China, Texas fact of the day

When officials at the Texas A&M University System sought to determine how much Chinese government funding its faculty members were receiving, they were astounded at the results—more than 100 were involved with a Chinese talent-recruitment program, even though only five had disclosed their participation.

A plant pathologist at the Texas system, where the median annual salary for such scientists employed by the state is around $130,000, told officials that the researcher had been offered $250,000 in compensation and more than $1 million in seed money to start a lab in China through one of the talent programs. The researcher ultimately rejected the offer, according to the Texas system’s chief research security officer, Kevin Gamache, who led the recent 18-month review that has garnered praise from U.S. officials.

That is from Aruna Viswanatha and Kate O’Keeffe at the WSJ.  As for Harvard:

Charles Lieber, a pioneer in nanotechnology, allegedly signed a contract with Chinese counterparts under which he would be paid around $50,000 a month, plus another $150,000 a year for personal expenses; he was also promised—and received—more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at the Wuhan University of Technology, according to prosecutors.

He is specifically charged with deliberately lying to U.S. government investigators when asked if he received Chinese talent-plan funding, rather than simply omitting the information on forms.


If the government doesn't like scientists working for China, then increase funding for science and pay them more. Using the government to stop wage competition for workers is just a state-mandated version of the no-poaching agreements that Silicon Valley tech companies got in trouble for.

Give me a break. If this isn't corruption, the why aren't they disclosing their connections?

Um, most people don't disclose to their boss that they have another job or side project or are looking for one. In most of these cases, there is zero evidence of "corruption"--the Chinese are paying these scientists to do research and set up programs at Chinese universities. If there is actual evidence that they are stealing trade secrets to take to China, then have a lawsuit over that. But merely poaching an employee is not wrongful, even if that employee has specialized knowledge built up in his job, in fact it is good because it bids up wages.

Most universities, particularly state-funded ones, require faculty to fill out annual conflict of interest reports. Outside jobs aren't forbidden, per se, but these situations would require a disclosure to be filled out, and then the university can decide whether it is allowed or not.

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Many universities have policies that require outside employment by faculty (esp if it's related to their field of expertise) to be approved in advance, not just declared annually on conflict of commitment forms. If it's a job wholly unrelated to field of expertise (say pet sitting or flipping burgers), then that might not need to be pre-approved.

If a professor is not happy with their salary at their US institution, they are free to quit and join a foreign institution that's willing to pay them a lot more. (They can even look for another US institution that might be willing to pay them more).

@Cassie- as a law school flunk-out, I can assure you that while you may be right, the penalty for not disclosing a conflict of interest should be treated as "malum prohibitum" rather than "malum in se", and the professor should be given a slap on the wrist. But given the US hysteria over losing their coveted place with being a monopsonist in science (witness the Huawei hysteria) I bet the US throws the book at the hapless scientists, who are just trying to make a living just like businesspeople and gatekeepers and indeed the lawyers who will prosecute them.

Bonus trivia: US Congress is largely immune from inside trading, unlike Wall Street. US Congress is largely composed of lawyers. They're not stupid, unlike most scientists when it comes to $$$. Solve for the equilibrium.

+1 to Zaua. US science is underfunded, one reason we have a Great Stagnation. Been that way forever (including the low-hanging fruit days of the 19th century). Why did I switch from science to gate-keeping (legal services), retire early, and now am a gentleman farmer? $$$. Got me into the 1%, and made me and those around me happy. The idea, that TC promotes, of a selfless nerd pursuing science and benefiting society for no compensation is a romantic one, is the way society has traditionally progressed, but needs to change for society to go to the next level quicker (like a catalyst in a chemical reaction).

Don't be silly, Ray. We all know that if these scientists had been taking undisclosed payments from private industry, Zaua and others on the left would immediately deem their work to be corrupted. And yet we're supposed to believe that money from a largely adversarial and internally oppressive government is something so devoid of concerns, constraints, or corrupting influence that there's no issue when it's kept secret? Come on.

The market is basically saying that science produces so little value yet considers litigating class action lawsuits (law), creating new opaque financial products (banking), or putting together Powerpoint slides for execs (management consulting) to be very valuable economic activity. America was founded by lawyers so don't expect anybody but credentialed middlemen to be the real winners of this society. America was great when it poached the world's smartest people like Einstein or Andy Grove who actually innovated but these days China is doing the poaching and building while America can only rediscover an insular nationalism.

+1 @Marty. And BTW US patent law was explicitly written, in Section 102 to get technical, to encourage US theft of UK inventions. Shoe is on the other foot now and the US don't like it.

" US patent law was explicitly written, in Section 102 to get technical, to encourage US theft of UK inventions"

How so?

Everyone understands that scientists respond to monetary incentives. That's why there are norms calling for disclosure when climate scientists are funded by an energy industry foundation, or when drug efficacy studies are paid for by the manufacturer. The question is why you think Chinese money should uniquely be exempt from this expectation.

Yes, all that's necessary is disclosure of money from anybody! Actually nothing to do with China. Just disclose. Completely routine.

