The Great American Brain Drain

Trends like this are hard to get started, but they’re even harder to reverse

Craig Axford

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Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Elections have consequences. So do significant cuts in funding for higher education and cultural attitudes toward expertise that tend to vary from indifferent to downright hostile. America has begun to pay a price for its anti-intellectualism, and that price looks poised to dramatically increase in the future.

In response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, President Emmanuel Macron announced France’s Make Our Planet Great Again initiative. No doubt many Trump supporters chuckled at France’s invitation to American scientists to come to France to conduct their research. Though Macron’s initiative may have been relatively small as government programs go, it wasn’t purely symbolic.

By December 2017 France had recruited its first 18 scientists. Of those 18, 13 were coming from the United States. In May of this year, France announced it had lured six more US scientists to join the others. Trump’s tempestuous behavior during and following the G7 Summit in Quebec only serves as further evidence things in the United States aren’t likely to improve soon, adding fuel to the fire for those already contemplating departing the country.

France isn’t the only country beginning to benefit from American scientific talent feeling unwelcome in the United States. Of 150 research chair positions funded by the Canadian government to mark the 150th anniversary of confederation, 14 are leaving institutions in the United States. According to the Globe and Mail’s story on the new research chair recruits, “The haul of prominent scientists attracted to the new chairs suggests that a predicted brain gain for Canada owing to reactionary politics in the United States and elsewhere is having an impact and that scientists are indeed voting with their feet.”

There are signs that international students too are joining the stampede. President Trump has hardly been signaling foreigners are welcome in the United States. As a result, many students that had US universities on their short list appear to be crossing those schools out. High tuition no doubt depresses international student enrolment to some extent, but Trump’s…

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Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.