After NASA banned Yale postdoctoral researcher Ji Wang and five other Chinese national scientists from attending the national Kepler Science Conference in early November, Yale astronomer Debra Fischer and other scientists spoke out on what Fischer calls “the politicizing of science.”
The ban, which Representative Frank Wolf, R-VA, said “mischaracterized” a congressional provision that he initiated restricting activities with the Communist Chinese government, was met with boycotts from United States scientists, including Fischer and her Yale colleagues. In response to the provision, Fischer said she feels that scientists “are simply a political chip [politicians] can play” according to The Guardian.
“I hope this experience raises the consciousness of other scientists,” Fischer said. “Each time the politicians change, NASA changes directions.”
Wang, who is from southern China, came to Fischer after finding out weeks before that he had been denied a place at the conference, to be held at a NASA facility in California. A NASA official explained to Fischer that a public law had been passed in March forbidding NASA from permitting Chinese officials on its properties.
The ban followed on the heels of legislation passed in July that withholds NASA funds from anyone working with Chinese scientists. Wolf’s law, which prohibits representatives of the Chinese government from gaining access to NASA facilities, ostensibly intended to address concerns of foreign espionage. But many scientists said the ban was unwarranted, and feared it would hurt collaboration and damage relationships between researchers from the two countries.
Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of Southern California, called the ban “completely shameful and unethical.”
“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 in an email.
When Fischer found out about the ban, she told her students “I cannot say don’t go, but I’m boycotting the meeting.”
While NASA has since revoked the ban, Fischer is continuing to boycott. Wang and two other Yale scientists will attend, but Fischer plans to attend a National Academy of Sciences meeting in Washington, D.C. instead.
Wang was a graduate student at the University of Florida before coming to Yale.