MASSIMO INTROVIGNE | BITTER WINTER
“Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine” was hit by a mass resignation of its board members after publishing Chinese articles on Tibetans and Uyghurs.
Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine is a serious academic journal published by a serious publisher, Wiley. It is all more surprising that, as The Intercept reported earlier this month, eight members of its board (out of 25) resigned over ethical issues.
The articles that set the events in motion are part of something called “forensic genetics,” a controversial field where researchers often cooperate with police. Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine published several articles by Chinese researchers discussing genetic features of Chinese populations, including the Han majority, Hui Muslims, Mongolians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs.
In March 2021, Belgian scientist Yves Moreau wrote to Wiley pointing out that since it was founded in 2013, the journal had published only two forensic population genetic studies from outside China, suggesting that Chinese institutions had identified it as a publication where their studies would meet with no objections.
China has long been pursuing the dream of collecting DNA samples of all its 700 million male population, which would greatly enhance its surveillance capabilities. Identifying all relatives of “anti-social” citizens is another goal of the DNA policy.
Scientists all over the world have expressed concern that identifying which citizens have Uyghur, Tibetan, or Mongolian origins may be used for racist purposes, singling them out for more police surveillance. The much more sinister possibility of harvesting organs from individuals with a certain DNA has also been suggested.
Those who object to the publication of Chinese forensic genetics articles in Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine note that several papers explicitly identified police agencies as having cooperated with the research, including the dreaded Public Security Bureau of Tibet.
It is not the first time Wiley gets in trouble with scientists denouncing its cooperation with the CCP. The editor of Wiley’s Annal of Human Genetics resigned last year after the publisher refused to publish an appeal where senior scientists called for a boycott of genetic research from China.
Wiley answered then that they have an office in China, serving a lucrative Chinese scientifical market, and publishing the appeal would create problems there.
Other scientific publishers have been similarly accused of censoring criticism of China, and publishing Chinese research whose ethical status is highly questionable.