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The National Institutes of Health recently sent letters to dozens of U.S. research universities asking them to provide information on specific researchers believed to have undisclosed links to foreign governments, ScienceInsider reported. It is not clear how the government developed the list of researchers.
ScienceInsider reported that the letters appear to be part of the NIH’s response to congressional demands that it better monitor foreign research collaborations and seek to prevent intellectual property theft. In an August letter to grant recipients, NIH director Francis S. Collins wrote that “foreign entities have mounted systematic programs to influence NIH researchers and peer reviewers.” The letter said that institutions might be hearing from the NIH in the coming months or weeks “about specific applications, progress reports, policies or personnel from, or affecting, your institution.”
Some academic administrators are worried about a chilling effect of the inquiries, which do not include specific accusations but instead ask universities to explain a researcher’s alleged failure to disclose a foreign connection to the NIH. “People have already told me that they are rethinking whether they should continue to work with someone from another country,” said one administrator who was quoted anonymously by ScienceInsider.