Dear President Bush,
One scientific issue that requires immediate attention is this: Understanding the psychological circuits that motivate people to murder. The impact of killing cascades beyond the obvious tragedy of each prematurely terminated life. Each dead victim is also a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, so the lives of the victim's family shatter. Uncertain and unpredictable dangers promote contagious anxiety. The limited days of our lives become wasted when we seek to act, but lack the knowledge to detect and deter killers.
The current lifetime odds of being murdered at the hands of a fellow human being are far from trivial. In America, they are one in 200 for the general population, and one in 26 for certain sub-groups of males. If you add attempted homicides that are "unsuccessful" due to valiant or desperate measures, the victim list more than triples. In the hot spots around the world, the toll of dead bodies runs from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands.
In the past century, war across the world has claimed victims by the millions. We are endangered from the outside by our avowed enemies. We are threatened from within by killers among us. An urgent need for the nation to establish a deep scientific understanding of psychological circuits dedicated to murder and the causal processes that create, activate, and deactivate those circuits. Without such knowledge, we cannot effectively prevent the premature and irreversible ending of lives.
David M. Buss
Professor of Psychology
University of Texas at Austin
Author of The Evolution of Desire, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, and The Dangerous Passion.