Following is an open statement in response to “Is MIT’s Research Helping the Chinese Military?”, an opinion essay by Michelle Bethel posted by the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 10, 2021. This statement is jointly from Prof. Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, Prof. Nergis Mavalvala, dean of MIT’s School of Science, and Prof. Maria T. Zuber, vice president for research at MIT.
Ms. Bethel is absolutely right that research relationships with institutions in China require the most serious care and consideration. MIT brings a thorough and rigorous approach to these matters.
First let us be clear about the work of the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Of the dozens of research projects currently under way at the McGovern Institute, there is one active research collaboration with China. It involves better identifying and ultimately developing treatments for severe forms of autism or neurological disorders that often render individuals unable to speak and frequently require lifelong care. That project was thoroughly vetted and approved by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in 2019. MIT receives no funding from China for this research, and all findings will be published in peer-reviewed journals, meaning that they are open to medical researchers anywhere in the world. This is the collaboration with the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology that Ms. Bethel referenced in vague terms.
This does not eliminate general concerns about how research may be conducted or used, however. That’s why MIT has strong processes for evaluating and managing the risks of research involving countries, including China, whose behavior affects U.S. national and economic security. Every proposed engagement that involves an organization or funding source from China, once it has been evaluated for compliance with U.S. law and regulation, is further reviewed by committees of senior administrators to consider risks related to national security, economic competitiveness, and civil and human rights. Projects have been variously turned down, modified, or approved under this process.
Ms. Bethel raises important points with respect to U.S.-China relations – but not with respect to the work of the McGovern Institute. We regret that Ms. Bethel felt it necessary to step away from the McGovern, but we respect her views and continue in conversation with her. We note that two other members of the McGovern family, including the McGovern Institute’s co-founder and another daughter, continue to proudly serve on the McGovern board. We are grateful to all three family members.