in a parallel database) .

        • More recent publications are preferable, if available. However, publications produced when the problem was first recognized may contain better articulations of the dimensions of the problem.
        • References should be cited within the entry matching their content, not at a narrower or broader level.
        • The title of a pertinent publication may not necessarily correspond to the problem name.
        • A seemingly pertinent publication title may disguise a totally unfocused content.
      • Strategies: Used to note links to strategies (in the parallel database) that: are designed to deal with the problem; or are the result of the problem; or produce the problem.
      • Organizations: Used primarily to cross-reference international organizations (in the parallel database) specifically concerned with the problem.

        • Include: organizations concerned solely with the problem (eg International Leprosy Association) and or acting upon that problem amongst others.
        • Exclude: organizations claiming concern without action, temporaily acting, or identifying with rather than acting on the problem.
        • If there are numerous organizations concerned with a problem, it is best to cite an umbrella body rather than any one.
      • Values: Each problem conceals a human value (in the parallel database) in the light of which the problem becomes apparent. Work on these relationships is not as advanced as on other relationship types.