Saturday, March 19, 2022

Science "Espionage"


New Yorker - "Have Chinese Spies Infiltrated American Campuses?"

"There is a long-standing conflict between scientists, who see themselves as citizens of a cosmopolitan republic of unrestricted inquiry, and the state, which is likelier to assign a property value to knowledge. Benjamin Franklin held that “science must be an international pursuit” in service of the “improvement of humanity’s estate.” He never sought to monetize his inventions, and shared the fruits of his research with friends and rivals alike. But what looked to some like the magnanimous diffusion of progress looked to others like theft. During the Industrial Revolution, Britain declared the emigration of skilled artisans and the export of specialized machinery treasonous. Alexander Hamilton, unimpressed, paid bounties to anyone who could deliver British manufacturing secrets, and espionage drove the growth of the American textile industry.


I asked Mario Daniels, the historian, why, if we already have the tools we need, there is so much hand-wringing about China now. He suggested that what’s new is a pervasive unease about America’s decline. “The difference between now and the early Cold War was that back then the Americans always thought they were more or less the uncontested leaders,” he said. “And that has changed.”


The deeper issues, though, are less likely to be resolved with the prosecution of individual actors than with a revision of our national priorities. Zuoyue Wang, a historian of science, told me that two historical episodes might guide our way forward: “One was the news of the first successful Soviet atomic-bomb test in 1949. Which spies gave them the secret? Klaus Fuchs was arrested, and that fed into the Red Scare and McCarthyism. The other was the launch of Sputnik, in 1957, and there was more introspection then. That debate led to massive investment in science, education, and technology.” He continued, “There are global problems that affect American interests, like climate change and public health and nuclear weapons, and we need international scientific collaboration to solve them.”


When I visited Tao, Peng brought out fifty dumplings she had made for lunch, but she and Tao took only a few. “We’re in big debt now,” Tao told me. They had borrowed money from several of their friends at church and received donations on GoFundMe. “If I were at Notre Dame now, faculty members’ kids get fifty per cent of their tuition paid anywhere,” Tao said. “My kids are going to hate me in the future.” Peng told me they are likely to lose the home they bought to anchor themselves in the community. She has put her licensure efforts on hold indefinitely. “I have a dream, too,” she said. “I want to be a doctor.” She looked over at Tao, who looked down at his uneaten dumplings. “He should be doing his research. It’s such a waste—it’s unfair to him, and to America. He could make so much more of a contribution, and I don’t know how they can’t see that.”

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