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Scientists in Canada Are Organizing a Boycott Against US Conferences

“If one of us can’t go, we don’t go at all.”

by Farnia Fekri
Feb 2 2017, 5:58pm

Ken Lung/Flickr

The Trump administration's controversial ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries is impacting refugees, US residents and their families. It's also having an effect on scientists, who rely on international collaboration (and often plenty of travel) to keep their research going. 

Now some in Canada say they'll boycott conferences being held in the US in solidarity, and as a form of protest. Hundreds of Canadian academics have added their names to a petition to boycott US conferences. One is even offering to pay others' cancellation fees, if they decide not to go.

Read More: Trump's Travel Ban Disrupts Meeting of ICANN, The Internet's Governing Body

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen, who is based at Western University in London, Ontario, publicly announced his decision to refuse an invitation to talk in Washington DC at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, which will be held in November of this year. The group calls itself the "world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system."

According to a public Facebook post, Owen made the decision because he didn't "feel comfortable contributing to a conference from which many great scientists will be barred."

Owen has also offered to compensate the cancellation fees of others from Western's Brain and Mind Institute, and pay for international scientists to come to the university to present their research. He was unavailable to comment to Motherboard because of his busy schedule, according to an assistant.

Also at Western, cognitive psychology professor John Paul Minda said his lab—which includes around 150 faculty, trainees, post doc students and graduate students from around the world—is considering boycotting US conferences, including meetings of the Association for Psychological Science (in Massachusetts in May) and the Society for Research in Child Development (in Texas in April).

"We'd like to be able to stick together," he told Motherboard. "If one of us can't go, we don't go at all."

Minda said scientists are boycotting these conferences to show support for US scientists affected by the restrictions, as well as for the safety of Canadian trainees and graduate students who might be put at risk or go through difficulties at the border. Although Canadian dual citizens are not subject to Trump's travel ban, many would understandably prefer not to travel right now. Airlines have been barring travelers who might be affected by the ban from even getting on flights

"On the one hand, we'd like to show solidarity with some of our [international] trainees who may not be able to travel" or present their research, Minda said, but on the other hand "doing a boycott robs [students who can travel] of the opportunity."

Despite his Tweets, Minda said, "I don't know what to do yet. Ultimately as scientists, as researchers and as academics, we want to ensure that the research we're doing is able to be discussed."

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