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September 2, 1999


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Ban on Indian Scientists Harms USA Too, American Conference on Scientific Freedom Is Told

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An excerpt from a speech Dr Paul D Grannis delivered at a scientific conference on scientific freedom and national security in Washington on Tuesday, August 31. It was organized by the American Association for Advancement of Science.

I have been engaged for more than two decades in large collaborations of physicists working on large scale experiments in elementary particle physics. This field is notable for its close world-wide co-operation.

There are some 3,000 particle physicists in the US, perhaps 5,000 in Europe and roughly 1,000 in Asia. Many of the experiments we conduct now have 500 participants; the next generation will triple this size. In my own career, I have probably collaborated with at least a quarter of the full world community. In the spirit of the play Six Degrees of Separation, I would guess there are very few who have not at least collaborated with someone that I have collaborated with, so particle physicists are among the most globally connected communities.

For the last 16 years, I have been associated with the DZero experiment at the Fermilab antiproton-proton colliding beam accelerator, and for the first 13 years as spokesman or co-spokesman. As this collaboration is typical of the large groups today, let me give a brief profile. DZero now has 500 collaborating scientists from institutions in Argentina, Brazil, the People's Republic of China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, India, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the US. In the US. there are 30 university groups and three national laboratories (Fermilab, Lawrence Berkeley Lab and Brookhaven).

From 1992 to 1996, Dzero collected data at the Tevatron, from which about 100 publications have emerged on topics ranging from the discovery of the top quark to detailed investigations of the strong nuclear force. Since then, the collaboration has been preparing a substantial upgrade to allow operation with increased capability at higher collision rates.

Though the primary center of our activity is at Fermilab, the far-flung groups in DZero conduct vital research at their home institutions. They design and build portions of the experimental apparatus. They prepare custom software for recognizing distinctive elements of the particle collisions or controlling the experiment. They conduct their own physics studies and prepare publications for the full collaboration using their local computers and data taken over the Internet from Fermilab.

Even countries with relatively poor economies have made vital contributions. For example, the Brazilians are building specialized chambers that penetrate into the accelerator vacuum system allowing detection of particles very close to the beams; the Indians built a quarter of an acre of scintillation counters that flag the interactions of cosmic rays; the Russians have built massive spectrometers with magnetized iron and proportional counters for muon detection. Others supply specific electronics or software.

Each particular scientific analysis is conducted by a small group of 3 to 4 physicists, typically including a graduate student. These small groupings often include people from several institutions, sometimes on different continents. Their results are discussed more broadly in one of five major physics topic groups, and finally by the full collaboration, before being submitted for publication (with all members of the collaboration signing).

This connectivity is only possible through extensive contacts via e-mail, exchanges of files over the network and video conferences. Periodic visits to Fermilab are truly necessary for all who wish to make an impact on the experiment -- for as good as indirect contacts have become, face to face meetings to work out details are necessary to make any collaborative effort succeed. (Parenthetically, it has also proven invaluable for US scientists to visit the foreign institutions, not only to consult on work in progress but to visit the heads of institutes and government officials to discuss broader issues.)

Apart from the inevitable occasional difficulties of assuring adequate funds to permit the necessary exchange of people, over the 16 years of the DZero experiment, there have been few major collaboration problems related to movements of scientists.

Particle physics is justly proud that such contacts have served as prototypes for subsequent more extensive collaborative ventures in science and other endeavors.

But in early summer 1998, following shortly after the tests of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, the State Department issued a ban on US collaboration with several institutions in these countries. Among those on the list were the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research as well as the Bhabha Atomic Research Center. TIFR has been a long-time collaborator on DZero; its research is wholly devoted to open fundamental research. BARC participates in heavy ion research at the RHIC facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory. For both, much of their research funding comes from the Indian Department of Atomic Energy.

TIFR is today one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in India; its facilities are available for university researchers. There is no weapons research conducted at TIFR. The campus overlooking the Indian Ocean is open to all, subject only to the security required to protect the Institute's property. The research at TIFR continues to follow the original motto stated by (its founder physicist Homi Bhabha): 'In this institute there will be no secrecy and everything will be free so that those who are genuinely interested can come and see what is being done and scientists from other parts of the world can come and work here.'

Today, funding for TIFR comes dominantly from the Indian DAE to a governing body, much as is the case for Fermilab, Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory or Brookhaven in the US.

The TIFR scientists and students at Fermilab were instructed to leave the country in early summer 1998. Despite their physical absence, the TIFR group made good on their commitment to DZero and shipped the $ 500K worth of scintillation counter detectors to Fermilab for inclusion in the upgraded experiment. (They were expected also to come and commission this apparatus, but were unable to do so.) Their physicists continued to work on scientific analyses, and completed three important papers in the past year.

In January 1999, TIFR hosted an international conference on hadron collider physics, which is central to the work done at DZero. Physicists from Fermilab and other US non-weapons national laboratories were invited to speak and chair sessions. They were not granted visas by the State Department, despite representations by the Secretary of Energy to the State Department supporting this exchange. US university physicists were allowed to travel to Bombay. The delegates to the conference wrote a petition to Secretary Richardson protesting the ban, and seeking DOE assistance in getting the restriction on scientific collaboration lifted.

