Scientists Upset by NASA's Exclusion of Chinese from Ames Conference

A new law that forces NASA to exclude Chinese scientists from next month’s conference at its Ames Exploration Center has prompted boycotts by some prominent US scientists.

The ban of Chinese nationals from the conference results from a law passed in March purportedly to “counter espionage” by China, N. Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, the Sudan and other mostly small, backward nations. The law was sponsored by Frank Wolf (R-VA), a 32-year congressional veteran known for championing efforts to promote human rights in regimes deemed politically repressive. It prohibits Chinese citizens from entering any NASA facility and forbids NASA from working with China or any China-based firm.

The law even bans China’s astronauts from the International Space Stations. It has forced NASA to reject automatically all applications to attend the conference submitted by Chinese scientists, including even those working for US government-sponsored institutions.

The NASA conference at its Ames Exploration Center in Mountain View is considered one of the year’s most important for international experts interested in the use of the Kepler space telescope to search for potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. The ban against Chinese has been especially upsetting to US scientists whose research teams include Chinese students and scientists. Some are boycotting the event to protest what they see as a politically motivated interference with scientific endeavors.

“In good conscience I cannot attend a meeting that discriminates in this way,” said Geoff Marcy, an exoplanet pioneer from the University of California at Berkeley. “The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away with no national security implications.” He called the law “completely shameful and unethical.”

Another prominent US scientist boycotting the conference is Yale professor Debra Fischer whose Chinese post-doctoral student Ji Wang is excluded from Ames.

The ban comes at a time when American moviegoers are flocking to see Gravity, a film in which China’s Tiangong space station and its Shenzhou space vehicle are featured. Since its release last week the film has topped US box office charts.