Thursday, January 19, 2017

Welcome, Science!

With the inauguration of a federal administration that is more hostile to scientific research and understanding than perhaps any in American history, scientists are beginning to feel anxious. Not all scientists; medical research will probably do okay. But climate scientists, ecologists, and evolutionary scientists now feel like a persecuted minority. As a participant in all three areas of research and writing, I feel like I do not want the new government to even know what I think. Fortunately, unlike some climate scientists such as Michael Mann, who has been repeatedly persecuted by the Republicans, I am a small target.

Many other countries are much more open to scientific insights. Make no mistake: they are opening their arms to American scientists. One of these countries is China. In the fall of 2016, at least four Chinese cities bought two-page spreads near the front of Science magazine depicting themselves as wonderful places for scientists to live and work.

  • September 9: Foshan “has an obvious advantage of industrial cluster.” The advertisement proudly displayed the data about how prosperous this city is, its 7.4 million residents and its 170,255 private enterprises.
  • September 23: Nanhai advertised itself as close to the Hong Kong economically-open region, and “a highly civilized city worth visiting. It is also considered as the national sanitary city…and one of the highly-educated cities in Guangdong.”
  • September 30: Sanshui promoted its industrial potential, but mainly depicted itself as a wonderful place to live. “The southern scenery is coquettish and graceful,” says the advertisement. “Here, with picturesque scenery, people live and enjoy the peaceful and prosperous environment as well as the wonderful and leisurely moment. Here, has got the breeze, drizzle and canoes on the river form the beautiful scenery of three rivers in the misty rain.” Thank God for Google Translate.
  • October 7: Shundei advertised itself as a growing hub of manufacturing.

Of course, they mostly want to attract the same scientists that American corporations want. But it has escaped nobody’s attention that China does not officially denounce scientists who study evolution, ecology, and climate science. If I were young and mobile and with a freshly-minted Ph.D. I would give China some serious consideration.

Many American cities could, and do, promote themselves in similar terms, and they are right to do so. Tulsa, where I live, has as its slogan “A new kind of energy,” meaning the promotion of entrepreneurship instead of just the continuation of Tulsa’s twentieth century image as an oil town. The difference is at the national level, where Beijing promotes science and Washington is antagonistic toward it.

In order to prevent the “brain drain” of scientists out of the United States, it is not necessary for the government to spend a lot of money. All we need is for the Republican leaders to quit making scientists sound like traitors. The Republican Congress has relentlessly pursued investigations of climate scientists in order to discredit them, and now they have a president who has proclaimed that global warming is a hoax.

I do not foresee a massive exodus of scientists out of America. But certainly more scientists will leave America than at any time in the past.

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