Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Dumb and dumber

Removing your shoes at the airport is dumb. Here is something dumber: Proposed Federal rules restricting foreign researchers' access to equipment subject to export controls, even if the underlying research is exempt from licensing (Chronicle for Higher Education [subscription required, alas]).

Example: a fermenter, a piece of equipment that is used to grow cells, often cells containing recombinant DNA. This is a common piece of equipment, widely available outside the US. The new rules would require universities and biotech companies to obtain licenses for foreigners using such devices, even if the work itself will be openly published and uncontroversial. Why?
The Commerce Department says the changes are necessary to ensure that spies and terrorists do not obtain access to equipment that could have military applications.


. . . some academics say that the government has gone overboard, imposing so many licensing and clearance requirements that it is becoming difficult for universities to attract foreign students and scholars. The number of foreign students on American campuses declined last year by 2.4 percent -- the first drop in foreign enrollments since the 1971-72 academic year.

"The issue here is death by a thousand cuts," said Eric L. Hirschhorn of the Industry Coalition on Technology Transfer, noting that some foreign researchers must already undergo extensive background checks before obtaining a visa.

Peter Lichtenbaum, assistant secretary of commerce for export administration, said the department would "not shy away from doing the right thing because of impacts in other areas."
As I said: Dumb and dumber.