Who are the scientists who oppose Trump’s travel ban?

When I think of significant scientific achievements, one of the events that comes to mind is the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Founded after the Second World War, early members of CERN “identified fundamental research as a potential vehicle to rebuild the continent and to foster peace in a troubled region.” CERN isn’t just known for the discovery of the field which gives particles mass, but also a Nobel prize winning particle detector, and the invention of the World Wide Web. Today, CERN employs researchers hailing from over 60 countries, including one of the countries currently named by Trump’s newest immigration ban.

Since Trump’s first immigration ban, many articles have been published describing the sudden and harsh impacts to job prospects, crucial collaborations, and personal travel for immigrants within academia. In response, over 43,000 academics have signed the petition “Academics Against Immigration Executive Order”. These researchers cite three major reasons for their opposition to this order: it is discriminatory, it is against the interests of the United States, and it puts a huge burden on the scientific community.

In this blog post, I hope to highlight the diversity of researchers in the United States concerned about this ban.

Collecting Concerned Academics

To start off, I first collected the names and titles of all faculty who have signed the online petition. The website loads the data that populates the multi-page table from a JSON file. The data is available for download from my website.

To give you a feel for just how distinguished these concerned academics are, below is a plot of the number of winners of select scientific prizes. For example, 62 Nobel laureates have signed this petition.

Building a List of Academic Disciplines

To understand the spread of scientific disciplines concerned about this issue, I used a data set of all academic disciplines constructed by the U.S. Census. Within the petition data set, scientists’ titles could be formatted a variety of ways, so I checked for the existence of a discipline in a scientist’s title. The list of disciplines considered can be found here, and the Python script used to generate the counts of scientists can be found here. An interactive version of the plot below, with hover-over showing discipline name and count, can be found on my website.

Circles are colored corresponding to the U.S. Census’s definition of categories of academic disciplines. (See data set for more information.) Above, you can see that science and engineering disciplines, these include physics, mathematics, biology, and computer science, have large representation within our concerned scientist sample.

This approach has its flaws. If a faculty member’s title contains more than one discipline, we will over count. (Although perhaps, this is the correct route. As in, a professor of music and history is, and should be, reported in our counts of music and history.) Furthermore, the list provided by the U.S. Census reflects disciplines of bachelor’s degrees. I do not believe this list is diverse enough to encapsulate all of the possible faculty member’s departments. In fact, only about 13,000 faculty members appear to have disciplines included in the list provided by the U.S. Census.

Understanding the International Diversity of Science

I was curious if the number of academics from each discipline reflect the international diversity of these disciplines. Unfortunately, I could not find information on the immigration status of faculty, so I again relied on U.S. Census data for bachelor’s degrees. Using data from Table 4 of the same survey mentioned earlier, I’ve created a few pie charts below representing recipients of bachelor’s degrees broken down by broader academic disciplines and nativity status.

The relatively darkest shades, represent foreign born, and not naturalized citizens. The second darkest shades represents foreign born, and naturalized. Finally, the most pale color represents native U.S. citizens.

(a) Within the arts, 11,328 students were native U.S. citizens, 799 were foreign born, naturalized and 605 were foreign born, not naturalized (11.03% immigrants). (b) Within business, 9,589 students were native, 1,009 were naturalized, and 707 were not naturalized (15.18% immigrants). (c) Within education, 7,096 students were native, 378 naturalized, and 250 were not naturalized (8.13% immigrants).
(d) Within science and engineering, 15,582 students were native U.S. citizens, 2,293 were foreign born, naturalized and 1,765 were foreign born, not naturalized (20.66% immigrants). (e) Within science and engineering related fields, 4,021 students were native, 576 naturalized, and 339 not naturalized (18.54% immigrants).

The relative share of foreign undergraduates is largest within science and engineering disciplines (20.24% across both categories). From the bubble chart earlier, we saw that a large share of signatures came from researchers in STEM fields. Perhaps this is because a large percentage of undergraduates in these fields are immigrants.

Again, this result should be taken with a grain of salt. Estimates of the nativity of undergraduates will probably underestimate the diversity of academic departments. They do not include scientists who have received their bachelors degrees outside of the U.S. and have moved here to pursue higher education.

Conclusion

The work done at CERN is just one example that great science can be achieved through international collaboration. That’s how it should be. Prize-winning scientific researchers have expressed their disappointment with the current presidential administration’s travel restriction by signing this online petition. I have sought to display the diverse set of academic disciplines they hail from, which are comprised of students of different national origins. Scientists are far from the only ones impacted by this travel ban, but we would still do well to heed their warning.