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The Sciences

How Embarassing!

Cosmic VarianceBy Mark TroddenAugust 17, 2005 12:40 PM

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Well, here I am in China, being treated wonderfully by gracious and polite hosts and learning first hand about some of the wonderful science being done by Chinese researchers. Today, for example, I heard a very nice talk by Ping He, who described a large-scale computational project to understand the distribution of the dark baryons in the universe. It is impressive work. To come to China to take part in this exciting exchange of ideas and approaches, I needed to obtain a Chinese visa. I did this through a company, a representative of which walks your application to the embassy and gets it processed. The entire procedure took about a week, most of which was taken up by my passport being FedExed to the company and back to me. It was, obviously, very easy. So you can imagine how embarrassing it is to read, in The New York Times, about how hard it can be for Chinese researchers to get their visas to visit the United States. Those of us in academia have been dealing with this problem for the last three or four years, encountering long delays in getting visas for excellent graduate students, for postdocs, for faculty and for visitors to conferences. However, this particular story is even more embarassing because it concerns Xiaoyun Wang, a Chinese mathematician, who last year

...shook up the insular world of code breakers by exposing a new vulnerability in a crucial American standard for data encryption. On Monday, she was scheduled to explain her discovery in a keynote address to an international group of researchers meeting in California. But a stand-in had to take her place, because she was not able to enter the country. Indeed, only one of nine Chinese researchers who sought to enter the country for the conference received a visa in time to attend.

In other words, Dr. Wang's visit was undoubtedly going to help us with national security, as well as representing the free exchange of scientific knowledge that we should expect and which provides important common ground between the two countries. The Times continues:

The visa snag angered organizers of the annual meeting of the International Cryptology Conference, who argued that restrictions originally created to prevent the transfer of advanced technologies from the United States are now having the opposite effect. "It's not a question of them stealing our jobs," said Stuart Haber, a Hewlett-Packard computer security expert who is program chairman for the meeting, Crypto 2005, being held this week in Santa Barbara. "We need to learn from them, but we are shooting ourselves in the foot."

And we should be hopping mad about it!

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