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Asking About Foreign Ties

The US National Institutes of Health recently sent letters to a number of institutions to inquire about researchers' potentially undisclosed ties to foreign governments, but as ScienceInsider reports, some administrators worry these queries will adversely affect international collaborations.

In August, NIH Director Francis Collins said that he'd become concerned about threats to the "robustness" of the US research enterprise, including the failure on part of some researchers to disclose that they had received funds from other organizations, including foreign governments. Stat News reported at the time that the agency was investigating a number of such instances, and last month, the NIH said it had referred about a dozen cases of potential foreign influence to a federal oversight office. In his August statement, Collins said he was concerned about the loss of US intellectual property and the integrity of peer review.

According to ScienceInsider, NIH sent letters to dozens of US institutions asking about particular faculty members' foreign ties. It adds that some concerns were unfounded, as in some cases there were no foreign ties and in others, they had been disclosed.

"People have already told me that they are rethinking whether they should continue to work with someone from another country," an anonymous administrator tells ScienceInsider "They say, 'Maybe I should just do the work myself, or find a US-based collaborator.'"