The new policy states that all academic papers on COVID-19 will undergo scrutiny before being submitted for publication. Moreover, studies on the origins of the coronavirus will be examined more and must be approved by central government officials, according to the now-deleted posts.
Meanwhile, a medical expert in Hong Kong who worked with mainland researchers to release a clinical analysis of COVID-19 cases in an international medical journal claimed his work did not go through vetting in February.
The evaluation of research is reportedly the latest effort by the Chinese government to manage the narrative on the origins of the pandemic
, which has taken more than 100,000 lives and infected 1.7 million people
worldwide since it came out in the city of Wuhan in December 2019.
Chinese researchers have been publishing a series of COVID-19 studies in influential international medical journals since late January. Some findings that explore early coronavirus cases have stirred issues about the official government account of the outbreak and became controversial on Chinese social media.
A Chinese researcher who spoke under anonymity to CNN due to fear of retaliation admitted that the control was an unpleasant development that can hinder important scientific research.
“I think it is a coordinated effort from (the) Chinese government to control (the) narrative, and paint it as if the outbreak did not originate in China,” the researcher told CNN. “And I don’t think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.” CNN asked for China
‘s Foreign Ministry for comment.
Based on the directive of the Ministry of Education’s science and technology department, “academic papers about tracing the origin of the virus must be strictly and tightly managed.”
The approval of scientific papers will begin with the academic committees at universities. The papers must also be submitted to the Education Ministry’s science and technology department, which then gives the papers to a task force under the State Council for further vetting.
The universities should get feedback from the task force first before the papers can be submitted to journals.
Other papers on COVID-19 will be assessed by universities’ academic committees. Their criteria include “academic value” of the study and whether the “timing for publishing” is right.
A staff member of the Education ministry’s science and technology department confirmed to CNN that such directive has been issued.
“It is not supposed to be made public — it is an internal document,” said the staff, who refused to reveal his name.
The Fudan University page with the directive was remove. The China University of Geoscience in Wuhan had a similar notice about the vetting on coronavirus research on its website, but it has since been deleted. A cached version of it remains available.
David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he was not aware of any additional vetting when he and a team of mainland Chinese researchers issued a clinical analysis of coronavirus cases in the New England Journal of Medicine in February.
“The process was really simple then,” Shu-cheong told CNN over the phone. “There was completely no restriction at all. I don’t know if it is because some researchers published something that is considered sensitive domestically in China. (I’m) not sure if it is because of the controversy about the origin of the virus later, and the non-sensitive stuff becomes sensitive too.”