China has restricted the publication of academic papers on the source of the novel coronavirus, according to the online notices by two universities in China, which have since been removed from their sites.
Under the recent Chinese policy, all academic research on the origin of COVID-19 will be peer-reviewed before its publication. Studies on the source of the novel coronavirus will go through some extra analysis and scrutiny and central government officials must approve it, according to the recently deleted posts. A medical expert who worked with the mainland researchers for publishing a clinical analysis of novel coronavirus cases in an international health journal said his work did not undergo extra scrutiny in February.
The strict scrutiny is an effort by the Chinese government for controlling the narrative on the source and origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 1.7 million people and killed more than 100,000 lives worldwide since its first outbreak in Wuhan.
Chinese researchers have published a lot of studies based on COVID-19 in international journals since late January. Some findings related to the early cases, such as when the first human to human transmission reported, have sparked controversy on social media and raised questions on the accountability of the official government.
And now, authorities are tightening the grip on the publication of academic research on the novel coronavirus. A Chinese scientist who talked about the anonymity because of the fear of retaliation said this restriction was worrying development and it will hinder important research.
The researcher said it is a coordinated effort of the Chinese government for controlling the narrative and show it as if the first outbreak didn’t originate in China and they will not tolerate any kind of objective study for the investigation of the origin of the SARS-CoV-2.
According to the Ministry of Education’s Science and Technology department’s directive, academic research papers about the origin of the novel coronavirus must be tightly and strictly managed. It lays out the series of approval for the research papers, starting with the academic committees in universities and then to be sent to the science and technology department of the Education Ministry, which will then further send these research papers to the task force that is under the State Council for vetting. Only after the approval from the task force, papers can be submitted to journals.
Other research papers on the novel coronavirus will be vetted by the academic committees at universities, based on the conditions related to the timing and academic value of the studies.
This directive is based on the instructions by the task force under the State Council issued during a meeting on March 25 on the control and prevention of COVID-19. The notice was posted first on the website of one of the leading universities, Fudan University. The staff member of the Education Ministry confirmed that they had issued this directive. But he said it is an internal document and he is not supposed to reveal it to the public. After a few hours, it was deleted from the page of Fudan University.
The University of Geoscience in China also posted the same notice on its website. The notice has since been removed but its cached version is accessible.
The Chinese Journal of Epidemiology’s editorial director, Wang Lan said all the research papers have to undergo an approval process for major topics after their submission to her journal. She said it’s always the same long process; they have to be approved from three organizations. The Chinese researcher said that COVID-19 research which contradicted the narrative could be suppressed by the government under this new restriction.