Good Math, Bad Math

One of the things I get to do now as a member of the scienceblogs gang is answer these weekly “Ask a science blogger” questions. This weeks is actually really quite appropriate for me given stuff going on this week at home.

The question: “Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?”

My answer? For me, I’d have to say that there is absolutely no question that there is a dramatic change. The main cause isn’t dislike of the US or of Americans; it’s caused by the way that the current immigration and visa related policies of our government have a completely unpredictable and harshly negative impact on people who would otherwise be very favorably inclined towards us.

For a few examples that I’ve seen just in the last month or two:

  1. My wife is a program chair of a conference in NYC this week, and she’s had two authors cancel their presentations because they couldn’t get visas.
  2. I know of at least a half-dozen students who were supposed to start at US grad schools last fall, but couldn’t, because of visa problems.
  3. A coworker went home to have her visa renewed, and is unable to return to her job in the US because, as someone with an arab-sounding last name, they flagged her as a risk, and it’ll take at least six months for her to get a new visa. (Seriously, we’re refusing to allow people who went to school in the US, and have permanent jobs in the US to re-enter the country!)
  4. Another coworker went home to visit family, and got harassed by the immigration official at the airport.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    Every time something like that happens, in addition to the damage that we do to the specific people affected, we also influence others to not waste their time in even trying to come here.

    As for whether this will have an effect on the US? Again, absolutely. I know the faculty at my alma mater; and I know faculty at many other schools. In CS, at least half the faculty is foreign born. Same for math. People like them aren’t going to keep coming to the US when they’re going to be at risk for harassment, for losing jobs and homes over arbitrary nonsense from petty officials.

    It’s already visible if you’re looking for it. People that I know, who five years ago would have been taking jobs in the US are taking jobs in Canada, in Germany, in England. Because they don’t want to face the risks of coming here.

    What to do about it? It’s also an easy answer. We need to get our government, and the people working for it to stop acting like assholes. We need to make some effort to recognize the fact that the vast, overwhelming majority of people are not terrorists, and to incorporate that fact into our policies. We need to stop stalling people for no reason; and remove the element of capriciousness from the whole process of entering the country.

    A person who has a paper in a technical conference in the US, visiting on a short term visa, is not a huge security risk. Top students coming from foreign schools to get educated in americac are not huge security risks. Not every person with an arab-sounding last name is a terrorist. A person with a job in america who hasn’t done anything wrong, who would never be considered for being charged with an expulsion-level crime, should not be punished for going home to visit. None of these things make sense. None of these things improved our security. All they accomplish is to harrass, intimidate, and frighten innocent people, and drive them away from doing things that would be significant positive contributions to american society and the american economy. Quite simply, we need to stop doing that. We are making a deliberate policy of making lives miserable for foreigners who want to contribute to our society. That needs to stop.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    June 5, 2006

    I was in France last year and got to see the effects of this idiotic policy first-hand, upon the people it impacted most unjustly: the grad students and unestablished young scientists who couldn’t study in the United States or even jump through all the hoops to attend conferences here. Conference organizers started shifting their meeting sites to other countries which had fewer restrictions. . . . The whole thing is just inane.

  2. #2 Ithika
    June 5, 2006

    I have to say, getting a paper accepted at a conference is a lot of effort in order to sneak into the country and wreak havoc. Still, maybe not quite as much as writing a whole book! :-)

  3. #3 Hank Fox
    June 5, 2006

    You stated the main problem in the sentence:

    “We need to get our government, and the people working for it, to stop acting like assholes.”

    The single most significant common characteristic of the conservative-controlled White House (and everything IT controls), Congress and judiciary these days is mean-spiritedness.

    Our nation has been taken over by bullies — people who take pleasure in pushing, hurting, scaring, and robbing others … simply because they can.

    Corporations, including the major media, have gone along with it or helped drive it. All the major churches have gone along with it. Worst of all, the Democrats have gone along with it.

    Even if the Democrats take back Congress this year, and then in 2008 retake the White House, NOTHING significant will change. The people in power, whoever they are, have gained too much to want to weaken what they have in favor of the powerless.

