Texas cancer center ousts 3 over Chinese data theft concerns

MD Anderson Cancer Center. (mdanderson)
Updated 21 April 2019
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Texas cancer center ousts 3 over Chinese data theft concerns

  • A 2017 FBI report found that intellectual-property theft by China costs the US as much as $600 billion annually

HOUSTON: A prominent cancer center in Houston has ousted three of five scientists whom federal authorities identified as being involved in Chinese efforts to steal American research.
Peter Pisters, the president of MD Anderson Cancer Center, told the Houston Chronicle that the National Institutes of Health wrote to the cancer center last year detailing conflicts of interest and unreported foreign income by five faculty members, and gave it 30 days to respond.
“As stewards of taxpayer dollars invested in biomedical research, we have an obligation to follow up,” Pisters said. MD Anderson received $148 million in NIH grants last year.
The center provided internal documents to the Chronicle regarding the cases but the names of the scientists were redacted. The newspaper said all three are ethnically Chinese. Two of them resigned ahead of termination proceedings and the third is challenging the dismissal.
Officials determined termination was not warranted for one of the remaining two and are still investigating the other.
It’s not clear if any of them face federal charges or deportation. An FBI spokeswoman in Houston, Christina Garza, said Saturday that the agency “does not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.”
Pisters said MD Anderson’s reputation as the world’s No. 1 cancer center made it an obvious target, but the newspaper report doesn’t say what evidence of intellectual property theft was uncovered at the facility.
The dismissals come amid heightened concern in Washington, D.C., that foreign governments including China have been using students and visiting scholars to pilfer intellectual property from confidential grant applications.
At a gathering in Houston last summer, FBI officials warned Texas academic and medical institutions of the threat, particularly from insiders, and called on them to notify the agency of any suspicious behavior.
A 2017 FBI report found that intellectual-property theft by China costs the US as much as $600 billion annually. FBI Director Christopher Wray has called China “the broadest, most significant” threat to the nation and that its espionage is active in all 50 states.
“This is part of a much larger issue the country is facing,” Pisters told the Chronicle. “Trying to balance an open collaborative environment and at the same time protect proprietary information and commercial interests.”
Some Chinese Americans say the crackdown amounts to racial profiling and that it hinders groundbreaking research.
“Scientific research depends on the free flow of ideas,” Frank H. Wu, president of the New York-based Committee of 100, a group of influential Chinese Americans, told the newspaper. “Our national interest is best advanced by welcoming people, not by racial stereotyping based on where a person comes from.”


Polls open in Ireland for Brexit-dominated vote

Updated 27 min 29 sec ago
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Polls open in Ireland for Brexit-dominated vote

  • Most of Ireland’s mainstream parties have campaigned heavily to cement the nation’s place in the future of the European project
  • The results of the vote are expected on Monday

DUBLIN: Voters in Ireland began casting ballots Friday in European elections that are being overshadowed by neighboring Britain’s failure to leave the bloc nearly three years after the seismic Brexit vote.
After months of political paralysis in London and amid concerns about economic disruption, most of Ireland’s mainstream parties have campaigned heavily to cement the nation’s place in the future of the European project.
The candidates for the European Parliament have also pledged to dampen the economic shock predicted to radiate into Ireland if and when its closest trading partner leaves the European Union.
Two Irish MEPs will be elected to new seats, created in anticipation of Britain’s 73 lawmakers retiring from their posts.
However, they will be unable to take up their positions until Britain finalizes its split with the EU.
The results of the vote are expected on Monday.
Later on Friday the Czech Republic kicks off its two-day voting process, a day after residents cast their votes in Britain and also in the Netherlands where the Labour party scored a surprise victory to win most seats in the elections.
Other members of the 28-nation EU will vote on Saturday or Sunday.
Ireland is also voting Friday in a referendum to reform its constitutional laws on divorce in the latest drive to modernize the once staunchly Catholic nation.
At present couples must live separately for four out of five years before they may be granted a divorce, a hangover condition from the 1995 referendum which legalized the dissolution of marriage.
If the provision is repealed, the Irish government has signaled it will bring forth legislation shortening the requirement to two out of the previous three years.
The latest vote follows a landslide referendum last May which saw Ireland vote 66 percent in favor of repealing its constitutional ban on abortions.
In October voters also lifted a rarely enforced constitutional ban on blasphemy.
The referendum result is expected to be announced on Saturday.