Monday, March 8, 2021

Stuart Schreiber, E.J. Corey write open letter in support of Charles Lieber

Via Twitter: 

I don't find this letter particularly compelling (neither does Paul), but I suspect that it's partially for an internal Harvard audience and partially aimed at appealing to the incoming Biden Administration. 


  1. This letter should come across as absurd to anyone who has read the indictment against Lieber. The US government's case includes emails in which Lieber requested payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from Wuhan, which he obviously did not report as income. That is not a mistake filling out an ambiguous form - he knew what he was doing was illegal when he requested briefcases full of cash.

    Global scientific collaboration is important, but there are plenty of nations to foster connections with that do not seek to undermine the integrity of their partners. Though the individual people of nations like China and Saudi Arabia are good (and great colleagues in my personal experience), their governments stand opposed to the openness this letter claims to defend. It corrupts our academic system to accept money from them.

    Unless facts emerge to show the US has substantially fabricated its case against Lieber, which will require a fair trial to determine, the signers of this letter should be regarded as a list of people who are no longer deserving of respect in the academic community...a real loss considering some of the names listed.

  2. I am stunned that as an organic chemist who looked up to the people in Harvard University for stupendous work on organic chemistry are supporting the cheat Prof. Lieber. But why? The US is framing him for not reporting an income from Wuhan for filing his income tax. I am not making much but I believe that Profs. Schreiber and Corey are letting me down! Honesty is the best policy whether it is organic chemistry or paying (or rather hiding) taxes.

  3. I heard that the Thousand Talents program was Corey's idea. And that taxes are optional. And that Harvard rulz. But perhaps someone else can recall what really happened better...

    I agree with the previous comments. It's disappointing that the signatories are unable to separate collaboration and open science (good) from lying and cheating (bad) or just don't care when they feel (wrongly) that the reputation of their institution is on the line.

  4. I'm not sure collaboration with countries who seem to want to compete for market share but have little respect for patent and intellectual property laws is a good idea. Thousand talents with Germany (for example) I am all for, but not with China. A really bad idea, IMO. I don't think faculty like Corey and Schreiber have our national interest in mind. IMO, they likely want influence and access to cheap labor, even if it is an increased national security risk

  5. It's absurd to me how you, Paul, and many of the commenters are presuming guilt for Charles Lieber. Many of the public documents in the indictment don't make sense when viewed through a critical lens and suggest that the initial case against him was due to intentional or unintentional misunderstandings of emails or documents. For example, the public evidence never showed a signed contract and only implied some (possibly other) agreement was made because of an e-mail. The terms of the contract say that Lieber would have to publish papers for WUT... where are these papers? The lab in question doesn't even do the kind of research that Lieber is working on. Reviewing a manuscript is used as evidence that Lieber worked for WUT? It should be obvious why that wouldn't hold up to scrutiny if you've ever reviewed a manuscript before.

    A lot of the information surrounding this case is not public, but there are many holes in the public evidence that don't make sense if you don't automatically presume guilt. I'm sure that this is a large part of why these scientists signed this letter.

    You can read some of the documents in a link found here:

    1. It's absurd to me that someone could view this post and think I had an opinion on Charles Lieber's guilt or innocence. For the record, I think the government has him dead to rights on lying to the DoD investigator:

      On April 24, 2018, DoD investigators interviewed LIEBER about his active grants and whether LIEBER had appropriately disclosed foreign research collaboration to DoD. During
      the interview, which took place at LIEBER' s lab on the Harvard Campus, LIEBER said that he was familiar with China's Thousand Talent's Plan, but that he had never been asked to participate in the program. Although LIEBER stated that he was never asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Program, he also told DoD investigators that he "wasn't sure" how China categorized him. I believe these statements were false because, as described above, WUT expressly asked LIEBER on numerous occasions in 2012 to participate in the Thousand Talents Program and to sign a Thousand Talents Agreement with WUT. Moreover, based upon the email correspondence described above that I have reviewed, LIEBER did sign a three-year Thousand Talents Agreement with WUT on or about July 21, 2012, and was paid by WUT over the course of several years pursuant to that agreement. The agreement that LIEBER signed was titled "Employment Contract of 'One Thousand Talent' High Level Foreign Expert" and it referred to LIEBER as a "One Thousand Talent."

      I look forward to your response.

    2. from here:

    3. The government's case as stated in the publicly available affidavit, which is just a selection of evidence against Lieber, appears extremely strong. He has been indicted by a grand jury on multiple counts of lying to investigators and tax fraud, the latter being especially clear cut. I think we can all agree that he deserves a fair trial, but at this point it would be a miscarriage of justice not to pursue prosecution given the evidence. If his colleagues at Harvard know something that we do not then they should make it public. Otherwise this comes across as top scientists believing they are above the law. At the very least, someone receiving millions of dollars of taxpayer funding from the NIH should be paying his fair share of taxes!

      As for the broader question of international collaboration, I would ask everyone who signed that letter whether they would feel comfortable making a similar statement if they were citizens of China, working in China, and contesting accusations made by the Chinese government? Would an accused Chinese scientist enjoy due process and the ability to defend himself/herself openly in court? We all know the answers to those questions. Unless the letter writers have some meaningful evidence contradicting the government's case (I am open to this possibility but then make it public!), then this is an embarrassment for them.

  6. Chemjobber, I took your statement "I don't find this particularly compelling" as disagreeing with the statements in the letter, and from your response realize that I attached too much of your presumed opinion on guilt or innocence to that. I generally appreciate your tone and feel like you're doing a great service with this website, and I think I associated too much of my already boiling annoyance with this situation (and others' words) to your words.

    If you look at the acknowledgement in papers I suggested you view (such as L Xu et al, Nano Letters 2013) he does disclose collaborative work with the WUT and funding involved. These collaborations were not hidden and, if one presumes Lieber's continued pleas of innocence, could suggest there is an alternative interpretation for the information in the section that you quoted. And to my earlier point, the prosecution states they assume he signed this agreement based on e-mail correspondence, which suggests they have not seen the signed agreement and opens the possibility they may be misunderstanding what agreements were referred to in the other e-mails. This isn't to say that Lieber did everything properly, and we will hopefully learn more when the trial proceeds, but my view is that it isn't likely as "clear" as presented by the prosecution or I would assume there would be a guilty plea.

    1. I understand, no worries.

      I broadly think a bunch of contradictory things:

      1. Charles Lieber voluntarily spoke to two (I believe) federal law enforcement officers without a lawyer, and he lied to them, IF the criminal complaint is to believed. Straightforwardly, it appears he committed a crime.
      2. I think the prosecution is 100% political, and has much more to do with the Trump Administration's need to be seen to be "getting tough" on Chinese academics in the US, and Charles Lieber gave Andrew Lelling and the DOJ cover to proceed on their actual goals.
      3. Therefore, I'm pretty lukewarm to continuing this prosecution. However, is this really about a broad class/race-based sense that "fancy chemistry professors don't belong in jail, but the kid who knocked over my neighborhood 7-11 does?" I dunno, could be.
      3. The Chinese government does indeed have strategic interests that are NOT in the interests of the American government, or the American people. However, I think the DOJ prosecution of Lieber and Chinese academics does far more harm to American interests than those of the Chinese.

      The Schreiber/Corey letter does not address the lying, and basically says "it wasn't that big of a deal not to sign these forms, let him off" which is both 1) reasonable for them to ask and 2) not particularly compelling (i.e. why should the government be nice to this one guy, and not some other guy? because he's a fancy chemistry professor?)


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20