Articles implicating Chinese DNA research are withdrawn
Two respected scientific journals withdrew two articles that relied on DNA samples from Uyghurs in western China after questions were asked whether the subjects had given their full consent.
Both studies were published in 2019 by the International Journal of Legal Medicine and Human Genetics, both owned by academic publisher Springer Nature. They listed numerous perpetrators, including Li Caixia, chief forensic scientist at China’s Ministry of Public Security. The International Journal of Legal Medicine published its retraction Tuesday, and human genetics released his statement August 30.
The two studies were the focus of a 2019 New York Times article that described how Chinese researchers analyzed DNA samples from hundreds of Uyghurs for a process called DNA phenotyping, which attempts to recreate the characteristics of a person, including face and waistline, relying on DNA samples only.
Retractions are rare in the academic world. Scientists say the withdrawal of the articles indicates broader failures in consent procedures and the need for further scrutiny involving vulnerable groups such as oppressed minorities. The Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority living in the Xinjiang region, have been massively imprisoned in internment camps and live under close surveillance.
For years, several scientists have argued that it would be impossible to verify that members of the minority group voluntarily donated blood samples for research, especially when Chinese police officials were involved. Many Uyghurs told The Times they had been called in en masse to donate blood samples to the government under the guise of a free health check. They said they had no choice but to comply.
The International Journal of Legal Medicine and Human Genetics both said there were concerns about “ethics and consent procedures” after the articles were published.
In similar language, the newspapers said they had “requested supporting documents from the authors, including the application form submitted to the ethics committee and proof of ethics approval.”
“The documents provided by the authors contain insufficient information on the scope of the study for us to remain confident that the protocols comply with our editorial policies or comply with international ethical standards,” the journals wrote.
Notes published in the International Journal of Legal Medicine and Human Genetics indicate that Dr. Li, a scientist at China’s Ministry of Public Security, challenged the retractions on behalf of the other authors. None of the authors responded to The Times for comment.
Yves Moreau, an engineering professor at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, who has led a multi-year campaign for the removal of articles based on Uyghur DNA, said he contacted five academic journals to ask these articles be withdrawn. Four of them have been retracted so far, which Professor Moreau described as “only scratching the surface”.
He previously analyzed 529 Chinese studies involving genetic research and found that of those published between 2011 and 2018, about half had a co-author from the police, military or the judiciary.
“These lines are very clear,” said Professor Moreau. “You can’t say, ‘I didn’t know, I didn’t know, and I have no influence.'”
In 2018, Dr Li told Nature, the scientific journal, that the studies had been approved by the Institute of Forensic Science and that “all individuals have provided written informed consent.”
“We are ordinary medical examiners who perform forensic research according to the ethical standards of scientific research,” she wrote.
In May 2020, the US government placed Dr. Li’s Institute of Forensic Sciences on a blacklist that restricts its access to American technology. The United States said the institute was “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, arbitrary mass detention, forced labor and high-tech surveillance” against Muslim minorities in the country. Xinjiang.
Springer Nature before retracted an article from 2019 who examined DNA samples from China’s ethnic male minorities, including Uyghurs. Three of the perpetrators were from the criminal department of the police in Karamay, a city in Xinjiang. In 2019, the US government blacklisted the Karamay Police, along with other police services, for rights violations in the region.
According to this note, also published in the International Journal of Legal Medicine, the article had been retracted by one of the authors for ethical reasons. “The corresponding author informed the editor that contrary to the ethics statement contained in the article, the study was undertaken without the approval of their institutional ethics committee,” he said.