    Unless voters address these issues directly, and demand candidates who hear them, things will only get worse. George Bush, Karl Rove and company have succeeded not only in destroying America’s image, but have started us on an almost unstoppable decline into a viciously isolationist, militaristic and anti-science theocracy.

  4. #4 llewelly
    June 5, 2006

    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

    At one time, these words were engraved on a plaque, in a museum, in the base of a statue on an island in New York Harbor.
    However, while America stared aghast at two towers that got knocked over by airliners, George W. Bush raped the statue and threw it in the harbor. Someday, I hope, America will think to search the harbor for the poor girl, to find out whether or not she survived.

  5. #5 wolfwalker
    June 5, 2006

    [[ Top students coming from foreign schools to get educated in americac are not huge security risks. ]]

    Unless they’re terrorists using “a student coming to study in America” as their cover. Weren’t several of the 9/11 terrorists here on student visas?

    [[ Not every person with an arab-sounding last name is a terrorist. ]]

    But virtually all international terrorists today are people with arab-sounding names. Perhaps you should turn your justified anger on those who have opened all Arabs to suspicion, by making “Arab” synonymous with “terrorist” throughout the world.

    [[ A person with a job in america who hasn't done anything wrong, who would never be considered for being charged with an expulsion-level crime, should not be punished for going home to visit. ]]

    How does a security spook tell the difference between a person with an arab name going home to a Mideast country to visit family, and a person with an arab name going home to a Mideast country to meet with their terrorist boss and get orders and information on a terrorist plot? The London and Toronto bomb plots make it clear that even middle-class and upper-class, well-educated Muslims can secretly be terrorists.

    The problems you describe are infuriating, I agree. But what alternative is there?

  6. #6 Alan
    June 5, 2006

    I have a US visa and have always found the immigration folk extremely polite and professional – I think that the service is quicker now than two years ago, but this may be due to the different airports I fly into now.
    I also wonder if the less hassle I get now is due to their faith (misplaced, or otherwise) in the electronic records and fingerprint stuff they have now. I seem to get less questions and generally feel less intimidated than before.
    Then again I am white, from the UK and look pretty harmless (geeky, scrawny etc). It is possible that others who better “fit the profile” get more hassle.
    Going home soon to renew my visa stamp, will see how that goes – fingers crossed.

  7. #7 Millimeter Wave
    June 6, 2006

    this is absolutely right. Not only that, I can attest that it doesn’t only apply to particular ethnic groups; as a British (legal) immigrant to the US, I can tell you that the process is nightmarish, overly bureaucratic and apparently almost arbitrary.

    One other data point: a colleague of mine who is (as I have been in the past) heavily involved in industry standards (in this case IEEE 802 networking – Ethernet and WiFi/WiMAX stuff), has made petitions to the IEEE standards association to not hold certain standards meetings (specifically pertaining network security) in the US anymore – because it is becoming increasingly difficult for non-US attendees to obtain visas to attend. As soon as anybody starts talking about “network security”, it seems that flags are raised that make this especially difficult.

  8. #8 BrassyDel
    June 6, 2006

    One of my fellow biology classmates at CU had to push her graduation date back because at this point she’s very concerned about getting to stay in the country after graduation. She was explaining a little to me about how hard it would be for her to get a job after graduation because she needs a company that can sponsor her (or something), otherwise she won’t get a work visa… (I’m a bit fuzzy on the details).

    So yesh. Not assuming hard-working, random innocents are terrorists and whatnot might be a good thing.

  9. #9 CK
    June 6, 2006

    As much as I hate to defend the current US administration. It was actually quite easy for me, as a Canadian, to get a US student visa for grad school. Indeed, it was easier for me to get all the stuff I need to go to the States to study then it is for an American student to come to Canada (I have several friends from the US who had a hell of a time getting Canadian student visas).

    When it comes to US immigration policy and how it affects scholarship, whether there’s a problem or not seems to be dependent upon which country one is from.

