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 Her team followed suit and has withdrawn from the meeting.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.”