New AAUP Report: “National Security, the Assault on Science, and Academic Freedom”


Today the AAUP released a new report, “National Security, the Assault on Science, and Academic Freedom.”  The report 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.

I chaired the subcommittee that prepared the report.  I want to thank Committee A members Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, and Joan Scott, Professor Emerita of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, as well as Professor Xiaoxing Xi, Professor of Physics at Temple University, and Mary Jane West-Eberhard, Vice-chair, Committee on Human Rights of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, who prepared the report.  The politicization of science, which the report explores, is one of the most dangerous threats to academic freedom today.  Too many scholars believe that academic freedom is only threatened in the humanities and social sciences, but as the report demonstrates physical and natural scientists have been targets of online harassment and, in the case in particular of some Chinese-American scientists like Professor Xi a terrifying late-night arrest by the FBI over charges later shown to be false.

As the American Geophysical Union put it in a 2011 statement quoted in the report,

Advances in science and the benefits of science to policy, technological progress, and society as a whole depend upon the free exchange of scientific data and information as well as on open debate. The ability of scientists to present their findings to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public without censorship, intimidation, or political interference is imperative. . . .

These principles matter most—and at the same time are most vulnerable to violation—precisely when science has its greatest bearing on society. . . .  Thus, scientists, policy makers, and their supporting institutions share a special responsibility at this time for guarding and promoting the freedom of responsible scientific expression.

I hope this report will be circulated widely throughout the academy.  April’s successful March for Science, in which the AAUP participated, suggests that the scientific community is mobilizing against the assault on science and for academic freedom.  That effort needs not only to continue, but to intensify.   As the report’s final sentence declares, “In accord with its traditions, the AAUP stands ready to work with concerned organizations to oppose executive orders, legislation, and all efforts that restrict the academic freedom of scientists.”

To access a web version of the report go here.  To download a type-set .pdf version go here.

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