May 25, 2024

Science under Xi Jinping

It’s hard enough for doctors and scientists to resist the allure of profit in a democratic society, as an article below about Australian cosmetic surgery demonstrates. But when science becomes an arm of government propaganda, the pressures must be immense.

The picture is still cloudy, but the Chinese scientist who edited the genome of two babies, He Jiankui, seems to have succumbed. According to a Chinese bioethicist working in New Zealand (see article below), he was a dazzling star who was reaching the “commanding heights”, as President Xi Jinping had exhorted Chinese scientists to do earlier this year in a major policy speech.

Xinhuanet, the official newsagency, reported that Xi told scientists and engineers to have the “courage to explore the uncharted courses and realize the goal that key and core technologies are self-developed and controllable.”

Now He, having embarrassed the government over the questionable ethical standards of his work, has disappeared. He may be in jail. This must surely send mixed message to his colleagues. Be ethical and obscure. Or see what you can get away with and become gloriously rich.

It must be hard to be a scientist in today’s China.

Michael Cook
China wants to be a world leader in science and technology. There will be casualties