Dear European Governments
(March 2nd, 2017) Watching, slack-jawed, as democracy and scientific reason are being crushed across the pond, science organisations in Europe urge the European Commission to take action and advocate the value of science.
Concerned about US colleagues working under a new administration that shows little signs of respecting and accepting scientific arguments, several European organisations involved in science - from maths and physics to anthropology and psychology - wrote an open letter directed at European governments highlighting their concerns.
Essentially the letter defends what every scientist already knows: that only an environment of open exchange of ideas and people can propel scientific development, which will in the end be beneficial for all of us. "Science is global and we scientists work every day, taking into account findings developed in labs around the world. Disrupting this flow of information will result in a disruption in the global progress of knowledge," says Juan Lerma, Secretary General of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, one of the many who signed the letter.
In addition to the travel ban - which has, in the meantime, been lifted - the letter also shows concern about how researchers could be affected by policies limiting their communication with the public and an unfounded belief about certain facts not supported by scientific results, such as a link between vaccines and autism or the fact that climate change is not caused by human actions.
For Secretary General David Lee, this goes against everything the European Physical Society stands for. "The European Physical Society (EPS) was founded in 1968, during the Cold War, on the principle of free and open exchange of scientific ideas and scientists as a means to bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and peace. Blanket bans on travel on grounds of religion or nationality, as planned by the new US government, together with possible measures that would limit free communication inside the scientific community and with the public, strikingly violate this principle".
The researcher continues, "In our globalised world, where international scientific collaboration has become the rule, there is no place for discrimination and censorship. Any measure that restricts the freedom of movement and communication of our US colleagues will have a profound impact on science and innovation in Europe and other continents."
This disregard for science and potentially dangerous policies were also the trigger for the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). "The KNAW signed the statement because the executive orders, which Trump has signed and the policy directions he has ventured, not only affect individual people but are a global threat to the key tenets of science and of evidenced-based policies," says vice-president Wim van Saarloos. "Transparency, respect, open communication, and debate and mobility of scholars lie at the basis of our societies and of progress, and we are very concerned about the international developments that undermine these principles."
The letter ends with a call for urgent and effective action from European governments and the European Commission. "Seeing the current US Government so willing to put fantasy and ideology before fact, scientists all over the world are alarmed," concludes Mike Galsworth, programme director for Scientists for EU. "We are determined that our governments should immediately and vocally assert the value of science and robust evidence. Whether this encourages the US to notice and re-think or whether it just stands in contrast to the US administration as a European beacon for science; we need to champion our values on the global stage, at the political level, right now - or risk their weakening."