One US professor's take on academic moonlighting for the middle kingdom:

Good link, small mind by the author. As Peter Thiel points out, most scientists are either too boring or too wild to invent anything practical. This author seems to fall into the first camp. Either that, or he's one of those idealistic people who create just for fun, and I've run across many such inventors in my professional capacity (distinguished scientists who did not have a single patent in their name).

Sample blurb by the envious author: "This ain’t about international cooperation and scientific values, it’s about a greedy American being bought by the Chinese government and lying about it. Throw the book at him." Keep in mind he made such a vindictive comment without any evidence of any US state secrets being sold to China. Very telling.

Papers, not patents, is how the administrators rank their academics.

I can't wait to find out how much the Chinese are offering to professors of intersectional feminism...

"more than 100 were involved with a Chinese talent-recruitment program, even though only five had disclosed their participation."

Time to send another 95 scientists to prison for betraying the United States of America. I bet they all vote Democrat too.

You mean China is not investing in Creationism? Shocking!

Alex, Tyler did you guys fill out your forms correctly? I want to this blog to stick around until I'm dead.

Don't worry. After the GMU president apologized for some of Dr. Cowen's earlier 'indiscretions' regarding donor funding and donor faculty appointment approval in the past, everything has been forgotten. Or forgiven. Or swept under the carpet, as the case may be.

I wonder what's the going rate to buy an economist, less than | greater than $50k per month?

It depends on how many hours you need. At $1,000/hour, it's $160k for a month full time, but I don't think there's a clear comparison. The Harvard guy wasn't billing by the hour; I imagine it was more of a "piecework" sort of thing. Many academics will have limits on how many consulting hours they do that make you hard pressed to get more than 40 hours, or $40k, out of them. The limits are enforced through disclosure requirements.

Figure the actual rate is somewhere between $500 and $2000/hour depending on expertise and demand. Economists are generally more expensive than scientists by roughly a factor of two.

Selling the US down the river... wonderful academics... Of course, they see nothing wrong with communism.

So the knowledge that's in your own personal head doesn't really belong to you, it belongs, just like a share of your income, to the state. If the state doesn't care about the knowledge, for instance how to tie fishing flies, it's OK to spread it because it's of limited financial value. But if the knowledge in your head concerns nanowiring, an innovative and valuable thing, well, the state will tell you what you can do with it, regardless of how you acquired that knowledge. It's not yours, it belongs to them.

Funny you should mention "a share of your income." Dr. Lieber is going to have other problems besides false statements to NIH if he also failed to disclose that income to the IRS. I'll be curious to hear whether the but-he's-a-scientist crowd defends him there too.

If another business has two or three key personnel sometimes hiring just one of them away is enough to cripple their operations and put them at a competitive disadvantage, even if the person being hired is redundant and of no special use in your own company.

If those people are critical to your business, then you offer a pay package that makes them want to stay. If you want them to stick around for the long term then give out equity that vests over time. In other words, use the tools that free enterprise gives you and stop asking the state for favors when things don't go your way.

That makes sense. You can pay most people enough to put up with anything. An old business adage is that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.

For instance see:

Why aren't they bragging to their Deans about how much they are bringing in? Maybe the universities should be getting some overhead, but this ought to be a win-win for everybody.

One might even conclude that the Deans knew about this funding and participated in keeping it secret.

An employee owes her employer a duty of loyalty. That doesn't mean she can't seek alternative employment, it means she can't obtain employment elsewhere until she departs her current employment. [Stealing trade or other secrets from her current employer is a different matter.] Poaching by China on America's scientists (those in the private sector as well as in academia) is occurring all across America, even in my sunbelt city. It's as though China has declared a recruiting war. I suppose what shocks folks is how willing America's scientists are willing to take the money and run; or worse, take the money and stay. As I indicated, an employee owes a duty of loyalty to her employer. Does an American owe a duty of loyalty to America? If so, why aren't Tim Cook and other executives who betrayed America by shifting production to China being fired, or hung, for violating their duty of loyalty to America? Are corporate executives subject to a different standard of loyalty than scientists?

At-will employment. No duty of loyalty is owed or implied.

Since you said "her employer," I am assuming you mean au pairs and kindergarten teachers--and you may be right in that case. But in the case of professors, the case is a little different.

He's not charged with lying to Harvard. And yes, executives of corporations that receive government funding have to fill out lots of certifications under penalty of perjury, just like scientists do.

What's the issue here? Helping Chinese farmers develop new and better agricultural technologies is a form of espionage? Getting paid to improve crop yield and the environment is something you have to "disclose" to someone?

Be agreeable if the Chinese would act to improve the quality of our civic life by offering Bryan Caplan a great deal of money to relocate to Shanghai.

Those in this Chinese operation know how to stroke the ego of US academics. The Chinese government offers myriad incentives to mostly Chinese immigrants to maintain relations with China, especially if they have access to specialized scientific knowledge. I suspect intelligence agents are involved behind the scenes of science professors. In China they get banquets, status, maybe the welcome attention of pretty young ladies, and then down the line they are asked to provide some useful secrets for the benefit of the motherland. I know some friends of family that I suspect have stolen/transferred IP.

I also think some ivory tower libertarians and non-libertarian intellectuals (not Chinese immigrants) are much softer on China than I would expect, perhaps because of invitations to lecture in China and the feeling that they are treated with more respect there than they are in the US.

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