Interface with the Public: Signing a Petition

Responsible Conduct of Research and Participation

Description of the Problem

In the 1980’s, President Ronald Reagan proposed building a missile defense system that would provide a defensive shield for the United States. The Strategic Defense Initiative was heavily funded, opening up research opportunities for physicists, engineers, and computer scientists among others. In 1985, a petition circulated among many physics departments in the U.S. It read, in part:

We, the undersigned science and engineering faculty, believe that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program (commonly known as Star Wars) is ill conceived and dangerous….

Participation in SDI by individual researchers would lend their institution’s name to a program of dubious scientific validity, and give legitimacy to this program at a time when the involvement of prestigious research institutions is being sought to increase Congressional support….

Accordingly, as working scientists and engineers, we pledge neither to solicit nor accept SDI funds, and encourage others to join us in this refusal. We hope together to persuade the public and Congress not to support this deeply misguided and dangerous program.


  • Setting aside for a moment the specifics of SDI, under what circumstances is it appropriate to sign a petition such as this?
  • What does signing a petition say to society?

Gray arrow Signing a Petition Discussion