Monday, January 30, 2017

Scientific Research Hurt by Trump Ban

NYT has a feature on the repercussions of Trump's executive order banning Muslims from several countries with regard to scientific research at various universities and medical schools. As I mentioned earlier, as things stand, students, faculty, and postdocs from the seven countries (so far) affected by the ban face difficulties that they neither expected nor deserve. Individuals who had traveled out of the US face the prospect of not being able to return to resume their work or their studies. The ban puts into question whether those who immigrated from one of the seven affected countries should proceed with planned attendance to academic conferences outside the US. Of course it goes without saying that scientists residing in these countries who had planned on attending scientific conferences in the near future face the prospect of being blocked from attending. Graduate students who had been awaiting student visas to enter the US in order to complete their degrees are now facing the prospect of looking elsewhere to receive the training they need. Established labs representing a variety of scientific disciplines face disruption in the completion of projects as lab members languish elsewhere, unable to come back to resume their share of the lab work.

The effects - both short term and long - are nothing short of awful for those who already have established careers. But I am especially worried about those whose careers are just now getting off the ground. A missed conference presentation may be a nasty inconvenience to someone who is mid-career, for example, and is not something to be tolerated. For grad students or postdocs, these conferences are important opportunities to gain recognition for their work and to network with fellow scholars as they map out their next career moves. Hence prevention from travel for academic purposes has the effect of potentially ending careers before they have a chance to really begin - a prospect even more intolerable. In the long run, I suspect we'll see a brain drain in the US, as international students and scholars grow to perceive the US as an unreliable nation in which to do the work for which they were trained or to merely get needed training in the first place. We take for granted much of what the sciences have done for us, and squandering our leadership role in the sciences will place all of us behind sooner or later. The damage done by Trump, barely into his second week in office, will take a very long time to undo. The sciences themselves will go on. Of that I have no doubt. As a nation that will soon be knocked out of a leading role in the development of the sciences, we will also find that we are no longer enjoying what develops out of these labs in day to day life. Ignorance in this case is not bliss.

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