NIH investigating 500 'Scientists of Concern' for foreign influence

The National Institute of Health is investigating over 500 'scientists of concern' suspected of possible misuse of federal funding and foreign interference.

93% of those investigated so far were supported by China, according to an NIH official.

A National Institute of Health official warned of over 500 “scientists of concern” suspected of possible misuse of federal funding and foreign interference in a Senate hearing on April 22.

In his testimony on foreign influence in U.S. biomedical research, Dr. Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research, said the agency has already contacted 90 institutions receiving federal funding about its concerns with over 200 researchers, as reported by the Washington Examiner.

“We’ve seen scientists who have told their American institutions and the NIH that they’re spending 100% of their time in the U.S., when, in fact, they’re spending 50% to 60% of their time in China — so they’re lying about how they’re spending their time, and that kind of blatant lie affects the credibility and the integrity of the entire enterprise,” Lauer told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

According to Science, Lauer noted that of 189 scientists who have been investigated so far, 93% were supported by China.

Lauer continued, “I think one big problem, senators, is that the threat is significant. We have identified over 500 scientists of concern. … Each of these requires a tremendous amount of work to figure out what exactly has been happening and to work carefully with the institution to figure out what’s going on.”

[Related: Communist influence? 14 profs busted for China connections in 2020]

A spokesperson for the NIH Office of Extramural Research told Campus Reform that “The NIH becomes aware of potential violations through means such as notification from the FBI of open-source information, notification from an NIH-funded institution, anonymous and non-anonymous tips, as well as notification by NIH staff regarding non-disclosure concerns identified during review of publications listed as products of the grant in annual progress reports.”

Highlighting major concerns with the current status of U.S. funding, Lauer said, “Unfortunately, a few governments have initiated systematic programs to exploit the collaborative nature of biomedical research and unduly influence U.S.‐supported researchers.”

In particular, Lauer identified in written testimony the “failure by some researchers at NIH‐funded institutions to disclose substantial contributions of resources from other organizations, including foreign governments and businesses,...diversion of proprietary information included in grant applications or produced by NIH‐ supported biomedical research to other entities, including other countries; and failure by some peer-reviewers to keep information in grant applications confidential; including, in some instances, disclosure to foreign entities or other attempts to influence funding decisions.”

As Lauer’s stated, while in some cases the matter is a simple misunderstanding, the investigations have “uncovered inappropriate behaviors” and resulted in a variety of actions including the relinquishment of NIH funds, termination of scientists, and the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Lauer said in the hearing that over a hundred scientists “have been removed from the NIH ecosystem” and that the NIH has made 34 referrals to the Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

The NIH spokesperson emphasized that “It is critical for NIH-supported institutions and their researchers to be wholly transparent about financial support from and affiliations with international institutions. Such transparency ensures that NIH's funding decisions are fair and appropriate, and that U.S. institutions and the American public benefit from their investment in biomedical research.”

[Related: Marco Rubio targets Confucius Institutes with new bill]

Campus Reform has previously reported on DOJ investigations into professors with ties to the Chinese government. Last month, a professor at Southern Illinois University was fined for failing to disclose funding he had received from China while applying for a federal research grant.

Campus Reform has also covered efforts by students and lawmakers to reverse the proliferation of Chinese Confucius Institutes at colleges and universities across the nation.

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