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Fifty-four Scientists Fired Due To Foreign Ties

54 scientists resigned or were fired amidst a continuing investigation by the National Institutes of Health into the failure of NIH grantees to disclose financial ties to foreign governments. In 93% of cases, the undisclosed funding came from a Chinese institution.

The new numbers come from Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research. The NIH investigation targeted 189 scientists at 87 institutions, leading to criminal charges against prominent researchers, like Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology.

“It’s not what we had hoped, and it’s not a fun task,” NIH Director Francis Collins said, calling the data “sobering.”

70% (133) of the researchers failed to disclose to NIH the receipt of a foreign grant, with 54% failing to disclose participation in a foreign talent program. In contrast, Lauer said only 9% hid ties to a foreign company, and only 4% had an undisclosed foreign patent. Some 5% of cases involved a violation of NIH’s peer-review system.

82% of those investigated are Asian, with 82% men. Their median age is 56, with the youngest being 48 and the oldest 59. Slightly more than one-half had been an NIH peer reviewer in the past 2 years, and 41% of those being investigated (77 scientists) have been banned from further participation in NIH’s system to vet grant proposals.

There are 399 scientists “of possible concern” to NIH, Lauer told the advisory council, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking at 30% (121) of them. Institutions have flagged an additional 44. Lauer said investigations into 63% or 256 scientists, came out “positive.” Investigations into 19% came up “negative” with the status of 18% “pending.”