hen the March for Science happens, I’m going to be there. I’ll be marching on behalf of muzzled government scientists who can’t share their work. I’ll be marching against a president who has said alarming things about vaccines and climate change.
But I’m also going to march on behalf of scientists who should be in the US, but won’t be, because of the executive order on immigration President Trump signed on Friday. I am appalled by his temporary ban on immigration from seven nations not only for humanitarian reasons, but also because I am concerned for my fellow scientists and the scientific enterprise.
When I was an undergraduate, I did summer research in a laboratory in Boston where seven languages were spoken. My mentors and coworkers were from Turkey, India, China, South Korea, Germany, Colombia, and the US.
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Diversity is a rule in science, whether your laboratory is in San Francisco, Omaha, or Boston. It is rare to find a laboratory where everyone shares the same background. Globalism is another rule — scientists come to the US from everywhere, but we travel too. It’s not uncommon for young scientists to go overseas to collaborate. It’s not uncommon to visit other countries for conferences. It’s not uncommon for American scientists to train further in places like Europe, Australia or Asia.
This global cross-pollination happens because big questions in science are collaborative. They’re too big to tackle alone. So biologists work with chemists, who work with physicists, who work with physicians and neuroscientists and engineers to better understand the human body in health and disease.
The expertise needed to engineer bacteria to fight Crohn’s disease may be in Europe. The expertise needed to visualize the structure of misfolded proteins in Huntington’s disease may be in Japan.
I’m in my first year of graduate school, and in a few months, when I pick the lab where I do my dissertation, the expert we need to do any number of things may be from Iran. Or Libya. Or any of the other seven countries targeted in the president’s order. The president’s order could keep them from coming into the country. If they’re already here, the president’s order could make it hard for them to return home, whether to collaborate with colleagues there or to visit an elderly parent.
So what will happen to science in the US? I worry all the scientists will leave. Why would I, or any other scientist, want to stay in a country where we cannot attract the best and brightest to our labs?
This will have enormous economic impact, because the technology we create through our work will be gone, the findings that lead to better treatments for disease will be gone, and the dollars we spend on everything from groceries to housing to taxes will be gone.
Where would we be without international scientists, whether from Iraq, Libya, or Canada? Ask any Nobel laureate. Ask any lead researcher at any institution in this country. Ask any federal research lab. We’d have fewer success stories in science and medicine. Fewer healthy people. Fewer drugs on shelves. We’d have less food, less energy, and less technology.
So this is why I’m marching. I’m marching for knowledge. I’m marching for open access to science, research, and data. I’m marching for my friends who are immigrant scientists, and in solidarity with scientists at every level of discovery. America can’t afford to lose scientists from any country, let alone the seven targeted by the president. Our lives and livelihood depend on them.