Statement on Freedom of Communications for Basic Research
Statement on the Negative Impact of U.S. Visa Rules on Science and Technology
Statement on Teaching of Evolution
Adopted by the Biophysical Society Executive Council on February 17, 2004
Concerns about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction have stimulated public interest in new restrictions on so-called “sensitive but unclassified” scientific information.
Free communication of scientific information is essential to the health of science and technology upon which both national security and the economic well-being of the United States depend. The U.S. government has the duty and authority to classify the communication of information bearing a particularly close relationship to national security. Our current system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying such information (updated through Executive Order 13292, March 25, 2003) provides a precise set of categories of protected information, and further specifies that basic scientific information not clearly related to national security may not be classified.
U.S. policy in this area has since 1985 been based upon the sound principle that “No restrictions may be placed upon the conduct or reporting of federally-funded fundamental research that has not received national security classification except as provided in applicable U.S. statutes.”*
The Biophysical Society, through its elected Council, unanimously reaffirms its support for the principle of the unfettered communication of knowledge obtained through basic research. Where security considerations require control, the appropriate mechanism for such control is prior classification, and not, for example, classification imposed through pre-publication reviews after the research is completed. Specifically, the Society firmly opposes the establishment of an alternative (and potentially competitive) class of “sensitive but unclassified” information for security purposes. We also oppose the imposition of “sensitive but “unclassified” restrictions based upon the medium in which the information is stored or distributed. Instead, as required, classification should be implemented through well-defined, content-based procedures, with opportunities for appeal and provisions for eventual, timely declassification. Within the context of this system, scientists bear a unique responsibility to help identify and define critical knowledge that may be central to our national security and thereby require protection, to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of the unfettered communication of knowledge.
*NSDD-189 (September 21, 1985). Support for this directive was reaffirmed in a letter from National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to Dr. Harold Brown, dated November 1, 2001, and in a memorandum from Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to Heads of Department Elements, dated May 12, 2003.
New security procedures introduced following the terrorist attacks on the United States have had a significant impact on the scientific community. The Biophysical Society recognizes the importance of national security and supports efforts to safeguard the United States. At the same time, the Biophysical Society asks that needs for national security be balanced with the need to maintain international scientific and technological cooperation and collaboration. If not corrected, current visa regulations will hinder the effectiveness of the United States research enterprise. It is this very research that guarantees the country’s continuing economic strength and security.
Science is international in nature. Foreign-born scientists play a critical role in the nation’s economic vitality, national security, and quality of life. Changes implemented to secure the United States have resulted in long delays and denials of U.S. visas for many foreign-born scientists and students. These delays and denials have affected the studies of graduate students, ruined scientific experiments requiring constant monitoring, negatively impacted the work of laboratories staffed by foreign-born post-doctorates, and hindered the collaboration of U.S. scientists working with peers in other countries.
International travel by both legal residents and scientists residing abroad is being impeded by the delays and uncertainty associated with securing a visa.
The Biophysical Society has recent evidence from its own membership. Three of 26 students awarded grants to attend the 2004 Biophysical Society meeting were unable to attend the meeting because they were unable to secure a visa in time. These students were selected based on the merit of their proposals and the potential of their research. Four of 30 scientists scheduled to attend a summer institute held in 2003 were denied visas. These numbers do not include those who chose not to apply because they expected to be blocked from entering the U.S. Thus, the Biophysical Society suspects that the problem is even greater than statistics will show.
Therefore, the Council of the Biophysical Society, through its unanimous vote in favor of this statement, urges the U.S. government and Congress to re-examine its visa rules and policies and to take the necessary steps to ensure international scientific and technological cooperation and collaboration.
Adopted by the Biophysical Society Executive Board on November 5, 2005
The Biophysical Society is deeply troubled by attempts in the United States to suppress the teaching of evolution in K-12 public schools, or to temper the teaching with disclaimers, or to present evolution as only one of several alternative theories about the origin of human life on earth.
As biophysicists, we are engaged in studying the structure and function of living organisms at a molecular level. Such studies have demonstrated that all life forms on earth obey the laws of chemistry and physics, and that these life forms are built from molecules that show common origins. The hypothesis that binds all these studies, built upon an immense body of evidence accumulated from geology, paleontology, biochemistry and molecular biology, is the theory of evolution. The main mechanism for evolutionary change is genetic variation. Scientists have demonstrated how at the molecular level, imperfections in DNA replication and damage to DNA caused by sunlight and radiation can contribute to genetic variability. One need only look at the progression of influenza to see evolution in action today.
In contrast to the scientific picture of evolution that has emerged from field observations and laboratories, there are some today who argue that alternative views, such as Biblical Creationism or Intelligent Design, should be taught instead of evolution, or alongside evolution in K-12 science classrooms. What distinguishes scientific theories from these theological beliefs is the scientific method, which is driven by observations and deductions, leads to testable predictions, and involves the formulation of hypotheses that can be refuted This process results in a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed by experiments, which in turn result in a theory. Scientific theories are therefore not “guesses,” but fact-supported, self-consistent, reliable accounts of the world. The alternative theological explanations for origins are not based on the scientific method, and are, therefore, not in the realm of science. They are in the realm of faith.
The Biophysical Society is strongly opposed to any effort to blur the distinction between science and theology by teaching or presenting non-scientific beliefs in science classrooms. Accepting the evidence that evolution has and continues to take place does not preclude one from believing in theologies, but those beliefs have no place in a science curriculum. Attempts to suppress or compromise the teaching of evolutionary science in the United States are misguided actions that will deprive our youth of a clear understanding of the scientific process, and of the scientific skills that they need to compete in a global economy: one that is increasingly driven by science and technology. Moreover, current efforts to disguise theology as science do a severe disservice to the scientific profession and to the people of the United States.