Journalist David Warsh has written a nice historical piece on IIASA, focusing on its first director, Howard Raiffa (born 1924).
[B]etween 1968 and 1975 Raiffa … organized, and then administered the joint US- Soviet think-tank known as the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. IASSA (pronounced YASSA), itself hardly a household word, is one of the durable outgrowths of the Cuban missile crisis and, in many ways, a symbol of the strange interregnum of the 1970s known as détente. Last week in Vienna, IASSA celebrated its fortieth anniversary having been, among other things, the cradle of climate modeling. ….
Raiffa populated the Vienna installation with first-rate intellects willing to take one- or two-year appointments in order to get things started, including [Kenneth] Arrow, George Dantzig, Tjalling Koopmans, William Nordhaus, Alan Manne — and Donella and Dennis Meadows, principal authors of Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Raiffa hired talented Soviets; decreed that seminars would be conducted only in English, anticipating a trend that has since spread around the world; and encouraged the development of small environmental models, as opposed to the behemoths that Soviet planners preferred. ….
IASSA slowed down some when Raiffa returned to Harvard in 1975, after three years as director …. IASSA’s appointments became less spectacular. There was a fracas during the Reagan administration over whether it had become a nest of Soviet spies. Institutes for Advanced Study in Princeton and Berlin impinged on its turf. Its most successful project, climate modeling, was essentially spun out, to the International Energy Workshop and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Still, if the YouTube selections from the celebration in Vienna last week are any guide, IASSA remains a vital intellectual center, sponsoring systems analysis work on an array of interesting problems, ready to play a part whenever the next global crisis – food? water? – becomes acute. The Raiffas attended, despite a twenty-year-long battle with Parkinson’s Disease
David Warsh, “The /Real/ Club of Rome Turns Forty, in Vienna“, Economic Principals, 28 October 2012.
After reading this, I will appreciate even more Raiffa’s legacy whenever I attend a seminar in the Raiffa Room at IIASA. For those who missed last week’s 40th anniversary conference, YouTube selections can be accessed at www.youtube.com/user/IIASAlive.