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Oct 05 2013

Scientists call for boycott of NASA conference

It turns out that in March this year, congressman Frank Wolf, chair of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee initiated a bill that incredibly was allowed to become a law that prohibited Chinese nationals, even those who are already in the US and working at US universities and other institutions, from even setting foot in a NASA building. The reason given was the risk of espionage.

So when a conference was organized at the NASA Ames research center in California for those scientists working on NASA’s Kepler space telescope program, Chinese students and researchers were denied permission to attend.

But the ban has angered many US scientists who say Chinese students and researchers in their labs are being discriminated against. A growing number of US scientists have now decided to boycott the meeting in protest, with senior academics withdrawing individually, or pulling out their entire research groups.

Geoff Marcy, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been tipped to win a Nobel prize for his pioneering work on exoplanets, or planets outside the solar system, called the ban “completely shameful and unethical”.

In an email sent to the conference organisers, Marcy said: “In good conscience, I cannot attend a meeting that discriminates in this way. The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications,” he wrote.

“It is completely unethical for the United States of America to exclude certain countries from pure science research,” Marcy told the Guardian. “It’s an ethical breach that is unacceptable. You have to draw the line.”

Debra Fischer, professor of astronomy at Yale University, said she became aware of the ban only when a Chinese post-doctoral student in her lab, Ji Wang, was rejected from the conference. When Nasa confirmed that Ji was banned because of his nationality, Fischer decided to pull out of the meeting. She told her students: “I cannot say don’t go, but I’m boycotting the meeting.” Her team followed suit and has withdrawn from the meeting.

Chris Lintott, an astronomer at Oxford University, called for a total boycott of the conference until the situation had been resolved.

But it gets worse. An even broader law passed in July “prohibits Nasa funds from being used to participate or collaborate with China in any way. The law has raised fears among some Nasa-funded scientists that they will have to sever ties with their Chinese collaborators, and no longer take on Chinese students.”

18 comments

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  1. 1
    trucreep

    This is so infuriating, I’m just not sure what to say. These idiots think we can just survive by bullying and bullying and bullying, and that there will be zero consequences.

  2. 2
    colnago80

    Just for the information of Prof. Singham, there is nothing that NASA can do about the situation. This was a law passed by Congress and, presumably approved by the administration and signed by the president.

    However, in it should be noted that there is a serious problem with Chinese espionage which the Administration must consider. Although NASA is a civilian organization, they make use of military assets, many of which are highly sensitive and highly secret. However, this is an example of an overreaction, using a nuclear weapon to attack a foxhole.

  3. 3
    mnb0

    Let’s face it – now the USA and Iran are becoming friends the Americans need a new enemy. What would your government do without a nice cold war?

  4. 4
    mnb0

    I think the Congress, the administration and the president have learned these tactics from Israel, who have used this principle towards Palestinian civilians since many years.

  5. 5
    colnago80

    Nothing new here and blaming it on Israel is moronic. The US Government has done the same thing relative to scientists from the former Soviet Union and other former Eastern Block countries long before Israel did anything, in fact, before Israel captured the West Bank.

  6. 6
    colnago80

    Let’s face it – now the USA and Iran are becoming friends

    Just like Britain and Germany became friends after the Munich Conference. Not.

  7. 7
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Just for the information of Prof. Singham, there is nothing that NASA can do about the situation. This was a law passed by Congress and, presumably approved by the administration and signed by the president.

    Your point?

    Also, I’m sure Mano deeply appreciate you clarifying this for him.

    However, in it should be noted that there is a serious problem with Chinese espionage

    People keep saying that. But I’d like to know what the actual problem is. Do you realize that there is a serious problem with US espionage everywhere in the world, including in the States?

    I have to say, though, that I’m generally impressed with the thoughtfulness of your comments whenever you step away from your jingoistic one-note banjo.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    The reason given was the risk of espionage.

    Yeah, because the US totally doesn’t spy on anyone.

  9. 9
    Gregory in Seattle

    There IS something that NASA can do about it: and they are doing it, by refusing to participate.

    I cannot help but feel, though, that this is exactly what the Republickers want. They cannot eliminate NASA directly, so they make the working conditions so ridiculous that scientists cease to participate in NASA programs, killing it by attrition.

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    Israel has a long history of spying on the US. I assume you’d favor similar legislation barring the participation of Israeli citizens in US technological ventures?

    What annoys me about this kind of thing is that it’s just bad tradecraft. It completely ignores the fact that the spies that are most damaging are the ones where someone inside is “turned” by another power. Hanssen, Ames, Boyce, Lee, Fuchs, etc – the list goes on and on. Any of the powers that play in the game of espionage know that using your own people dramatically reduces their effectiveness – yet they pretend that obvious and foolish measures like this are going to do anything effective.

  11. 11
    colnago80

    Hey, don’t forget Robert Hanssen.

  12. 12
    colnago80

    What does this have to do with anything. Is the Pennsylvania pinhead trying to claim that the US shouldn’t take any precautions against spying?

  13. 13
    colnago80

    Do you realize that there is a serious problem with US espionage everywhere in the world, including in the States?

    Therefore, the US shouldn’t take precautions against people spying against it?

  14. 14
    colnago80

    The only thing that NASA can do is stop hosting conferences. Seems like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

  15. 15
    colnago80

    Sorry, didn’t notice that the Pennsylvania pinhead included Hanssen in his list.

    By the way, Fuchs was a British citizen.

  16. 16
    Broken Things

    @colnago80 – I think you are an AIPAC sockpuppet, and I cannot imagine why anybody listens to anything you say. You would be so much happier over on RedState or FreeRepublic. Why don’t you go pollute the Internet over there instead of here?

  17. 17
    Lofty

    Banning Chinese nationals from NASA conferences is like hitting on suspiciously brown people at airports. Totally a waste of time because proper spy organisations like terrorist organisations can easily get around such petty annoyances.

  18. 18
    colnago80

    Actually, considering that I’m a liberal Democrat, I wouldn’t last long at either of those sites. Turner seems to be laboring under the misapprehension that liberal Democrats aren’t supposed to support the State of Israel.

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