Science Cooperation Between U.S. & China Requires Mend, Not Prosecution



Stanford University physicists Steve Kivelson and Peter Michelson have expressed concern over the potential non-renewal of the Agreement between the United States and China on Cooperation in Science and Technology. They argue that the agreement fosters open and transparent scientific cooperation, and its lapse can lead to detrimental consequences such as the loss of access to advanced Chinese labs and data sets. They caution that scientific isolation due to political fears can result in scientific “suicide”, pointing to the historical examples of scientific collaborations during times of conflict and the role of science in bridging cultural and political divides.

Stanford Physicists Protest Non-Renewal of US-China Scientific Cooperation Agreement

When Steve Kivelson and Peter Michelson from Stanford University heard that the US-China Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement may not be renewed, they took action. They crafted a forceful letter to the Biden administration, advocating for continued open and transparent scientific cooperation. This agreement, first established in 1979, has been renewed every five years and its potential lapse concerned the scientists.

Urgency Motivated by End of China Initiative

By August 27, over 1,000 endorsements from distinguished U.S. scientists had been collected. This reflects their discontent over the end of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative in 2022. Accused of McCarthy-style bullying, the initiative disrupted many scientific collaborations, led to job and funding losses, and instilled fear among Chinese collaborators.

Risks of Severed Scientific Ties

Failure to maintain scientific ties could be disastrous for the U.S., as reported by the Guardian. U.S. scientists have lost access to advanced Chinese labs and benefit immensely from cooperation with Chinese colleagues, which Kivelson emphasizes.

Concerns Over Chinese Threats

Bipartisan fears persist that China could steal U.S. secrets for their own advantage, especially regarding economic competitiveness and military capabilities. However, universities like Stanford prioritize open research and publication, Kivelson noted in a recent talk at the Asia Pacific American Justice Task Force.

Scientific Collaboration Beyond Borders

Science is not only about discovering how the universe works but also serves as a bridge between nations, even in times of political unrest. This is clearly demonstrated by the collaboration of physicists from countries at war during the Vietnam War at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

Collaborations Promote Understanding and Unity

Scientific collaborations serve as a means of keeping countries and people connected. Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann organized a meeting of young chemists from Israel, Palestine, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria in a Jordan village in 2006, furthering mutual understanding and forging bonds beyond nationalities.

Science has a profound impact on society, often providing the only cohesive aspect in a divided world. Greater emphasis on the honesty and transparency required in science could benefit politics, as suggested by Frank Oppenheimer, a physicist who strongly believed in science’s role in fostering peace.

The importance of science extends beyond national defense to the very fabric of society, as demonstrated by physicist Robert Wilson, who built Fermilab, a scientific laboratory meant to serve as an art installation. Wilson’s defense of the expense of Fermilab reminds us of the deeper value of science in culture and society. These thoughts should not be forgotten when considering the role of science.

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