  10. #10 Antti Rasinen
    June 6, 2006

    What an interesting definition of “brain drain” =)

    Brain drain usually means that the top talent of the country is going to study or work abroad (ie. in USA) — I don’t think I’ve heard too many stories of grade A people from the states going to study in Germany or the UK or Russia or Senegal :)

    The reduced US brain import might also be a good sign! If might mean that there are now more opportunities around the world for people to lead satisfying lives, without having to leave your home, friends and perhaps even loved ones behind. Relocation sucks even within the same country — imagine moving from one continent to another…

    But if the reduction is due to silly immigration laws… ugh. Not good.

  11. #11 Ed Darrell
    June 6, 2006

    One of the more ironic effects — you may or may not actually laugh about it — is that the anti-immigrant scientist bug has hamstrung the U.S.’s efforts to get safe against bioterrorism.

    You could look it up. At the time of the anthrax attacks, U.S. universities were shutting down their research on how to respond to such attacks because most of the people involved had been “delisted” as “security risks” to study the topic.

    Germany at least tried to make like they knew what damage they were doing, and asked for it, when they made the now-humorous-sounding assaults on Einstein’s reputation (“100 Scientists Against Einstein?” Einstien asked about the title of one assault. “If I were wrong, one would be enough.”)

    There is no indication anyone in the Bush administration has even figured out who it is who does the work to make us safe.

    Yaknow, Pat Robertson may be on to something. Is there any way to explain the curse of George W. Bush being inflicted on the American people other than as a divine plague for some sin we have committed?

  12. #12 Fernando Magyar
    June 6, 2006

    “Our nation has been taken over by bullies — people who take pleasure in pushing, hurting, scaring, and robbing others … simply because they can.”

    Hmm, kinda reminiscent of a certain period of German history during the 1930’s…

  13. #13 Pinchbeck
    June 6, 2006

    I’ve been following the ‘brain-drain’ phenom. there in the US for a while, now.

    Wow, you guy’s are really fucking yourselves over.

  14. #14 Andrew
    June 6, 2006

    I know I don’t have any first-hand experience in this area, but it seems strange to me that you define a brain drain as the shortage in people coming to America to study. Whenever I’ve read about a brain drain in the past, it’s been a problem of people leaving a country (such as Germany or Britain for science researchers, or various countries in Africa for medical professionals) to go to a country such as America where there is more money available.

  15. #15 miko
    June 6, 2006

    Customs officials in the US have to pass some uniform asshole code of conduct test. i mean, you would think going to Israel, or Kashmir, or Godless Red China you might perhaps expect some rough handling and petty delays, but my experience (as an American) is that entering the US is ALWAYS the worst. Partly it’s that my wife is Canadian. She’s white, with an Austrian surname, so no “scary brown muslim” bells can be going off, but immigration officials on several occasions have asked us “why” we are married (?!?!?) and detained us under all kinds of pretenses. “love knows no borders” is not the answer they’re looking for, i’ve tried it.

    It’s strange considering its history, but the U.S. is the least welcoming country I have been to, and I’m from there. The funniest thing is that simply being a citizen but not living there seems to raise suspicions among the elite squad of immigration officials, with their cute rehearsed TV cop banter. As if I my allegiance, of which I’ve never had any anyway, is in question. Or was relevant to a 5 day visit.

    Chinese, Indian, European, Southeast Asian, and Japanese friends have all had terrible experiences with visas and/or immigration officials. Unfortunately, it’s not just at the border. America’s rich blend of jingoism, ignorance, and xenophobia has become even richer and meatier in recent years.

    The lighter side of visiting is that so many people are absurdly fat–even the kids!–and comically loud and stupid sounding. Holy shit, lay off the corn syrup, just a little bit, the planet’s going to develop a wobble. This and other empire-in-decline details are what we savor on trips to the US. I love it when friends get back from their first trip there, with all their preconceived notions from media turned completely around. It’s like the wizard of Oz, but in addition to being a bit silly, the wizard is a big fat bigot with a 3rd rate education. Americans will need all the help they can get from their nonexistant god if they ever have have to actually compete in a global economy.

