Field of Science

The negative IQ people at the State Department

This is really ridiculous. We are writing a paper with a friend and collaborator of mine who is a NMR specialist at a prominent university in the US. He just came back from India after a stay of more than two months. He said that his original trip was planned for only a month. So why did it take so long?

Apparently, his visa was delayed. The fine folks at the US State Department saw the dreaded word "nuclear" in his job description. Alarm bells went off in their experienced minds. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance? Surely this is suspicious. Off they went doing s background check for more than a month. In the end of course they found nothing. But my friend had to stay for an extra month, delaying his work here, not to mention our own work.

This is outrageous. NMR is one of the most important techniques ever in chemistry, biology, materials science and drug discovery. For crying out loud, life-saving MRI is based on it. Every single day, hundreds, if not thousands of papers are published in journals worldwide that involve the use of NMR in one way or the other. Four Nobel Prizes have been awarded to NMR scientists. My own PhD. thesis is mostly based on the interpretation of results obtained using NMR (I have mentioned about it here) NMR has nothing remotely to do with atomic bombs.

But the bull-headed rocks at the State Department cannot even distinguish between the "nuclear" in NMR and that in "nuclear weapons". Why can't they hire specialists who actually know something basic about science (and common sense) instead of randomly spouting gut reactions and going ballistic every time they see the word "nuclear"? In some ways, it would give people like me sadistic pleasure to think of all those floor scrubbers in the department running around trying to find out if I have a Jihadist background. But as everyone knows, unfortunately in the end the person who will lose the most will be me.

Despicable, and it reminds me of Goverdhan Mehta's shoddy treatment at the American consulate. But considering the ultimate authority they answer to, we can trust them not to look at trivial things like facts and details.

At least now I know what word to not include in my job description when I file for a Visa. "Magnetic Resonance" will have to do. Sigh.


  1. That's terrible! And very sad for what it says about our government.
    I thought the US was on friendly terms with India, anyway?

  2. I first thought to myself, "that is unbelievable!" But, sadly, that is all too believable.

    Seriously though, do you really think things like this will change when Obama becomes president?

  3. Jes: The US is on friendly terms with India when it suits its interest. George Bush could care less about any country if he did not think it was benefiting the US economically or strategically. There is of course nothing wrong in looking at your self-interest, but in this case ironically the US is shooting itself in the foot by causing problems for people with valuable skills.

    Chemgeek: I don't think the problems will disappear but I really believe he will introduce some rationality in the whole procedure. On the other hand, with the threat of terrorism always looming large, things are always going to be tricky. I just didn't think this was exactly tricky :)

  4. I agree.

    I understand the folks at the State Department having their antennas set to "high" with the real threat that terrorism presents...but, 5 minutes on Wikipedia could have resolved the whole problem. No expertise required.

  5. Your argument is really with Congress. Congress dictates visa law and the job of the folks on the visa line is to enforce the law as passed. And the security checks for visa applicants going to study or work in certain scientific fields is required for any applicant in those fields, regardless of nationality.

  6. Considering the fact that only a handful of Congressmen have any scientific background, this is not surprising...


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