Peer pressure: 60 science groups call for end to Washington's crackdown on foreign-born researchers

By Mark Magnier / | September 11, 2019 11:57 AM SGT
Several dozen prestigious scientific organisations have joined forces in urging the Trump administration to stop impeding foreign-born scientists and undermining global collaboration vital to US and international innovation.
In a letter to top science policy officials, 60 eminent groups " including such powerhouses as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Federation of American Scientists " called for a better balance between national security concerns and scientific inquiry. Collectively, the groups represent hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers and educators worldwide.
"While we must be vigilant to safeguard research, we must also ensure that the US remains a desirable and welcoming destination for researchers from around the world," the three-page letter said. "Finding the appropriate balance between our nation's security and an open, collaborative scientific environment requires focus and due diligence."
The Trump administration has ramped up pressure on the scientific community, particularly foreign-born scientists, amid growing fears over China's outsize economic ambitions and espionage activities, with a focus on Beijing's Thousand Talents Programme.
This state-run initiative was launched in 2008 to recruit leading international experts in scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship; Beijing has reportedly used it to gain prepublication access to sensitive research and attract top teaching and research talent to China.
Scientists say that national security abuses need to be addressed and plugged. But impeding the free flow of information, particularly involving basic science, risks undercutting the very economic and strategic objectives that Washington hopes to achieve to stay ahead of China, they add.
"We have to patch this," said Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists, in an interview. "But we also have to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water."
A National Geographic analysis found that more than 30 per cent of US-based Nobel Prize winners in chemistry and 35 per cent in physics between 1901 and 2016 were foreign-born. A 2017 study in Nature based on an analysis of 14 million scientific papers found that globally engaged scientists enjoyed the greatest success and impact.
"Limiting the circulation of scholars will damage the entire scientific system," the paper...