This summer, three years after the prodemocracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and the subsequent Chinese government crackdown on participants—including many scientists and students—at least two important scientific meetings, one in entomology and one in physics, have been scheduled in Beijing.

Because of China's record of human rights abuses, the original siting of the meetings in China has been hotly debated within each scientific community, with some concerned United States scientists in favor of boycotting the gatherings to protest the current regime.

These scientists as well as others who have yet to decide whether they will attend the sessions are also trying to judge who will be helped or hurt by refusing to attend the Chinese meetings—and whether such refusal might, in fact, redound to the detriment of the boycotters.

"As scientists, we all have a special obligation to protect freedom of expression, in the same way that attorneys have a...

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