Before the Senate, an Oregon cancer researcher defends international collaborations

“The United States represents only five percent of the world’s population and we draw the best minds from all of the world,” said Joe Gray, Ph.D. “So, what we don’t want to do is diminish our brain gain by making it unattractive for others to come here and help us solve major societal problems and form the companies that are driving the U.S. economy.”

The professor of biomedical engineering in the OHSU School of Medicine was responding to a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) at a June 5 hearing on academic espionage and theft of U.S.-funded discoveries. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, wanted Gray’s opinion on the need for “more robust vetting” of the recipients of federal research grants.

Gray, the Knight Cancer Institute’s associate director for biophysical oncology, delivered a thoughtful defense of the value of international collaboration:

“I acknowledge there have been misuses of intellectual property and data and there needs to be vigorous enforcement of laws that punish countries and individuals who have committed such violations,” he said. “But the issue of imposing additional vetting is a difficult one. The process of doing this vetting stigmatizes the entire community that is being vetted and decreases their enthusiasm for coming to the United States to advance our science. I’m worried that it will diminish our own ability to innovate.”

Gray testified at the invitation of  Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who shares Gray’s concerns about undermining the vitality of U.S. science. “It goes without saying that individuals and foreign governments are always going to want to chip away at our lead,” Wyden said at the hearing. “Academic institutions must understand and respond to those concerns. But let’s be careful not to overreach and create barriers that turn away bright students or cut off lines of communication with scientists from other countries. That would do a lot more harm than good.”

You can view a replay of the hearing online and read a detailed report in Science.