But both science and immigration are not only cornerstones of American prosperity and security, they are directly related. So we must all fight hard to preserve both as core American values.
That’s a key reason Harvard Medical School post doc Dan Goodman — whose lab has three Iranian researchers — joined protests Sunday against Trump. “We’ll be losing out on amazing talent,” Goodman told The Verge. “It’s going to really hurt America’s primacy in the sciences.”
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a statement warning, “This Executive Order could undermine U.S. leadership in science and reduce our access to the best science to address pressing societal issues such as the need for fresh water and clean air.”
America’s leadership in innovation has been built around immigrants and government-backed science. Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple, America’s largest company, was the son of a Syrian immigrant who would have been banned under Trump’s recent executive order.
The Trump administration’s war on science and technology, is, as I’ve argued, a war on your children’s future. But so is Trump’s war on immigration.
The rapid growth in U.S. Nobel prizes from immigrants—and hence overall prizes — from the 1960s onward (see top chart) “illustrates the importance of changes in U.S. immigration law, particularly the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ending the restrictive ‘national origins’ quotas that prevented people from most of the world, including Asia, from immigrating to the United States,” as a 2016 report from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) concluded.
Every single one of the six U.S. Nobel laureates in 2016 were immigrants — and a remarkable 40 percent of all of U.S. winners in physics, chemistry, and medicine since 2000 were immigrants.
The link between immigrants and U.S. leadership in science and innovation dates back many decades. A 2014 Stanford study found that “U.S. patents increased by 31 percent in fields common among Jewish scientists who fled Nazi Germany for America.” Significantly, “their innovative influence rippled outward for generations, as the émigrés attracted new researchers who then trained other up-and-comers.”
And these immigrants were key to the successful effort by the U.S. to beat Germany to build the first atomic bomb. Indeed, the Manhattan Project was launched because one European émigré, Leo Szilard, convinced another, Albert Einstein, to send Franklin D. Roosevelt a letter he had drafted urging the president to pursue action on an atomic bomb.
The open flow of people across borders was the sine qua non for creating U.S. leadership in innovation. As pointed out by Stuart Anderson, NFAP’s executive director and a senior immigration official under President George W. Bush, “Nobel Prize winners represent great individual achievement but also reflect the state of research, openness and scientific advancement within a society.”
Just compare Germany’s sharp Nobel Prize decline after the Nazis made the country inhospitable for key minority groups, especially Jews, with the U.S. rise as we progressively opened the door to immigrants.
We must remember the historical lessons of both how to gain and how to lose in scientific and technological innovation. We don’t know where the next Steve Jobs or Nobel prize-winning idea will come from. We only know that when countries declare war on any minority group, they lose.