  16. #16 drowned
    June 6, 2006

    It’s not just the sciences these visa problems are affecting either; the arts are also suffering. Some orchestras have stopped touring given that they often have to haul 60 odd players to the one visa processing centre in their country, at great expense and inconvenience. Some (at least one in Germany and one in the UK)have said enough and decided not to bother with the US. Ultimately, without a change in policy, the US will be a much poorer place, both figuratively and literally.

  17. #17 Lancelot Gobbo
    June 6, 2006

    I agree that the phrase ‘brain drain’ was originally coined in the UK to describe the outward flow from the UK, principally to the US. In fact, an important part of gaining promotion on the ladder at a teaching hospital was to have your ‘BTA’ – ‘Been To America’!
    Be that as it may, the combination of discouraging new blood, poor science education in schools, and an actively anti-science government will mean less new research being done in the US, and we may soon be looking more to China and India as the places where interesting new things arise.

  18. #18 MarkCC
    June 6, 2006

    [[ Top students coming from foreign schools to get educated in americac are not huge security risks. ]]

    Unless they’re terrorists using “a student coming to study in America” as their cover. Weren’t several of the 9/11 terrorists here on student visas?

    Some of the 9/11 terrorists were here on student visas – but you need to make the distinction between “anyone who comes on a student visa”, and “top students coming to american grad schools”.

    The 9/11 terrorists on student visas were here to study at flight schools.

    There’s a huge and important difference between the top foreign students enrolling as full-time graduate students in American universities, and people coming on student visas to study in crappy tech schools.

    [[ Not every person with an arab-sounding last name is a terrorist. ]]

    But virtually all international terrorists today are people with arab-sounding names. Perhaps you should turn your justified anger on those who have opened all Arabs to suspicion, by making “Arab” synonymous with “terrorist” throughout the world.

    First – we draw some strange distinctions. Why are Eric Rudolph and Tim McVeigh not considered terrorists? We see terrorists as Arabs just because we’ve decided that when Arabs do it, it’s terrorism. What’s the difference between the American who throws a firebomb at a Mosque, the Tamil who bombs a bus in SriLanka, the Hindu who sets a train full of Muslims on fire, the american who blows up abortion clinics, and the Arab who bombs a building? We create a definition, and then make decisions based on it, even though it’s arbitrary.

    But even if you accept that most terrorists are muslim, I still don’t see that as an excuse for how we mistreat people. Some miniscule number of arab people do something bad – so we therefore mistreat *every* arab person in the entire world? And not just arab people, but everyone with an arab-sounding name?

    It’s stupid on our part to treat people like that for no good reason other than ethnicity (or perceived ethnicity). But worse, it actually *reduces* our security. Remember Richard Reid? Remember Timothy McVeigh?

    The biggest stupidity of that kind of profiling is that it *doesn’t* increase our security. It makes it *easier* for the “bad guys” to get people through.

    I always remember listening, a few years ago on NPR, to a guy who used to work security for El-Al. He was talking about the terrorist arrests that he had been part of. The interesting thing about it was that he mentioned three different arrests – and *none* of them were arabs. One was an american black muslim; one was a caucasian british woman engaged to a palestinian; and one was an Irishman.

    When the terrorists know who you’re looking for, they’ll pick people who don’t look like that.

    The point is, you need to identify people not by something trivial like skin color, or the sound of their name; but by actual real risk factors – which include carefully gathered intelligence, behaviors, etc.

    [[ A person with a job in america who hasn't done anything wrong, who would never be considered for being charged with an expulsion-level crime, should not be punished for going home to visit. ]]

    How does a security spook tell the difference between a person with an arab name going home to a Mideast country to visit family, and a person with an arab name going home to a Mideast country to meet with their terrorist boss and get orders and information on a terrorist plot? The London and Toronto bomb plots make it clear that even middle-class and upper-class, well-educated Muslims can secretly be terrorists.

    Why would a terrorist need to leave the country to get information on an imminent attack?

