- Nov 10, 2006
Gang Chen was arrested a year ago on charges of hiding his links to China. The charges were dismissed, but he said the damage — to him, and to American science — has lingered.
Last week, the government dismissed the case against Dr. Chen, which alleged that he had concealed seven Chinese affiliations in applications for $2.7 million in grants from the U.S. Energy Department. Prosecutors announced that they had received new information indicating that Dr. Chen had not been obliged to disclose those affiliations, undercutting the basis of the case.
The dismissal is a setback to the China Initiative, an effort started in 2018 to crack down on economic and scientific espionage by China. Many of the prosecutions, like the case against Dr. Chen, do not allege espionage or theft of information, but something narrower: failing to disclose Chinese affiliations in grant applications to U.S. agencies. Critics say it has instilled a pervasive atmosphere of fear among scientists of Chinese descent.
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While the case, which had no business existing in the first place, was dropped, the loss to Dr. Chen's research can not be summed up as a little "sabbatical".
Not only did he lose progress, he lost the staff under him, as well as the motivation to continue on, after such a traumatic experience:
Dr. Chen was put on paid leave, so he was not allowed on campus or to have contact with M.I.T. employees. He had five or six active research projects, and during the months that followed, they slowed and faltered. The 15 postdoctoral students he worked with were transferred to other research groups, taking their knowledge with them.
"We are all losers, right?" Dr. Chen said. "My reputation got ruined. My students, my post-docs, they changed their career. They changed to other groups. M.I.T., the country, the U.S., we lose. I can't calculate the loss. That loss cannot be calculated."
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And for now, at least, he has no interest in research grants from the U.S. government.
"I am angry, I am afraid," he said. "My love is science. I did not want politics, right? I saw that, and I got away from it. I do my devotion to science. I help people, I support. But I learned that you can't get away. Politics impacts everybody. So if there are things that are not right, we all need to speak out."