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Warning: Scientific Research Is Compromised Globally

Jessica McKeil

In a ‘post-truth’ world, can we trust the results when the research relies on foreign investment? America doesn’t think so.

Over 384,000 international students, specifically from Iran, China, and Russia, study in the US. These students bring in major financial, intellectual, and cultural assets to the country. And yet, a news release by a Senate Finance Committee has declared that these international students may be a threat to American scientific integrity.

Foreign investment into another country’s scientific research is a means to an end for many governments. In the 1960s, the US government used foreign investment into Israel as a way to circumvent the anti-cannabis agenda within their own borders. Between 1964 and 2010, Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, received $100,000 per year from the US government to study medical cannabis. Mechoulam later went on to become known as the ‘father of cannabis.’

The Benefits of Foreign Investment

Funding cannabis research in Israel allowed the federal government to learn more about the plant, without having to legalize. This research was also a benefit to cannabis science at a global scale, but also, a detriment to building American scientific dominance. In the US, researchers are still using what amounts to brick weed, severely hampering domestic cannabis research.

In truth, American scientists seriously missed out on being the forefront of cannabis research. Not surprisingly, Israel is now a global leader, thanks in part to 50 years of consistent foreign investment.

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Flash forward to 2019, lawmakers are concerned about the reverse situation. As per a press release by Regulatory Affairs, “China, Russia and Iran were singled out in a Senate Finance Committee hearing…as countries that are looking to either undermine or usurp scientific research conducted with US taxpayer funds.”

The committee’s goal is to uncover security holes in foreign investment for American research. According to evidence presented to the committee, there are allegations of external tampering into federally-funded research. There are also potential cases in which international leaked – accidental or otherwise – sensitive information back home. But how pervasive is this problem, really? 

Foreign Investment and Federal Research

The Senate Committee referred to cases over the last few years in which international students breached rules of conduct within their research studies. In one example, outlined by Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a Chinese researcher, working on an American study, stole sensitive genetically-modified corn seeds out of the research center in Iowa and sent them back to China. Grassley has labeled China as “by far the most prolific offender” of compromising research integrity. 

Another example revolved around falsified results on an American study on AIDS/HIV. The researcher behind the tampering ended up pleading guilty to two counts of lying to the National Institutes of Health. He received 57 months in prison and had to pay over $7 million in restitution. In the words of the lead investigator, “When Dr. Han faked lab results – collecting scarce government medical research funding under false presentences [sic] – he recklessly betrayed the public’s trust.”

A third case showed a foreign national using federal funding to lobby in the US. Dr. Jian Yun Dong, and his two companies, GenPhar Inc. and Vaxima Inc., were convicted on several counts, including “conspiracy to commit grant fraud, wire fraud, theft of government property and providing false statements, theft of government funds, as well as twenty-two counts of wire fraud.” He received federal grant money to study infectious diseases but instead used those funds to build new research centers and fund lobby groups in the US.

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Oversight Bills Introduced to Senate

The Senate Committee is tabling a bill in the Senate named the “Secure Our Research Act”, which will protect federally-funded research from foreign investment and interference through an oversight committee. Other topics presented at the committee included implementing serious repercussions for research infractions. To date, several American institutions have severed ties with Chinese institutions due to problematic foreign investment relationships.

It’s important to note, however, that instances such as these have happened with American-national researchers and companies as well.

How Compromised is Cannabis Research?

Globally, the medical and recreational cannabis markets are in the very early growth stages. Over the next decade, the cannabis market’s profitability is predicted to explode. If the reports are accurate, the global cannabis sector is going to hit $130 billion a year. There is a lot of money in the plant, and that means the competition is fierce.

Cannabis is the next frontier for health and wellness. Although America is lagging behind other countries,like Canada and Israel, it’s likely going to catch up as the green revolution crosses the country. More federal money, including research grants, is going to reach cannabis research very soon.

So far, in other fields, students from Iran, China, and Russia have been able to slip into research projects receiving federal funding. According to the Senate Committee, it’s been relatively easy for these international researchers to win federal funds with little government oversight on their studies. However, many of these students would be working below supervisors and university committees who do monitor their research.

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Politicians are concerned that, considering the predicted profits, foreign governments could target the cannabis sector.

On the flip side, we also don’t know much about America’s foreign cannabis investments. We know about the 50 years the federal government spent funding Israel research. But what else have they been up to while maintaining the War on Drugs at home? Even American multinationals, like Johnson and Johnson, are sneaking around federal cannabis legislation to conduct cannabis research in other countries.

There are layers of foreign investment, influence, and our own many years of questionable conduct. Behind every study on cannabis (or any other topic for that matter), there may be a long history of political intrigue, secrecy, and foreign investment.


Jessica McKeil
Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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