    If the person has never done anything to raise suspicions; if there’s no chance that they would have been arrested on suspicion if they hadn’t gone home to visit; if there is no reason to suspect them of anything; then it’s just stupid to pretend that there was a real justification for preventing them from coming back.

    The problems you describe are infuriating, I agree. But what alternative is there?

    How about profiling on behavior rather than ethnicity? How about not mistreating people unless we have evidence against them? How about looking at the individual and their behavior, associations, and circumstances instead of just the sound of their name?

    The real terrorists did a lot of things that should have raised suspicions. But we weren’t considered. We weren’t really looking for them. And the fact of the matter is: we still aren’t. We’re doing shallow stupid things that *look* like we’re taking real actions against terrorists; but we’re not actually doing anything that would identify the real terrorists. We’re just harrassing huge numbers of innocent people for no good reason.

  19. #19 y
    June 6, 2006

    US customs official: “Where were you born?”

    Me: “The District of Columbia.”

    US customs official: “Are you an American citizen?”

  20. #20 MarkCC
    June 6, 2006

    y:

    I’ve had a similar experience, although it was at least not with a customs officer. I went to grad school in Delaware. I have no idea how many times, dealing with travel agents, I told them I needed to get to X from Delaware, to have them ask “What state is that in?”. “Delaware”. “No, what state?”. “Delaware!”. “You already said that, what state is Delaware in?”.

    And so on, ad infinitum.

  21. #21 Arminius
    June 6, 2006

    I once had to trace the Canada U.S. border line on a map with my finger to show a U.S. customs agent that Montana is in-fact a state and not a Canadian province.

  22. #22 BMurray
    June 6, 2006

    I no longer travel to the US for business or pleasure, whereas there was a time when I conducted a great eal of useful business there. It’s no longer wirth the hassle. As a telling example, it’s less of a pain to do business in China.

  23. #23 SmellyTerror
    June 6, 2006

    Keep in mind that a lot of customs folk will be acting on what they *think* they’re supposed to do, rather than – necessarily – orders from On High. There may have been no instruction to “treat forners like crap”, but it’s the impression the guys on the ground and their direct supervisors have picked up. Without proper training they are acting on their own preconceptions, which are fuelled by whatever they come across in the media.

    This is a case where the rhetoric spouted by the bigwigs can have a real effect on the ground.

    Man-on-the-ground border security is almost entirely for show. Virtually all important results come from intelligence, and the border guys are only involved to put on the cuffs. All of the poking and prodding and paperwork and assorted crap are supposed to make the average schmo feel safer. But think about it: how many terrorists have been caught through these methods? I can’t think of any – apart from those who, as I mentioned, authorities knew were coming through anyway.

    Regarding brain drain: it’s valid to discuss a drain of talent which would be operating in the US, but decide to go elsewhere. The scientific community is unusually fluid – it has to be to be fully effective. Discouraging people and ideas coming to america who otherwise would – yeah, I think that can be seen as a brain drain.

  24. #24 Nymphalidae
    June 6, 2006

    One of my friends went home to China to visit and almost couldn’t get back here. It took a very long time to sort out her visa, which makes sense, since entomologists are always concocting nefarious plots for world domination. I’m sure the immigration officials had just watched the Sci-Fi Original Movie “Mansquito” and were a little on edge.

  25. #25 Melee
    June 6, 2006

    I’m a goddamn US citizen, but was born abroad (Australia). I live in NY now, have a full-time academic position to go with my newly minted PhD. On a US passport, after a week’s visit to Canada I was given a hard time by homeland security when trying to re-enter the country. I had to provide alternative identification, and take about 20 minutes out of my day to answer the guy’s questions, delivered in a surly, completely arsehole-like manner. As far as I can figure, the problem is that US citizens aren’t supposed to have ‘accents’. Fuck this shit.

  26. #26 wolfwalker
    June 6, 2006

    “First – we draw some strange distinctions. Why are Eric Rudolph and Tim McVeigh not considered terrorists?”