In February 1999, the DZero collaboration sent a letter and petition to State and DOE urging removal of the restrictions on collaborations in fundamental research between the US and India. In that letter, they noted that such restrictions have, in a narrow sense, impeded the conduct of a high priority US research project, and went on to say:

'In a wider sense, such restrictions are antithetical to the conduct of open scientific inquiry and the search for fundamental knowledge, as developed over the past hundred years by the United States and other nations. We know of no precedent for limiting the participation in basic, non-security-related scientific experimentation, or in the diffusion of knowledge that derives from it. We believe that attempts to restrict such basic science collaborations as an adjunct to political and security considerations are counterproductive, are demeaning to the image of a free and progressive society, and are ineffectual as a diplomatic tool. They damage the United States's ability to participate in worldwide scientific activities.'

A response of March 30, 1999 from Gary Usrey, US State Department Country Director for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives Affairs, termed the sanctions 'a regrettable consequence of India and Pakistan's decisions to conduct nuclear tests' and noted that a great deal of scientific collaboration with India is going forward in areas that do not have nuclear or missile applications.

Another letter (May 12, 1999) was sent from DZero to State (and DOE) to explicitly request an exemption for TIFR from the ban, stressing the fact that TIFR is solely a fundamental research center, with an autonomous (non-government) governing council. The June 16, 1999 response from Usrey left little chance for further appeal by DZero: 'During this process [creating a list of scientific and research entities that have supported nuclear and missile programs] we looked carefully at TIFR and concluded that it and the Department of Atomic Energy... clearly belong on this list. As a result, I regret that we are not able to exempt these institutions from the application of our sanctions on India.''

The story with the BARC collaboration in the PHENIX experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven is similar. No scientists from BARC have been able to come to the experiment, though I believe some have visited the US -- BARC has shipped the promised equipment to BNL. The group seems to have since decoupled from the physics research program now just starting.

Though the ban in the physics sector applied only to TIFR and BARC, Indian university researchers have felt the pressure. A DZero collaborator, originally from Panjab University who did his Ph D at the University of Michigan returned to India on family business. He won a postdoctoral fellowship on DZero at Florida State. At the US embassy in Delhi he was asked to give the field he would work in ('particle physics experiment') and asked what institutions were members of the experiment he was to be associated with.

When the TIFR association surfaced, the process was halted. Inquiries were made concerning the nature of Fermilab's research and after several months a visa was issued, but only for work at Fermilab. Similar incidents are reported by Indian university researchers in PHENIX. An Indian scientist working on unclassified research at Los Alamos was expelled.

It is worth re-iterating that Fermilab, like other laboratories in the US working on non-classified research, is an open institution, where scientists from across the world work to expand our knowledge of nature. All scientific results enter into the public domain through publication in journals, freely accessible documents, or web sites. Although these laboratories receive their dominant funding from the US government (typically the DOE), they are administered by independent bodies, typically formed from groups of universities interested in such fundamental research.

TIFR is organized in the same way. It conducts only basic research, though the funds come from the Indian government through the Department of Atomic Energy. The same pattern of course exists for most other research institutions in DZero -- in France, Russia, the UK etc, physicists receive their funds from governmental agencies that are also charged with issues relating to nuclear energy, weapons or environmental matters.

Sanctions such as those placed on TIFR also damage the US -- they discourage the participation of the most talented individuals from other nations in our projects of highest scientific priority. They have the potential to lead to restrictions on US scientists at facilities abroad.

The sanctions have damaged the conduct of the DZero and PHENIX experiments -- both high priority activities of the US government -- by denying access to those who have built major portions of the experiments, thus necessitating unexpected (and unbudgeted) effort by US scientists to incorporate this equipment.

One of the most important aspects of international scientific co-operation is that young people from emerging nations get the opportunity to learn front-line techniques and participate in high-visibility research projects. These individuals often return to their homes to establish a new base of science and technology that helps to stabilize those societies.

Many of those who rise to positions of eminence in government and industry in these nations are those who have been trained in the collaborative environment of scientific research. When these people assume positions of leadership, the United States benefits from their understanding of the importance of such interactions, and from their appreciation of the ways of a free democracy.

The ban now placed on fundamental science in India (and Pakistan) is different from ever before. Even during the Cold War, collaboration in basic science with the USSR continued. Despite disagreements with China, we do not have restrictions on Chinese participation in basic science activities. Iranian physicists have been welcome in our basic science laboratories despite considerable disagreements between the US and Iran on other issues.

The ban on fundamental scientific research is in the end ineffective. The results of that research are open to all. The interconnectivity of science means that even if we do not mingle with foreign colleagues within the US, we do so elsewhere. The DZero collaborators at TIFR also participate on experiments being planned for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland -- as do many US physicists, including those from the national laboratories. LHC participation is, of course, a major priority of the DOE and Congress, with over $ 600 million being contributed from the US to that project.

Though the sanctions on TIFR scientists may drive them out of DZero, we will continue to interact with them at the LHC. The only effect is to strengthen the European LHC project at the expense of US projects.

The DZero experience in fighting the loss of valued Indian colleagues has shown that the arguments of groups with relatively specific interests are likely to be ineffective in making the case for free interchanges among scientists. I believe that only through the concerted efforts of the broader community -- through such organizations as the AAAS and the National Academies -- working with the Congress and Executive branches, are we likely to succeed in making the case for an appropriate support for scientific freedom.

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