Most scientists who’ve resigned or been fired by the National Institute of Health (NIH) for failing to disclose financial ties to foreign governments were receiving funding from a Chinese institution, an NIH probe found, according to Science Magazine.
Nearly 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of the ongoing investigation, which aims to spot foreign funding that could pose a national security risk as the federal government cracks down on Chinese government influence within America’s most prestigious institutions. Of those who were fired or resigned, 93% were receiving hidden funding from a Chinese institution, Science Magazine reported.
The probe was launched in August 2018 by the NIH, a U.S. government medical research agency, to identify researchers who were receiving funding from the Chinese government. In the vast majority of cases, the person that was investigated on suspicions of foreign government ties has been an Asian man in his 50’s, Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research, told Science Magazine.
Lauer added that it “is not surprising” that 82% of those being investigated are Asian because “that’s who the Chinese target” in their foreign talent recruitment programs.
Roughly three-quarters of the people under investigation had active NIH grants, and nearly half had at least two grants, the 285 active grants totaling $164 million, Science Magazine reported.
The probe coincides with the Justice Department’s investigations into individuals receiving federal grant money while accepting funding from Chinese universities and other government entities. A former employee of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation who had accepted $3.6 million from the NIH and $3 million in research funding from China, Dr. Qing Wang, was arrested and charged in May. (RELATED: Former Nonprofit Researcher Arrested For Hiding $3 Million In Chinese Funding While Accepting US Grants)
Earlier this year, Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, was charged with a similar crime, aiding the Chinese government and hiding his ties about accepting millions in funding.
The NIH investigation found that 70% of the researchers had failed to disclose the receipt of a foreign grant, and 54% had failed to disclose participation in a foreign talent program.
Foreign talent programs like the Thousand Talents Program, which Lieber was involved in, have resulted in violations of U.S. law, like espionage, theft of trade secrets, and grant fraud. Participants in the program are asked to recruit skilled individuals to the program on behalf of the Chinese government.
Of the researchers who were investigated, only 9% had hidden ties to a foreign company, only 4% had an undisclosed foreign patent, and 5% were involved in a violation of the NIH’s peer-review system, according to Science Magazine.
Although 54 scientists have already lost their jobs due to their foreign government ties, 399 scientists remain “of possible concern” to the NIH, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has spotted 121 of them, or 30%.
Of the scientists “of possible concern,” 251 have screened “positive,” 76 have screened “negative,” while 72 are “pending,” Science Magazine reported.