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article imageOp-Ed: Politics and science collide in immigration row

By Tim Sandle     Sep 30, 2015 in Science
A German scientist has pulled back the rights for some key European countries to use some software he has developed. The reason is because eight European countries are allowing too many immigrants in.
The scientist in question is Gangolf Jobb and his software is called Treefinder. The software is for bioinformatics purposes. Bioinformatics is a general term. It refers to biological studies that use computer programming for the analysis of results and interpretation of data. Many bioinformatics software packages are complex and due to specialist nature of the work many are developed for niche projects.
Gangolf Jobb's Treefinder enables researchers to build phylogenetic trees. These are complex diagrams with branches (hence the 'tree' reference) displaying evolutionary relationships among various biological species (as an example, a tree showing the relationship between different species of bacteria can be found here.)
Gangolf Jobb has revoked the use of his software to the following countries: Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the U.K., Sweden, and Denmark, beginning on October 1. His reason for doing so is because these countries are letting in too many, in his opinion, what he refers to as "immigrants" (and what others might refer to as refugees.) By immigrants he means people who were born outside of the European Union (within the European Union the free movement of people is one of the core objectives.)
Jobb expands further on his website. First by naming the countries as "the countries that together host most of the non-european immigrants." This is possibly correct; the richest countries in Europe have taken in many refugees, especially those fleeing the situation in Syria and the chaos within Libya.
Secondly, he outlines his political philosophy, based on isolationism: "I am no longer willing to support with my work the political system in Europe and Germany, of which the science system is part. There is no genuine democracy, and I disagree with almost all of the policies. In particular, I disagree with immigration policy. Immigration to my country harms me, it harms my family, it harms my people. Whoever invites or welcomes immigrants to Europe and Germany is my enemy." There has been no change to the voting systems or mechanisms for expressing political views in any European country.
Third he discusses his views on social integration and multiculturalism: "I am not against helping refugees, but they would have to be kept strictly separated from us Europeans, for some limited time only until they return home." This is a political view and one where people hold different opinions. Personally I do not think isolationism is a good thing.
Fourthly he strays into a statement that could fit into the philosophy of many far right groups where he laments "the loss of our European genetic and cultural heritage." Cultural heritage is one thing, it is important that cultural history is preserved. However, it is also useful to learn from other cultures and sharing different ideas and beliefs in enriching. The reference to genetic heritage goes against the generally accepted scientific view that we can all be traced to the same common ancestors..
These views are, to me, somewhat extreme and they have shocked many in the scientific community. In recent years science has transcended national and cultural barriers in order to extent knowledge outwards and to improve accessibility. There are many aspects of sharing scientific knowledge that remain stumbling blocks, including the obfuscation of clinical trial data by pharmaceutical companies and the hiding of key research behind paywalls by leading journals. In the past science has been used to buttress oppressive regimes and used for unspeakable experiments. However, in most of Europe, North America and Australia, in the past thirty years, there has been a genuine commitment to promote science as a force for positive change.
Going back to the issue at hand, many scientists have posted links to alternative software platforms for making phylogenetic trees. This is a sign that the majority of the scientific community remain willing to put scientific learning above nationalism.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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