Apr 4, 2018

Canada has pulled off a brain heist

The 24 foreign scholars recruited by Canadian universities. See bios here. Collage: Canada 150 Research Chairs.

Seoul-born Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, a professor at Brown University known for her work on fake news, is moving to Canada. So is Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a Harvard chemistry professor working on quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

What's going on: They are among 24 top academic minds around the world wooed to Canada by an aggressive recruitment effort offering ultra-attractive sinecures, seven-year funding arrangements — and, Chun and Aspuru-Guzik said in separate interviews with Axios, a different political environment from the U.S.

The background: The "Canada 150 Research Chairs Program" is spending $117 million on seven-year grants of either $350,000 a year or $1 million a year. It's part of a campaign by numerous countries to attract scholars unhappy with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and other political trends, sweetened with unusually generous research conditions.

  • Chun, who grew up in Canada and has lived in the U.S. since 1992, said she will launch a new "digital democracies group" at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, which will take on the problem of the online echo chamber.
  • She spoke of wanting to live in a country "with a strong commitment to public education, funding research and universal health care." "That makes a real difference to society," she said. She added, "Some of my friends work in climate research. Funding for that is disappearing and that’s disturbing."

Aspuru-Guzik tells a similar story. He will become a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto. He will have a concurrent position at the Vector Institute, an artificial intelligence research center where Geoffrey Hinton, the father of machine learning, is chief scientific adviser.

  • After 20 years in the U.S., Aspuru-Guzik worried watching the rise of the Christian Right and then the Tea Party. When Trump won election in 2016, that was the final straw.
  • Harvard came back with a "generous" counter-offer, it wasn't enough.
  • "They couldn't change the president. And they couldn't change the zeitgeist," Aspuru-Guzik said. "So I left."

The bottom line: "Canada is not perfect — “not a utopia,” Aspuru-Guzik said. “But I place my bets on Canada rather than the U.S. as a place for my kids to grow up.”

Editor's note: We corrected the spelling of Simon Fraser University.

Go deeper

America's rundown roads add to farmers' struggles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American farmers are struggling to safely use the roads that cut through their fields; decades of neglect and lack of funding have made the routes dangerous.

The big picture: President Trump has long promised to invest billions in rural infrastructure, and his latest proposal would allocate $1 trillion for such projects. Rural America, where many of Trump's supporters live, would see a large chunk of that money.

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday, while Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 as of Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."