Harvard Professor Accused of Selling Out to China

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 2/9

A couple of weeks ago, I covered a discouraging report by the NCSES detailing America’s stalling science and engineering (S&E) development compared to other world powers. The most notable of these is China, a nation that invests more and more every year into S&E expansion. China’s means of stimulating growth vary widely and include spending a high percentage of GDP on research and development, incentivizing university students to earn STEM degrees, and strongly emphasizing applied, invention-oriented research over theoretical work. However, China also relies on nefarious, illegal tactics to pursue their scientific goals. Harvard’s Charles Lieber is only the latest instance of China’s hidden strategy.

Professor Lieber, Chair of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, was recently charged with “making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement” to the Department of Defense. He allegedly lied repeatedly to federal investigators about his participation in China’s “Thousand Talents Program,” and in particular about his collaboration with Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) as a “Strategic Scientist.”

The “Thousand Talents Program” (TTP) is one of over 200 “talent-recruitment programs” controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). TTP’s purpose is to recruit exceptional scientists and engineers from around the globe to perform research “in collaboration with” Chinese institutions; it boasts an estimated 7,000 members since its launch in 2008. While international research collaboration is often mutually beneficial for the nations involved, TTP operates in secrecy, and without transparency, heightening the potential for research espionage.

Neither Harvard nor the U.S. government were aware of Professor Lieber’s membership in the program. Meanwhile, he allegedly earned upwards of $500,000 per year from the CCP and used his domestic research to support his WUT “shadow lab.” This is flagrant intellectual property theft and a serious endangerment of American national security. If these allegations are true, Lieber should be fired and banned for life from American academia.

In this week’s featured article, I further detail the charges against Charles Lieber, the nature of the Thousand Talents Program, and its place within China’s broader strategy of geopolitical subversion. Programs like TTP are not merely guilty of wholesale research espionage; they fundamentally undermine core values of transparency and integrity while actively working against American interests. The United States must protect its intellectual property and national security in order to bolster scientific development, safeguard our nation from external threats, and protect the American scientific ethos.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Kris Snibbe, Public Domain

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