Update (May 31): MD Anderson Cancer Center says the last researcher under investigation has been cleared, according to Science.
MD Anderson Cancer Center has ousted three researchers for violating granting agency policies, reports the Houston Chronicle. Last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) notified the center of five grantees there who were under investigation, reports the Chronicle. The senior researchers violated confidentiality of peer review and disclosure of connections to foreign countries, specifically China, according to Science.
Science confirmed that the three researchers are ethnically Chinese. Chinese American scientists have expressed concerns that the investigations and forced resignations may stem from racial profiling. “Scientific research depends on the free flow of ideas. Our national interest is best advanced by welcoming people, not by racial stereotyping based on where a person comes from,” Frank Wu of the Committee of 100, a leadership organization of Chinese Americans in business, government, academia and the arts, tells Science.
The NIH sent the letters to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in August 2018, reports the Chronicle. This was in parallel with a larger effort by NIH’s director, Francis Collins, who sent letters to over 10,000 institutions to warn against foreign nationals stealing intellectual property in “systematic” efforts, according to Science. Documents revealed that MD Anderson has been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to investigate security issues for several years.
“This is part of a much larger issue the country is facing — trying to balance an open collaborative environment and at the same time protect proprietary information and commercial interests,” Peter Pisters of MD Anderson tells the Chronicle. The FBI released a report in 2017 that stated the US loses as much as $600 billion annually due to intellectual-property theft by China, reports the Associated Press.
Two of the faculty members resigned before termination procedures began, and one is beginning the process, Pisters tells the Chronicle. The fourth faculty member will not be terminated, and the fifth is still being investigated.