    Who said they’re not terrorists? Not me. I said virtually all international terrorists are arabs. McVeigh and Rudolph weren’t international terrorists. They were Americans who launched their attacks within the United States.

    “What’s the difference between the American who throws a firebomb at a Mosque, the Tamil who bombs a bus in SriLanka, the Hindu who sets a train full of Muslims on fire, the american who blows up abortion clinics, and the Arab who bombs a building?”

    Only one difference: only the Arab is equally likely to do it anywhere in the world, not just within his own country.

    “When the terrorists know who you’re looking for, they’ll pick people who don’t look like that.”

    I doubt it. You’re assuming that terrorists are smart. They aren’t. (Though I wouldn’t wonder if they got the idea anyway, from reading “exposes” in the American press that describe the current security system’s weaknesses in detail and tell exactly how to penetrate it.) They could already be sending people who don’t look anything like Arabs: Indonesians from Jemaah Islamiah, for example, or Filipinos from Abu Sayyaf, or Africans from any of a dozen different groups. But I haven’t heard of anyone from any of those groups being caught in the US or Canada. Have you?

    “The point is, you need to identify people not by something trivial like skin color, or the sound of their name; but by actual real risk factors – which include carefully gathered intelligence, behaviors, etc.”

    The problem with this is that right now, “young Muslim man with an arab-sounding name” is a real risk factor. All nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers fit that description. All of the 7/7 London bombers fit that description. All of the men arrested in Canada last week fit that description. Can you point to one — just one — international terrorist or terrorist suspect caught or killed in North America in the last twenty years who did not fit that description?

    “Why would a terrorist need to leave the country to get information on an imminent attack?”

    Some of the 9/11 hijackers did. Most terrorist conspirators are cartoon “secret agents.” They’re not James Bond, they’re Boris and Natasha. They do stupid and risky things because it gives them a thrill. They make lots of mistakes that a good surveillance system can pick up on, if it’s watching them.

    “And the fact of the matter is: we still aren’t. We’re doing shallow stupid things that *look* like we’re taking real actions against terrorists; but we’re not actually doing anything that would identify the real terrorists. We’re just harrassing huge numbers of innocent people for no good reason.”

    I agree. We’re subjecting everyone to equal suspicion rather than focusing suspicion where it belongs: individuals who match the profile of international terrorists, namely young Muslim men with arab-sounding names and Middle Eastern features. Oh, wait, we can’t only suspect _them_, it’s discriminatory.

    It’s a great little Catch-22, you see. You want to use all the available tool and methods and skills to catch the real terrorists and avoid inconveniencing innocent folks. So do I. But then you turn around and demand that the government not use the most reliable method we currently have of telling whether an individual might pose a threat to the US. What other method are you suggesting?

  27. #27 HI
    June 7, 2006

    I am a postdoc from Japan. I don’t know how bad things have become after 9/11, as I haven’t gone out of US after that. I haven’t been back to Japan after 9/11 mainly because of my personal situation, but fear of any potential problem re-entering did influence my decision. I can certainly imagine that the new immigration rules discourage foreigners from coming to US.

    But I think there is still strong incentive for scientists from countries like India and China to go to developed countries. And if they want not just to study for a few years, but to actually immigrate, what are the alternatives to US? I think continental Europe will not be a good destination to immigrate and Japan is out of question. UK may be a possibility, especially for people from the Commonwealth, but I wonder how easy it is for non-Caucasians to assimilate. Canada can be a good alternative to US, although the population is smaller and doesn’t quite have the prestige of US and UK. Australia is perhaps similar to Canada with less racial diversity. I guess US will still remain attractive to foreign scientists, but a country like Canada can benefit as it becomes more and more difficult to go to US.

    If indeed talented foreign scientists start to avoid coming to US, US will have to depend more on home-grown talents. US has a history of producing very creative scientists. But the state of science education in US is not good right now. So, bad immigration policy combined with poor science education can be detrimental to science in US in the future.

  28. #28 MarkCC
    June 7, 2006

    wolfwalker:

    Non-arab terrorist arrested since 9/11? Richard Reid. You know, the white british guy who almost blew up a plane?

