Just ignore He Jiankui, don’t feed his ego

(Illustration by Mike McQuade, source Nature)

The Chinese scientist who edited the CRISPR babies was released from prison last spring. He tweets lightheartedly announcing that he has opened a new lab in Beijing. He claims to be dedicated to rare diseases. He is looking for funding that hopefully no one wants to give him. In the rogue experiment that made him famous, he violated so many ethical principles that the only thing one can hope for is that he changes jobs. Is it appropriate for influential newspapers and prestigious institutions to give him a limelight for this attempt to come back on the scene?

What is the point of inviting him to closed-door meetings, as the so-called Global Observatory on Editing has belatedly admitted to doing? Does he deserve to participate in the debate organized next month at Oxford University? Do we really care to hear him dialogue about science and social justice, as anthropologist Eben Kirksey said to STAT? Does it still make sense to interview him as the Guardian recently did?

The answer might be yes, if He Jiankui actually answered the questions that have yet to be answered. Starting with the most important one of all: how are Lulu, Nana and the third (even more mysterious) child? But no, the scientist continues to be elusive, provides no information worth reporting, appears unrepentant (in the interview granted to the Guardian he even quoted the Beatles: “Let it be”) and retweets to his few followers every international appearance.

I personally share the concerns of editing pioneer Fyodor Urnov and historian of science Matthew Cobb who have raised the issue on twitter. One who unconditionally hands the microphone to such a compromised interlocutor risks unwittingly playing into his hands.

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