FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
What are you protesting?
On January 27 2017 Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, issued an executive order that bans entry to the US for all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. The US State Department has confirmed that this includes people with dual citizenship, although the implementation of this policy seems to vary depending on the country the dual citizenship is from. It is not clear whether the ban will be renewed after 90 days or what will replace it.
Recent court rulings have partly suspended the Executive Order. What does that mean?
We welcome the ruling by a federal judge in the case " State of Washington v. Trump", that has suspended parts of the Executive Order. We are, however, concerned that the US administration has not changed its position, has issued an appeal, and has announced that it intends to overturn or circumvent the court ruling. International conference participation, collaboration and careers require legal certainty and clarity over periods of months and years. While visas are currently being respected, we feel that it is necessary to build pressure, until the administration changes its discriminatory stance.
How does the ban affect science?
You can read about individuals who are directly affected here. For example, Princeton University has "strongly advised" students and scholars who might be affected to defer travel outside of the US. According to the Association of American Universities, the ban "is already causing damage and should end as quickly as possible. The order has left stranded students who have been approved to study here and are trying to get back to campus, and threatens to disrupt the education and research of many others." The president of Harvard University Drew Faust has noted that
"The disruption and disorientation flowing from these restrictions are palpable and distressing. While questions may at this point be far more apparent than answers, the restrictions are already posing barriers to scholars and students seeking to enter the country and are inhibiting others from pursuing important travel abroad, fearful about their ability to return."
Who can sign this pledge?
We invite any academics worldwide to sign, from any field of study. We also invite all academics in the US to sign as a show of support.
What are people signing on to?
Academics not resident in the US pledge not to take part in scientific conferences in the US until they can be attended by all, regardless of citizenship. Academics in the US may simply express their support for the initiative. (We are not calling on US scientists to boycott conferences.)
Doesn't boycotting US conferences just punish scientists in the US, who are not responsible for the ban?
US academics are not our target, nor do we hold them responsible for the ban. We know that many of them strongly oppose it. Academics not going to conferences in the US will of course also adversely affect US science and scientists. That is not our intention, but a regretfully necessary consequence of taking a stand alongside our fellow scientists.
Many civil society actions have unwelcome negative consequences. For example, labour strikes often adversely affect people who have nothing to do with the employer, and protest marches can inconvenience people by blocking traffic. Such inconveniences have to be weighted against the goals of the action and the gravity of the situation. We feel that the situation is sufficiently serious that a boycott of US conferences is justified. Beyond that, many of us simply feel that we cannot in good conscience attend conferences from which our colleagues are banned.
Furthermore, we hope to empower US scientists and give them extra weight to better pressure their government to lift the ban by pointing to the negative consequences to US science. In the long run, this would benefit scientists both inside and outside the US.
Don't boycotts divide the scientific community?
It is the immigration ban which has divided the community, in an externally-imposed and discriminatory way. Our aim is to amplify the voice of those who are excluded and stand in solidarity with them. We refuse to let any section of our community, however small, be excluded. We want the community to be united in its opposition to the ban.
If conferences will be organised outside of the US instead, people on the travel ban list won't be able to attend, because they will be prevented from returning. Isn't that just as bad?
This is indeed a real issue. However, the effect of the ban is much wider than just not being able to attend conferences. For example, for people outside the US, it prevents taking up positions in the US, attending job interviews, and even flying through the US to other destinations, hurting international mobility in general. For people banned from re-entering the US, the ban itself also has grave consequences on their professional and personal lives. Our aim is not to move all conferences outside the US, but to make it possible for academics to attend conferences in the US, regardless of their citizenship. The current situation is completely untenable, and our aim is to help end the ban as soon as possible, for the benefit of all.
This is not the first obstacle to freedom of travel, and the US are not the only country. Why are you protesting now?
We are aware that the travel ban is a follow-up on restrictions placed on the same seven countries by the previous US administration, and that there are other unfair restrictions on travel, as well as in other areas, that harm research and open collaboration. We oppose all unfair restrictions by all countries who impose them. We protest now, because exclusion from the US affects an unprecedented number of scientists and the blanket ban based on citizenship takes such obstacles to a new level.
Why aren't you protesting the refugee ban?
The executive order also bans, for 120 days, refugees from entering the US and suspends the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. We are not implying that non-refugee academics would be more important than refugees (some of whom are, of course, academics), nor that their situation would require more urgent action.
Rather, as the ban affects us in our professional capacity as academics, we feel that we have to respond in our professional capacity. Hence the pledge concentrates on the issue of our fellow academics, and does not take a position on other immigration and refugee issues relevant for our fellow humans. This should not be taken to imply that we want to dissuade anyone from working for a more humane refugee policy in the US or elsewhere.
Do you think boycotting conferences in the US will solve the problem?
It is not sufficient in itself, but we believe it will help to build the pressure required to lift the ban.
Individuals and/or organisations are free to consider additional measures as they see fit, such as not visiting US institutions, not accepting positions in the US, or not taking part in other scientific activities that those subjected to the ban are excluded from, or issuing official statements against the travel ban, getting political representatives in other countries to engage the US government on this issue, and so on.
What about other initiatives and statements?
We welcome other initiatives, petitions, and statements made in opposition to the immigration ban both by individuals and by professional organisations and institutions. We believe that we can make a difference together. The IAU (International Astronomical Union) has reacted to the ban with an official statement that strongly condemns the ban and express concerns on its consequences on scientific collaboration. National science federation such as the Royal Astronomical Society have followed suit, and we encourage others to oppose the ban. In particular, we are encouraged by our American colleagues who stand in opposition to the ban, including the Astronomy in Colour group, which includes members of the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy. We also welcome the open letter by the No to Immigration Ban initiative, and many of us have signed it. We are reminded that we stand united in opposition to the ban, and for free and open science.
Who is behind Science Undivided?
Science Undivided was started by an international group of astronomers and cosmologists. These include Till Sawala and Syksy Räsänen (in Finland), Azadeh Fattahi (in Canada), Freeke van de Voort, Rob Yates, and Giulia Despali (in Germany), Mathilde Jauzac, Violeta Gonzalez-Perez and Wojtek Helwing (in the UK), Margherita Molaro (in South Africa), Susana Pedrosa (in Argentina), Jorge Moreno (in the US), and more. You can reach us via the contacts page.