Introduction to special issue

Many Origins, One Destination

Science  28 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5675, pp. 1277
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5675.1277

Contents

News

Is the U.S. Brain Gain Faltering?

Are U.S. Students a Bellwether of Quality?

Profile: Xavier Delannay

Profile: Rajan Gupta

Settling In on Campus

A Clearer Look at Asian Pollution

Profile: Marina Protopopova

Profile: Alberto Saal

Perceptions and Realities of the Workplace

A Foot in Each Country

Profile: Lai-Sheng Wang

Profile: Roxanne Duan

Related NextWave and SAGE KE material; and Editorial

There are so many anecdotes that the data must be there.” When it comes to foreign scientists studying and working in the United States, physics Nobelist Leon Lederman is not alone in assuming that good data exist and that his colleagues are familiar with them. But his faith is misplaced. There is some information on the growing overall presence of foreign-born scientists in the U.S. workforce (see p. 1285). But for other aspects, such as the factors shaping their decision to come to the United States for training and their impact on U.S. academic science once they take jobs, the anecdotal evidence often contradicts (see p. 1278) or far outpaces (see pp. 1282 and 1286) the meager data. For all its importance, the relationship between the domestic and foreign-born scientific workforce remains an understudied topic. “For 40 years the share of economics Ph.D.s earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents has dropped by 1% a year, and we have no idea if or when that will stop,” says economist John Siegfried of Vanderbilt University, who studies workforce trends.

But policymakers abhor a vacuum. Despite the dearth of data on the factors affecting the size of the foreign-born workforce, many U.S. scientists seem willing to assume the worst—that it's shrinking and that U.S.-trained scientists are bent on going home to beat the U.S. at its own game. Lederman's comment, which he made at a recent public forum on the health of the U.S. scientific workforce, came in response to the question of whether a sudden downturn in foreign applications to U.S. graduate schools has affected the quality of those programs. Although no data suggest that it has, the panelists averred, first, that it was a trend and, second, that it was only a matter of time before its effects were felt in the lab.

This special section tries to go beyond the assumptions and explore the real experiences of immigrant scientists in the United States. One century ago they were midwives to the current system of U.S. graduate training in the sciences, and Hitler's rise to power generated an extraordinary flow of talent across the Atlantic. The postwar emergence of modern Asia changed the nationality of those immigrants and put economic opportunity at the top of the list of reasons for seeking entry.

Today those scientists are involved in all facets of U.S. science. And how they got there is a rich and complex tale. The scientists profiled in these pages reflect the diversity of that workforce, although each has a unique story to tell. Two of Science's Web sites (www.sciencemag.org/sciext/borders) focus on related aspects of this complex issue, including the experiences of immigrant scientists in other countries.

We hope that this section makes a small contribution toward understanding one essential element in the ever-changing U.S. scientific workforce. We invite your comments.

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