‘Ethics is not a checkbox exercise.’ Bioinformatician Yves Moreau reacts to mass retraction of papers from China

Moreau notes the research teams have unusually high proportions of investigators affiliated with the police and justice system. The retraction notices don’t mention this concern, but Moreau says it suggests the DNA profiling could be used to surveil and control minority populations. Many of the papers do mention forensic applications of the research. Moreau’s efforts had previously led other journals to retract 11 papers. He says publishers are still investigating dozens of others he has flagged.

Recherches chinoises | Des articles scientifiques retirés après un long combat

M. Moreau s’est intéressé dans ce contexte à la publication dans des revues scientifiques occidentales de dizaines d’études émanant de Chine qui visaient clairement, selon lui, à « développer et valider des méthodes d’analyse d’ADN pour la police ». En les publiant, les revues se rendent en quelque sorte complices des dérapages pouvant en découler, note l’universitaire.

Journal retracts ‘unethical’ genetic studies conducted in China on minority groups

All the retracted papers were published between 2019 and 2021 in Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine (MGGM) – a journal by the American multinational publishing company Wiley. Bioethicist and geneticist Yves Moreau from Belgium first raised concerns of these papers in March 2021 to MGGM’s editor-in-chief Suzanne Hart. More than 50 papers in different journals are reportedly still under investigation two years after Dr Moreau first flagged them.

Unethical studies on Chinese minority groups are being retracted — but not fast enough, critics say

Moreau takes the wider view that any broad indiscriminate collection of DNA by authorities is harmful, and thus so are any forensic databases built from such efforts. “They are part of that structure of social control that terrorizes a population,” he says. Noting China’s mass collection of DNA from men across the country, as well as in Xinjiang, he would like to see all data obtained in such a way removed from international databases, including data on people from the majority Han Chinese ethnic group.

پروفېسسور ئۇۋېس موراۋ: «ئۇيغۇرلارنىڭ گېن ئۇچۇرلىرىغا ئائىت تەتقىقاتلار كەسپىي ئەخلاق نۇقتىسىدىن ئەيىبلىنىشى كېرەك!»

ئۇنىڭ دېيىشىچە، خىتاي ئومۇمىي نوپۇسىنىڭ بىر پىرسەنتىنىمۇ تەشكىل قىلمايدىغان بىر مىللەتنىڭ گېنىغا ئائىت تەتقىقاتنىڭ ئالاھىدە كۆپ بولۇشى، ئۇنىڭدا سوئال ئىشارىتى پەيدا قىلغان.

DNA collection from Chinese minority groups for biometrics research raises alarms | Biometric Update

In 2019, Moreau wrote an editorial condemning the forceful collection of DNA samples in a way that enables the repression of minority ethnic groups in China. He warned then that with DNA technology becoming less costly to deploy, there could be a proliferation of DNA databases which may open up the possibility for widespread and uncontrolled surveillance of vulnerable people.

Thermo Fisher stops sale of DNA kits in Tibet after activists raised fears of rights abuses

Yves Moreau, a professor of engineering at the University of Leuven, in Belgium, who focuses on DNA analysis, said: “The persecution of Tibetans and control of the Tibetan plateau relies on a hi-tech system of digital authoritarianism … DNA databases are a piece of this architecture of total surveillance … By selling its products to Tibetan public security, Thermo Fisher was aiding and abetting those abuses.”

Retracted study was based on unethically collected Uyghur DNA samples, experts contend

Yves Moreau, a professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium, has raised the concern that the Chinese government forcibly collects and arbitrarily uses genetic information from Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. He told Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service that he had been critical of the 2019 study for a considerable period of time before it was finally deleted. “The article that was retracted … That's a case that has been open for a very, very long time,” said Moreau, who added that he is working toward getting journals to reevaluate numerous articles, many on the same subject.

Academic paper based on Uyghur genetic data retracted over ethical concerns

The study, titled Sequencing of human identification markers in an Uyghur population, analysed Uyghur genetic data based on blood samples collected from individuals in the capital of Xinjiang, in north-west China. Yves Moreau, a professor of engineering at the University of Leuven, in Belgium, who focuses on DNA analysis, raised concerns that the subjects in the study may not have freely consented to their DNA samples being used. He also argued that the research “enables further mass surveillance” of Uyghur people.

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While lots of countries are building DNA databases for law enforcement purposes, the Chinese government’s plans go well beyond policing. Expert studies have documented how Beijing is using this data to refine its mass surveillance and social-control campaigns, especially against ethnic minorities. “The way DNA databases are deployed in China is not aligned with the basic principles of how you would balance law enforcement and human rights concerns,” Yves Moreau, professor of engineering at the University of Leuven in Belgium, told me. “In China, it is out of control.”

Deze doemscenario’s worden waarheid wanneer AI vrij spel krijgt: “Het voortbestaan van de maatschappij is in gevaar”

“Eigenlijk ben ik een techno-utopist”, zegt Yves Moreau, professor ingenieurswetenschappen aan de KU Leuven. “Ik geloof dat technologie ons enorme mogelijkheden biedt om van de wereld een betere plaats te maken - tenminste, als we het op de juiste manier gebruiken. Het is niet voor het eerst in de geschiedenis dat we ons zorgen maken over waar technologie ons heen zal voeren, maar het is nu echt wel de hoogste tijd om na te denken over welke richting we met artificiële intelligentie uit willen.”

[Webinar] Meet the 2023 Einstein Foundation Award winners

Meet the 2023 winners of the Einstein Foundation Award for Promoting Quality in Research: On November 20, 2023 we invited viewers to a virtual Meet & Greet with Yves Moreau (winner of the Individual Award), the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) (Institutional Award), and Anne Gärtner (Responsible Research Assessment Initiative, Winner Early Career Award). The event was hosted by Patrick Forscher (Early Career Award Finalist 2021) and the Secretary of the Einstein Foundation Award, Ulrich Dirnagl.
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