Trump’s travel ban triggers reaction from scientists

February 5, 2017 - 06:25

Scientists around the world are stepping up to help their colleagues affected by the US travel ban from seven Muslim majority countries.

Scientists unable to return to the US due to the recent travel ban receive promises of help from more than 600 European researchers. (Photos: Shutterstock)

If you are one of the scientists unable to enter the USA in the next three months, then you are welcome to work in my office and perhaps even live in my house, until your situation is resolved.

That is the message from more than 600 researchers from across the world.

All of them have signed up to The Science Solidarity List to assist researchers from the seven Muslim countries that are now banned from travelling to the US in the next 90 days. The Executive Order is designed to “prevent terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals,” according to US Homeland Security.

Token politics of the worst kind

The decision will do great harm to the scientific community, says Poul Nissen, professor and director of the basic research centre DANDRITE in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, Denmark.

“Everyone thinks this is crazy and token politics of the worst kind. The ban might especially affect Iranian scientists, and a lot of them are very talented. Iran has a proud research tradition. We have three Iranians in our neuroscience centre, for example, and now they’re suddenly blacklisted [from the US],” says Nissen.

“People are being banished without any regards to their personal integrity, history, and qualifications. It’s absurd theatre and if I can do something to help, then I’m available,” he says.

Read More: Immigrant women fall out of the labour market

German scientist pulled aside in the US

At the Copenhagen Plant Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, German scientist Sebastian Marquardt has also signed the declaration.

He did so, not because he thinks that numerous scientists will end up stranded in Copenhagen and need help, but to show compassion for his colleagues affected by the ban.

“I’ve worked as a scientist in the US for five years, and I’ve sometimes had problems getting in—even before the ban. So I know what it’s like to have your passport taken away and be taken to the side. That’s quite frightening in itself, and I can’t imagine how it must feel to be at risk of being sent back to a land that you’re trying to leave,” he says.

“Perhaps my signature is a little helping hand at this time,” says Marquardt, an associate professor in molecular plant biology.

He emphasises that it is particularly important that scientists can travel and visit the strongest research environments in order to develop their ideas. Denmark is Marquardts’s fourth country of residence.

“Everyone knows that when you’re a foreigner in a foreign country, there are rules that you just don’t know. But here it was suddenly changed, and probably also for people who had a visa in advance. This means that there’s limited understanding of the ban. This makes it especially unfair,” he says.

Read More: Your neighbour’s skin colour means less if your politics are aligned

International organisation encourages researchers to help

Both researchers signed up to the list after receiving an email from the organisers at the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO). It is a reaction to a widespread feeling of frustration among scientists that want to “help the innocent”, says EMBO director Maria Leptin.

“I don’t think that these feelings are limited to the scientific community.It’s the same for many people, but perhaps it is especially pronounced here because science is so intensively interlinked around the world,” says Leptin.

“I heard about an institute that had written on their website, offering space and help, but it was hard to see how stranded people would be able to learn of all the options. I thought that EMBO could collate all of these offers and encourage lots of scientists to help via our network of top researchers,” she says.

At the time of writing, 623 scientists had signed up for the initiative.

Read More: Internet sparks local political engagement

Scientific organisations and Nobel Prize winners rally against Trump

EMBO is far from the only organisation speaking out against the ban and what it means for scientists and science. President Trump’s government have denied entry US entry to anyone travelling from a list of seven countries for 90 days from 27 January 2017.

The world’s biggest scientific organisation AAAS encourages collaboration with Trump, noting that the association was involved in the decision making processes that affected science after 11 September 2001.

“We strongly recommend a similar discussion with officials in the Trump administration,” writes AAAS CEO Rush Holt in a press release.

The worldwide American Geophysical Union (AGU) has published a similar statement (PDF) on behalf of their 60,000 members.

And both have signed a statement, along with 162 other organisations and prominent universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale, calling on Trump to repeal the ban.

Meanwhile, a long list of Nobel laureates and other leading scientists are asking people to sign a petition protesting Trump’s ban, which they believe to be discriminatory, destructive to families, and against US interests. So far, more than 27,000 have signed.

------------------
Read the Danish version of this story on Videnskab.dk
 

Country
Translated by
Catherine Jex