    The thing about this profiling nonsense isn’t that it’s discriminatory – it that it’s self-defeating. Terrorists are *not* stupid. They’re often sloppy, they’re often crazy. But let’s be honest: they’re not stupid. As the Israeli’s have pointed out repeatedly: if you *announce* the criteria that you’re going to use to identify terrorists, the only thing that that accomplishes is *to inform the terrorists what they need to do to avoid your screening*.

    We have *never* captured a terrorist by playing stupid obnoxious games with visas or immigration nonsense at airports. You mention the recent arrests in Canada; that’s actually a perfect example of how you *should* catch terrorists. Careful police work gathering and tracking information about terrorists led to the identification of a British guy who worked organizing groups of terrorists; his arrest led to more information which identified the people in this canadian group. Random harrassment of innocents with arab-sounding last names at airports didn’t catch them.

  29. #29 Gaurav
    June 7, 2006

    MarkCC:
    “the Hindu who sets a train full of Muslims on fire”

    You actually got this the other way round and missed something. “Muslims who set a train full of Hindu pilgrims on fire… AND Hindus who killed Muslims in revenge”.

  30. #30 wolfwalker
    June 7, 2006

    “Non-arab terrorist arrested since 9/11? Richard Reid.”

    Very good. I’d forgotten about him.

    “Terrorists are *not* stupid. They’re often sloppy, they’re often crazy. But let’s be honest: they’re not stupid.”

    I tend to disagree, but I see no way for either of us to prove the other wrong, so I’ll let it pass.

    “As the Israeli’s have pointed out repeatedly: if you *announce* the criteria that you’re going to use to identify terrorists, the only thing that that accomplishes is *to inform the terrorists what they need to do to avoid your screening*.”

    What they need to do and what they can or will do aren’t necessarily the same thing. It seems significant that five years after Reid was caught, the vast majority of Muslim terrorists are still young men of Mideast origin with arab-sounding names. If they could diversify their recruiting, and they know that doing so would make it harder for law-enforcement to find them, then why haven’t they done it yet?

    “We have *never* captured a terrorist by playing stupid obnoxious games with visas or immigration nonsense at airports.”

    True. And I agree, we shouldn’t be harassing folks who don’t fit the terrorist profile. We should focus our energies on those that do.

    “Careful police work gathering and tracking information about terrorists led to the identification of a British guy who worked organizing groups of terrorists; his arrest led to more information which identified the people in this canadian group.”

    Other accounts I’ve seen suggest that vital leads came from two men arrested in Georgia.

    It should be noted that one of several elements that got the police suspicious about these men was that several of them had attended a training camp north of Toronto, where the neighbors got downright scared by the fact that the camp was used exclusively by young Muslim men, and sounds of automatic weapons fire indicated the place was being used for military-grade weapons training.

    You’re quite right that if security and police organizations let it become known that they’re looking harder at young Muslim men with arabic-sounding names than at other people, then terrorists will probably start recruiting people that don’t fit that profile. But with rare exceptions, that hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, the terrorists themselves have given us a valuable tool for determining who is or isn’t likely to be a terrorist. Why don’t we use it for as long as it lasts?

  31. #31 MarkCC
    June 7, 2006

    The canadian arrest is actually part of a fascinating cooperation between police forces in multiple countries. The Georgian case was *also* discovered through information from the guy arrested in England; the data they got from him led to both the folks in Georgia and the guys in Canada. There were multiple pieces of evidence that were combined to provide enough information to catch these guys.

    And yes – the training camp in canada was a good piece of evidence. But the reason that it was good evidence was because *going to a camp and firing automatic weapons is not common behavior in canada.* That is – the behavior of these people was unusual in a way that suggested that it would be a good idea to take a closer look at them and their activities.

    This is exactly the point I’m making. The way to catch terrorists is not to harass people at airports because of their last name. It’s to do real police work, and track down the people who are really doing something. It’s not about racial, religious, or linguistic profiling: it’s about *behavioral* profiling. When you see someone doing something which is unusual, *that* should be what triggers an investigation.

