‘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.

Precious DNA

Belgian professor of engineering Yves Moreau from the University of Leuven is a tireless critic of the unethical handling of DNA samples from Chinese minorities. In 2016 he became aware that DNA profiles were being created in Xinjiang as part of the regular passport registration process and offered his expertise to the Chinese branch of Human Rights Watch. Since then, he has been alerting editors of genetics journals to questionable articles and to the fact that ethics claims cannot be trusted when Chinese security agencies are involved in research. Moreau says scientific publishers should not accept papers if the collection of biometric data, including DNA and facial scans, is part of a system of repression.

Expérimentations et éthique de la recherche : la Chine va-t-elle trop loin ?

De son côté, Yves Moreau, professeur de bio-informatique à la KU Leuven, en Belgique, s'inquiète des recherches menées en génétique médico-légale des populations. “En analysant 529 articles chinois publiés entre 2011 et 2018, j'ai constaté que 1 publication sur 5 concernait les Ouïgours, et 1 publication sur 6 les Tibétains, alors que ceux-ci ne représentent respectivement que 1 % et 0,5 % de la population chinoise.

Datenschutz: So geraten sensible Patientendaten nicht in falschen Hände

Let's take a study in which citizens' position data collected from smartphones is made anonymously available to scientists by the network operator, for example to research traffic flows in cities. But even if this data is provided anonymously, it is quite easy to assign the data to specific people. I just have to look at where the cell phones are at night and most of the day. Then I know where a particular person lives and where he works. These are meaningful correlations. And then I also know that Mr. X occasionally visits his lover on the way home. There are often simple mechanisms with which information about specific people can be derived from seemingly anonymous data. In medical research, the connections cannot be described so clearly. But even there, there are traps lurking everywhere that you have to think about.

Dual-Use Technology and Research Ethics: Interview with Yves Moreau

The Uyghur people, as well as the Kazaks and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang would be interesting to study from an ancestry and genetics perspective because they have lived for centuries at the crossroads of where the East meets the West along the famous Silk Road trading route. But where Chinese studies raise red flags is in the inordinate number of forensic genetics papers involving Uyghurs and Tibetans. Uyghurs makes up 1% of the Chinese population, yet Moreau said that out of 500 Chinese genetics research papers that his team looked at, 1-out-of-5 papers involved the genetic data of Uyghurs in some way. Additionally, among the papers that Moreau identified, most of the papers have a member of the Chinese public security bureau or some other law-enforcement entity as one of the co-authors.

Avec les données ADN, tout citoyen peut être suspect

La bioéthique ne se résume pas à cocher rapidement des éléments sur une liste. Elle concerne des principes éthiques fondamentaux, tels que ne pas nuire aux individus et créer une valeur ajoutée pour leur bien-être. Il est également important de trouver un équilibre entre ce que l’on pense pouvoir résoudre grâce à une technologie – comme confondre les auteurs d’un crime – et ses aspects négatifs potentiels, tels que le contrôle accru sur des groupes minoritaires. Nous devons veiller à ce que les avantages ne profitent pas principalement à un camp, la majorité, au détriment des autres. Cela pose un problème éthique.

Yves Moreau has received the 2023 Einstein Foundation Individual Award for Promoting Quality in Research

In the future, I want to tackle these issues by collaborating with experts both in STEM fields and in the social sciences to promote awareness of these issues and develop tools to educate students, researchers, and people with a scientific background on these issues. Influencing the culture and attitudes of people developing technology provides enormous leverage. I am incredibly encouraged by the interactions I have with my students, who are from a generation that is unfortunately faced with the huge challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability and realizes that business as usual is not an option. They absolutely crave such intellectual tools that will empower them to shape a fairer and more sustainable future.

Due to Ethics Concerns, US Journal Retracts 18 Genetics Studies Conducted in China on Minority Groups

“It was a relief to see that the ethically questionable articles were finally retracted,” Yves Moreau, a professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium, told The Epoch Times in an email. “It is also frustrating that such a process took almost three years, while four to six months must be enough to carry out the necessary verifications and make a decision,” Mr. Moreau added.

[Podcast] Yves Moreau: AI and ethics: Do they go together?

If you ask Yves Moreau, we are drunk teenagers losing control of the car we are driving – at least when it comes to artificial intelligence. The 2023 Einstein Foundation Individual Award winner studies biomedical DNA data and describes himself as a “concerned scientist.” In this metaphor-packed episode of #AskDifferent, he describes the cultural shift he would like to see regarding the way we deal with artificial intelligence, how he helped push prestigious scientific journals to retract articles, and what the future holds for ethical standards in technological engineering.

Yves Moreau, le passe Muraille

À l’interface entre informatique et biologie, Yves Moreau se dit impressionné par la place de la réflexion éthique dans la communauté de génétique humaine, malgré la lourdeur administrative des évaluations : « Alors que mes collègues européens qui collectent des données cliniques sont englués dans des processus nécessaires mais pénibles pour obtenir l’approbation des comités d’éthique, observer qu’aucun contrôle n’est effectué en génétique médico-légale en Chine est extrêmement frustrant ».

Artificiële Intelligentie heeft zijn ei nog lang niet gelegd

Ook pr. dr. Yves Moreau (electrical engineering bio-informaticus KU Leuven) liet enkele reflecties uit zijn vakgebied optekenen waarbij hij de huidige AI-hype in perspectief plaatste. Iedereen herinnert zich eenzelfde hype toen AI van IBM in de vorm van de supercomputer Watson (gelanceerd in 2007) een industriële revolutie zou ontketenen en fikse groei voor IBM zou genereren. Niets van die twee voorspellingen kwam uit. Intussen stelde IBM zijn visie over Watson flink naar beneden bij en klinkt het een pak bescheidener.

Artificiële intelligentie in de zorg staat centraal op medisch congres

Ruim tweehonderd huisartsen, specialisten en andere zorgverleners woonden afgelopen weekend een medisch congres over artificiële intelligentie in de zorg bij in CC Westrand Dilbeek, in organisatie van de Huisartsenkringen Zennevallei, Pajottenland en Noordrand. Tal van experten gingen met elkaar in debat, zoals Guy Nagels (afdelingshoofd Neurologie – UZ Brussel), Yves Moreau (Bio-informaticus – KU Leuven), Sigrid Sterckx (moraalwetenschapper UGent), Stefaan Callens (KU Leuven en advocaat) en Jeroen van den Brandt, voorzitter van Domus Medica.

Hoe ethisch verantwoord zijn DNA-databanken: ‘Je creëert een systeem waarin de burger altijd verdacht is’

In 2016 kreeg Moreaus interesse in bio-ethiek een extra dimensie. Een collega maakte hem attent op het feit dat er in Koeweit een wet was aangenomen die toeliet dat van elke inwoner en elke bezoeker een DNA-staal zou worden afgenomen dat in een databank van de politie zou belanden. ‘Het doel, het oplossen van misdaden, leek misschien nobel,’ stelt hij, ‘maar de vraag drong zich op hoe ver je kunt gaan in het opslaan van gegevens van mensen waar je ook heel veel andere informatie uit kunt afleiden.’

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.
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