Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Charles Lieber found guilty on all counts

Via Chemical and Engineering News' Bethany Halford: 
After 2 hours and 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Lieber guilty on all counts. Lieber did not appear to show any emotion in reaction to the verdict. The judge did not set a date for sentencing.

Lieber is the first academic researcher prosecuted under the China Initiative to be found guilty by a jury. —Bethany Halford

From the Harvard Crimson's Brandon Kingdollar: 

BOSTON — Harvard professor Charles M. Lieber was found guilty of lying to government authorities about his ties to China in federal court on Tuesday, concluding a stunning downfall for one of the country’s top chemists.

A federal jury found Lieber guilty on all six felony charges, including two counts of making false statements and four related tax offenses. Federal prosecutors said Lieber, 62, chased money and Nobel hopes past the limits of the law by concealing his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Program in misleading statements to investigators and falsely-reported tax returns.

Jurors deliberated for just shy of three hours before coming to a verdict Tuesday. Lieber showed little reaction as the verdict was announced in court...

...Lieber, who is currently battling late-stage lymphoma, will be sentenced at a later hearing. Federal charges of false statements are subject to a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

I'm pretty surprised. While the statements he made to the FBI were clearly pretty incriminating, I had no idea how the jury would take them, especially with all the doubts that that Dr. Lieber's lawyer threw their way. I thought they would acquit, but I was wrong. 

The New York Times' article on the case had a sad note from the FBI interrogation: 

He tried to impress on the two special agents that a different motive, the desire for acclaim, had brought him to partner with Wuhan and train scientists there.

“I was younger and stupid,” he said. “I want to be recognized for what I’ve done. Everyone wants to be recognized.” He offered a comparison he had given his son, a high school wrestler. The Nobel Prize is “kind of like an Olympic gold medal — it’s very, very rare,” he said.

A prize he had won recently was more like a bronze medal, he said with a self-deprecating laugh. “That probably is the underlying reason I did this,” he said.

 There is something deeply tragic and knowing about that admission. 


  1. If I may play amateur psychologist for a minute, I think what is going on in Lieber is a combination of how scientists at high levels either rationalize, or have a willful ignorance that helping competitive states that don't have our interest in mind can hurt us (like Fauci being fine with NIH money going to support the Wuhan Institute of Virology) and a huge ego interfering with good judgement. In the words of the Stone Temple Pilots "Down you go! Suffer long...."

    1. To me the talk about competing states sounds odd and antithetical to free science. But my work is completely theoretical with no applications and if I worked on something that could be actually used for something, my thoughts could well be different.

  2. I wonder if they can go after his wife, too for their dodgy tax moves. This honest taxpayer would approve.

  3. Someone needs to update Bumpers Cars to reflect Lieber's move from Harvard to the Penitentiary

  4. I imagine he's going to play the cancer fiddle pretty hard and likely get sentence to a laughable fine and house arrest.

  5. "“I want to be recognized for what I’ve done. Everyone wants to be recognized.” He offered a comparison he had given his son, a high school wrestler. The Nobel Prize is “kind of like an Olympic gold medal — it’s very, very rare,” he said."

    Very said indeed, but not uncommon among high flyers. Think about that the next time someone tries to claim that academic and government scientists are somehow "purer" than industrial ones.

    1. Even common with low fliers. My last advisor, an MD/PhD assistant professor with no pubs yet from his lab, said he wanted to get the attention of scientists in Sweden, and mentioned the Nobel Prize. This, along with the fact that he post-doc'd at Harvard working for a NAS member, suggested to me that egos so big that they live in cognitive dissonance are often made by the academic system. He really seemed to think that greatness in academia was an inheritance gained by working for famous people (not suprisingly, the one he worked for has a sizable pubpeer record, over 50) . Sadly, in light of the fact that who you know is as important as the science in getting grant money, he could get far up the system despite being mediocre.

      I left that lab after 2 months, as I felt his huge ego and conviction that he would rise up the system would turn the lab into a fraudatorium soon enough.


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