    The current policy of randomly harrassing people on the basis of their names – that’s just completely counterproductive. It does not accomplish anything in the way of preventing terrorism. It does screw up the lives of huge numbers of innocent people, drive away people who would be productive and valuable members of our society; create vast amounts of negative feelings about America among people worldwide; and drive allies away from being associated with the US.

  32. #32 liveparadox
    June 7, 2006

    Besides, most of the presumed terrorists arrested here in Canada were born here. They are, by definition, Canadian citizens. No amount of immigration hassling is going to catch that.

  33. #33 MC
    June 8, 2006

    As far as I can tell, the brain drain is very real and has been for many, many years now. The USA has failed to replace the number of scientists disappearing from the job market because there simply aren’t enough of them being educated at the universities and for years now that gap has been filled by the USA’s willingness to import foreign brains to the states. It is the only western nation with such an overwhelming percentage of foreigners in top ‘brainy’ positions — not just university professors, but in industrial research labs as well.

    As Mark points out there are a lot of foreigners at the top positions of academia, but this has more to do with the fact that the USA cannot on its own fill those positions with qualified people, than it has to do with US citizens fleeing the country.

    The animosity that the USA has expressed in the recent half a decade towards foreigners by virtue of their foreign policies pretty much reflecting the idea that the entire universe revolves around the USA has definitely NOT helped the academic world.
    The USA will still get an influx of bright, persistent people from India, other Asian countries, Canada and so on, but with the EU maturing its research projects there are now greater opportunities for a science career in fields where one would traditionally have gone to the USA to get the best opportunities. It’s simply not worth the hassle with immigration and the insecurity of the political situation anymore.

    Especially in the light of recent domestic immigration talks where US politicians were on national TV advocating the idea of kicking out 11 million people (4% of the population who actually have WORK), what kind of a signal does that send to a foreigner who might be thinking of coming to the US for 3-5 years to study?
    A lot can happen in that time and as a foreigner you really want to have at least some certainty in your own mind that while you’re living in the US, the politicians are not going to pass a law that allows every citizen to start lynching dark-skinned people who look at them funny.

    That’s most likely just rhetorical idiocy on Sunday talkshow TV of course, but a population that could on a massive scale even *entertain* the idea of Evolution somehow opposing religion, or Intelligent Design being taught alongside science in southern states, or stem cell research being an abomination, or outlawing gay rights, or discussing when life begins, and so on and so on.

    These are discussions that most of the rest of the world (particularly in western civilization) have already been through decades ago. It’s a done deal, there’s nothing left more than fringe groups still being mad about these things.

    The USA has a really big PR problem when it comes to science and sanity, it’s like a social Dark Age that other westerners really have a hard time comprehending because everyone else has moved on long ago. We all know that the USA has all the science and all the knowledge already. Thanks to open academia and the Internet, they have all the same studies, all the same knowledge that Europeans have used to debunk the mad rantings of religious nutcases, but there seems to be either an unwillingness to stand up to these people publically, or at least an inability to gain the necessary momentum for it in the public debate.

    All through my university education it had been my plan to go to the USA to get my PhD, but after researching the possibilities extensively and looking at the xenophobic, religious madness that permeates the public sphere in the USA, I know I have personally been completely turned off the idea.

    During this summer I’ll be seeking something closer to home.

  34. #34 Corkscrew
    June 9, 2006

    The problem with this is that right now, “young Muslim man with an arab-sounding name” is a real risk factor. All nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers fit that description. All of the 7/7 London bombers fit that description. All of the men arrested in Canada last week fit that description.

    They all breathed oxygen and had DNA based on guanine, thymine, cytosine and adenine too. Obviously we need to outlaw these dangerous chemicals.

    What you’re doing here is confusing P(A|B) with P(B|A). The probability that a given international terrorist is of Arab descent may be high, but the probability that any given Arab traveller is a terrorist is absolutely miniscule. You’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, and you’re setting the hay on fire in the process.

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