Are Investigations Into Chinese Ties Counterproductive?

March 19, 2020

A crackdown by the Trump administration on researchers with ties to China has spurred some scientists to leave the U.S. and take positions at Chinese universities, ProPublica reported Wednesday. An investigation by the nonprofit news outlet identified researchers at the University of Florida, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Louisville who relocated to China while being investigated for allegedly hiding funding from Chinese sources or affiliations with Chinese universities.

The ProPublica analysis found that such nondisclosure “may well be pervasive.” The National Institutes of Health has contacted 84 universities about 180 scientists it believes hid outside activities or funding, and has referred 27 for federal investigation.

“Yet the government’s investigations and prosecutions of scientists for nondisclosure -- a violation previously handled within universities and often regarded as minor -- may prove counterproductive,” states ProPublica, which highlights the case of Weihong Tan, a former chemistry professor at Florida who left UF last year during an investigation into his disclosures. He is now leading a research team focused on developing a fast, easy COVID-19 test at China's Hunan University.

“The exodus of Tan and his colleagues highlights a disturbing irony about the U.S. crackdown; it is unwittingly helping China achieve a long-frustrated goal of luring back top scientific talent,” the article states.

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