What it is: A village in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the first Pugwash Conference was held in 1957. The Pugwash Conferences are annual meetings of scientists from all over the world. They meet to discuss disarmament and other ways of achieving world peace.

What it means: In 1955, as the Cold War was reaching its height, two famous men published a 'Statement on Nuclear Weapons'. They were the scientist Albert Einstein and the mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell. In what's now called the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, they warned of the terrible effects of nuclear warfare, and put the question 'Shall we destroy the human race, or shall we abolish war?' They called on the world's scientists to meet, to assess 'the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction'. A rich businessman with a summer home in Pugwash offered to hold just such a meeting there. 22 distinguished scientists came to the first conference, including 10 from the main opponents in the Cold War: the USA and the Soviet Union. There was no anger or argument: these people knew and respected each other's work, and they were there for more important reasons than state politics. As the British scientist Joseph Rotblat (chief organiser of the Conferences for 40 years) said, 'the mutual trust and friendship built over the years are chiefly responsible for our success. There have been none of the internal squabbles and dissension that bedevil other organisations.' What was that success? 'Pugwashites' were able to break the ice in the Cold War and help to ease tensions in other disputes. They discussed crucial matters, like arms control, objectively, which led to the signing of arms-limitation treaties. The Conferences still provide essential scientific facts for the world's policy-makers to keep in mind - and because the Pugwash Movement has hung on to its independence (despite a number of attempts to take it over) people know that it's in no-one's pocket.  In 1995 the Pugwash Conferences and Joseph Rotblat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: 'they have kept the vision of a nuclear-free world alive.' Joseph Rotblat's particular concern: the responsibility of scientists for their discoveries and inventions. Scientists - and the rest of us - need 'a new loyalty, loyalty to humankind. Scientists are well-qualified to take the lead in education for world citizenship.'

Think about it:
(1) Some scientists firmly believe that science is what they do, and what other people do with their discoveries is not their problem. But the Pugwash view is that all scientists should think about the effects of their work, and even have the strength of mind to halt a project if its outcome could be dangerous in the wrong hands. There are arguments on both sides - what might some of them be? Are there scientific developments which can't be justified at all? Are nuclear weapons one of them? (Even manufacturing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes risks dangerous accidents - some have already happened. The accident at Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986 released health-threatening radioactive isotopes over much of northern Europe.)
(2)  The Pugwash Conferences, and the many meetings that take place around them, are mostly held in private - which is not the same as in secret. Around 150 scientists and other specialists usually attend a conference. Other workshops and meetings are even smaller.  When meetings are over, a statement summarising the discussion is published. The subjects discussed - science and its many links with war and peace - affect everyone.  Yet there have so far been only just over 3,000 Pugwash members. Even a few people can make a difference. But what sort of people? (Try contrasting the Pugwash approach with, say, parliament. Whose hands are safer?)
(3) Scientists and their work 'transcend geographic frontiers and ideological divides', said Joseph Rotblat, and the morality of scientists is based on 'respect for facts and rejection of prejudice' - which 'makes the scientific community a model for the peaceful world community of nations we want to create.' What do you think?