Zaosong Zheng was preparing to board Hainan Airlines Flight 482, nonstop from Boston to Beijing, when customs officers pulled him aside.
Inside his checked luggage, wrapped in a plastic bag and then inserted into a sock, the officers found what they were looking for: 21 vials of brown liquid — cancer cells — that the authorities say Mr. Zheng, 29, a cancer researcher, took from a laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Under questioning, court documents say, Mr. Zheng acknowledged that he had stolen eight of the samples and had replicated 11 more based on a colleague’s research. When he returned to China, he said, he would take the samples to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital and turbocharge his career by publishing the results in China, under his own name....Presuming this is what it looks like, I can't really feel very sorry for Mr. Zheng. Outside of ethics and morality, if you steal something, being caught within federal law enforcement jurisdiction is really dumb. (Here's a redacted copy of the affidavit, apparently.)
It is rather shocking to me how heavily federal law enforcement seems to be taking (waves hands wildly) the acquiring/stealing (?) of scientific work product from the United States in the life sciences. I think it's pretty reasonable to really crack down on industrial IP theft from the US (i.e. this is material that someone is already making money on), but the taking of random samples from biology labs? It's really hard to believe any one (or 21) vials are worth anything.
Still, a story like this will encourage those who are being dumb about stealing stuff (like this guy) to be a little smarter or perhaps not to do it. Not an altogether bad thing.