kennedy.080918.005 (copy) (copy)

U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy.

Louisiana’s junior senator, John Kennedy, in a recent letter to this page (Nov. 27), cited a warning by FBI director Christopher Wray that the People’s Republic of China is taking advantage of the open research and development environment in our country, presumably by filching the fruits of that research to advance its own economic interests. China’s theft of intellectual property remains a sore spot in that country’s trade relations with the West, not just the United States, and President Donald Trump, as well as his predecessor, have rightly taken China to task for it. However, Kennedy then proceeds to blame Chinese students at American universities for that theft (though Wray made no mention of students in the remark cited), claiming that “they’re stealing our technology” and coveting “our research, our ideas, and the results of all those hours spent working in university laboratories.”

The American university system is indisputably the best in the world, so it’s no surprise that students from everywhere want to study here; Americans are justified in taking pride in that system, since much of it is paid for with public dollars. To blame foreign students, however — Chinese or otherwise — is way wide of the mark. Kennedy fails to note that the results of those “hours spent working in university laboratories” benefits the United States as much (or more) as any other nation. Moreover, those results are normally published in peer-reviewed journals, so that they can be studied in any country by anyone who can understand them. That is the nature of empirical research: it must be made publicly available to other researchers in the field, so that it can be carefully studied to confirm its validity — and replicated, if that research involves experimental results.

There is no question that more can be done to discourage China from stealing U.S. intellectual property, but restricting foreign student visas (which, I suppose, is what Kennedy has in mind) will only hurt American universities. Public universities, especially, have experienced a steep decline in enrollment in the past decade, partly due to a demographic decline in college-age citizens. Increasing federal and state funding for those universities (including LSU) would help ease that crisis. It seems, rather, that Kennedy prefers to follow in the president’s footsteps, and pander to the ridiculous xenophobic hysteria that has been such a spectacular feature of recent Republican discourse.

Bruce Smith


New Orleans