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Economic Espionage or Racism?

There are almost 200 investigations at more than 70 biomedical research institutions in the US looking into the potential theft of intellectual property, the New York Times reports. These cases have raised concerns about both economic espionage and racism.

In August 2018, the National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said he was worried about the "robustness" of the biomedical research enterprise in the US and had particular concerns about some researchers' failures to disclose that they received funding from foreign governments and about the diversion of intellectual property to foreign countries. Following this, last March, the NIH sent a number of letters to institutions in the US to inquire about certain researchers' potentially undisclosed foreign ties.

In May, MD Anderson Cancer Center dismissed three researchers for failing to divulge funding from China and for violating the confidentiality of peer review. According to the Times, redacted emails it saw indicated that, for instance, one researcher "there sent data and research to the Chinese government in exchange for a $75,000 one-year 'appointment' under the Thousand Talents Program."

"How would you feel if you were a US scientist sending your best idea to the government in a grant application, and someone ended up doing your project in China?" Ross McKinney Jr., chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, tells the Times.

Other institutes have also dismissed researchers.

But as all the researchers targeted by these investigations have been of Chinese ethnicity, this has also raised concerns about racism. Frank Wu, University of California Hastings School of the Law professor and former president of the Chinese-American organization the Committee of 100 tells the Times that Chinese and Chinese-Americans worry "that they will be targeted and that they are at risk."