Some 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of an ongoing investigation by the National Institutes of Health into the failure of NIH grantees to disclose financial ties to foreign governments. For 93% of the 189 scientists whom NIH has investigated to date, China was the source of their undisclosed support.
The new numbers come from Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research. Lauer had previously provided some information on the scope of NIH’s investigation, which had targeted 189 scientists at 87 institutions. But his presentation today to a senior advisory panel offered by far the most detailed breakout of an effort NIH launched in August 2018 that has roiled the U.S. biomedical community, and resulted in criminal charges against some prominent researchers, including 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 in characterizing the ongoing investigation. He called the data “sobering.”
In the vast majority of cases, Lauer reported, the person being investigated has been an Asian man in his 50s. Some three-quarters of those under investigation had active NIH grants, and nearly half had at least two grants. The 285 active grants totaled $164 million.
Lauer also presented data on the nature of the violations that NIH has uncovered. Some 70% (133) of the researchers had failed to disclose to NIH the receipt of a foreign grant, and 54% had failed 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.