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Concerns About Bias in Policies

In a letter to Science, 18 researchers from societies representing scientists and students of Chinese descent criticize recent US policies and rhetoric they argue are discriminatory.

The letter-writers, led by Hui Zheng, a member of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, say that while they support policies to safeguard intellectual property, manage conflicts of interest, and more, they worry that some efforts may unfairly target individuals of Chinese descent. For instance, they say that Chinese-American scientists have been wrongly accused of spying and that it has become more difficult for Chinese individuals to get visas to come to the US for conferences or to do research. They also note that National Institutes of Health policies promoting "trusted relationships" with foreign researchers could lead to bias and get in the way of scientific collaborations.

"It is our sincere hope that these actions, which we believe amount to racial profiling, will stop immediately and that increased security measures will not be used to tarnish law-abiding scientists and limit normal and productive scientific exchanges," they write.

In a reply, also at Science, NIH Director Francis Collins and his colleagues write that the agency is working to ensure fairness within the grant funding process and protect IP, and they say the recommendations developed by a working group examining those issues will apply to all foreign researchers.

"NIH is committed to avoiding overreaction, stigmatization, harassment, and profiling," Collins and his colleagues write. "We will use our influence and bully pulpit as necessary to speak out against such prejudicial actions, for which there is no place in the biomedical research community."

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