National Security, the Assault on Science, and Academic Freedom

Assault on science and academic freedom threatens the public good and international stature of US. 

Washington, DC—A new report, National Security, the Assault on Science, and Academic Freedom, released by the AAUP details troubling threats to academic freedom in the physical and natural sciences that have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s hostility to science. International scientific exchange and, especially, the charging of innocent Chinese or Chinese American scientists with espionage in the name of national security is one focus of the report. The second is climate science, an area that has been subject to vicious attacks that have intensified significantly under the current administration.   
 
The report’s survey of recent criminal cases involving international scientific exchange suggests that the government’s invocation of national security claims related to espionage has not been justified and is negatively affecting the ability of the United States to participate in global science. Xiaoxing Xi’s case at Temple University illustrates how stated concerns about national security and espionage have led to increasing threats to the global exchange of scientific research and the academic freedom of American scientists to interact with foreign colleagues. The report also highlights five other instances in which Chinese American or Chinese scientists have been targeted. President Trump’s executive orders restricting entry to the United States for residents of certain Muslim-majority countries and efforts to limit H-1B visas to foreign scientists pose additional, disturbing threats to scientific exchange. The report argues that the restrictions under consideration now, even if they are ultimately defeated in the courts, create a chilling environment for the international exchange of scholars, including scientists whose work may have no obvious political implications.  
 
The report explores how the politicization of science, rooted in anti-intellectualism and propelled by anti-elitist mantras, is constraining the free pursuit of knowledge and scientific inquiry and limiting the ability of science to serve the public good. As the report notes, challenges to the validity of scientific findings and to the free pursuit of scientific inquiry began well before the inauguration of Donald Trump. It details the severity of harassment and coordinated attacks that scientists and scholars face online and offline when their research, teaching, or public commentary runs counter to others' beliefs. Well-funded interest groups and members of Congress have also sought to intimidate scientific researchers with whom they disagree, especially through freedom of information “fishing expeditions” and notably in relation to the communications and research of climate scientists. Many in the scientific community view Trump's appointments to key cabinet posts and federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space administration, as antithetical to the institution of science and its role in public policy debates. Congressional efforts to curb scientific work, especially in climate science, have also intensified.
 
The report concludes with recommendations for scientists, colleges and universities, scientific associations, scholarly organizations, government employees, and news outlets to resist efforts by government agencies to unduly restrict or discredit scientific research on grounds of national security, to speak out against the politicization of science, to report extensively and specifically about assaults on science, and to protect academic freedom.
 
Read the full report here.
 

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The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) champions academic freedom; advances shared governance; and promotes economic security for all who teach and research in higher education. Since 1915, the AAUP has shaped American higher education by developing standards that uphold quality education and ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.

Media Contact: 
Laura Markwardt – lmarkwardt@aaup.org / 202-594-3635
Publication Date: 
Thursday, December 7, 2017