October 6, 2021
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology met on October 5 for a hearing to examine Balancing Open Science and Security in the U.S. Research Enterprise. Members of Congress expressed concern over increasing threats to sensitive information from foreign countries looking to gain an advantage in global research and development competition. Nonetheless, Representatives on both sides of the aisle communicated their commitment to openness and international collaboration as essential elements of a successful federal research enterprise.
A consistent thread of discussion was how to recognize and respond effectively to threats from China, while avoiding discrimination against Chinese-American researchers and ensuring that the U.S. remains an attractive destination for foreign-born scientists. One of the witnesses invited to speak was Xiaoxing Xi, a physicist at Temple University. Dr. Xi shared a story of the FBI raiding his home in the middle of the night. He was arrested on charges of passing sensitive technology to China – charges that would later be dropped when it became clear he had simply shared widely-available materials. Committee Chair Rep. Foster cited research showing that defendants with Chinese surnames were twice as likely to not be found guilty or to have all charges dropped, as compared to those with Western names.
Other witness spoke to the specific challenges stakeholders face in ensuring the integrity of research. Allison Lerner, the Inspector General at the National Science Foundation, explained that her office receives far more allegations than it has the resources to pursue. Dr Maria Zuber, the Vice President for Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that universities are expected to vet researchers, but have little capacity or training to do so – she suggested that additional trainings for administrative staff from the Department of Justice or federal funding agencies could be a useful starting point to increase security.
FABBS members and societies value international collaboration and graduate students. This hearing was an encouraging sign that lawmakers understand the complexities of this issue and are cognizant of the importance of maintaining a research environment that fosters openness and collaboration.