Academia to FBI on Monitoring Chinese Scientists: “Tread Carefully”
Academia to FBI on Monitoring Chinese Scientists: “Tread Carefully”

Academia to FBI on Monitoring Chinese Scientists: “Tread Carefully”

Nearly two dozen higher education groups warn the government to be cautious when advising US research universities to keep an eye on students and faculty with ties to certain Chinese institutions.

Aug 12, 2019
Jef Akst

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Twenty-two higher education associations and rights groups today (August 12) released a statement in response to an NPR report earlier this summer about a push by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Institutes of Health, and other government officials to monitor certain Chinese scholars working at US universities.

“This move seemingly stems from growing suspicion that the Chinese government is engaged in espionage of American higher education, with the aim of stealing data and intellectual property,” reads the statement, whose signatories include the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “However, this is an area where the government must tread carefully.”

See “Chinese-American Scientist Societies Fear Racial Profiling

The statement goes on to acknowledge that the concern about Chinese espionage likely has some validity, citing a Newsweek story about an electrical engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was recently found guilty of attempting to send US military electronics to China. “[B]ut calls to monitor individuals solely based on their country of origin violate norms of due process and should raise alarms in a democracy,” the statement from AAUP and others argues.

The groups express concern that the government’s approach could “cast suspicion on potentially hundreds of thousands of students and scholars,” noting that as of last year there were about 340,000 Chinese students attending US schools. If the FBI’s inquiries are “not conducted with care,” the groups fear that ongoing research by these students and other scholars could be hurt and that international researchers could be discouraged from coming to the country.

The sentiments echo those of the Chinese-American scientists who published a letter in Science in March arguing that racial profiling by the government stands to cause more damage to US science than any lost data or IP. “The long-term price we pay for having a chilly research environment far exceeds that of the few ideas stolen from us,” Caltech biologist Alice Huang, who was not a coauthor on the letter, wrote to The Scientist at the time.

See “US-China Tensions Leave Some Researchers on Edge

(Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed)

Jef Akst is the managing editor of The Scientist. Email her at jakst@the-scientist.com