For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, faults and fractures are opening up in the political landscape of Europe which pose severe threats to science and scientific cooperation. The Brexit is only the most spectacular development to this day; populist, isolationist, and anti-European movements are on the rise in other European countries, or are in power already. A continued erosion of European cohesion will violate fundamental values and undermine best practices which all physicists take for granted today: free cross-border collaboration, unrestricted communication and mobility of researchers and students, as well as equal access to European funding and infrastructures.
Such threats are not confined to the territory of the European Union. In a statement published in August 2016 (1), the IUPAP Council expressed justified concern about measures taken by the Government of Turkey in the wake of the July 2016 “putsch”, which have curtailed the freedom of science and of scientists, and culminated in the hasty and indiscriminate dismissal of large numbers of scientists from academic positions. Such measures run counter to the rule of law and fundamental principles of the Universality of Science.
As expected, President Trump’s recent Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again (2) asks for deep cuts into the budgets of key US agencies such as DOE, NIH, EPA, and – possibly – the National Science Foundation, with dramatic consequences for science funding. As APS President Laura Green warns, “the proposed cuts would cripple fields of research that are essential to America’s scientific enterprise” (3); similar statements were issued by the AAAS (4). Moreover, these cuts would severely impact transatlantic partnership, which is a traditional mainstay of the global science ecosystem and has generated massive benefits for the advance of science on both continents.
None of these threats is unique to physics. Addressing them with any chance of success calls for a massive effort by the scientific community at large; physicists, representing a branch of science with a highly developed culture of international collaboration, have a special responsibility to voice a strong opinion in these discussions, to safeguard the moral and material integrity of science in the best interest of human and economic development. The March for Science that will take place in Washington, DC, on April 22 (5), accompanied by satellite events all around the globe (6), will be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the unity of the scientific community against isolationist and science-hostile movements.