Like researchers everywhere, He Jiankui — the scientist in China who claims to have used CRISPR to edit embryos to create babies protected from HIV — is eager to publish scientific papers. It is, after all, a publish-or-perish world — although in He’s case, his fate at home may rest more with what the Chinese government thinks of his behavior than what a peer reviewer says about his work.
Part of the dilemma for a journal editor will be which ethical standard to apply, whether that standard provides any guidance with regard to research on an unborn fetus, the genetic manipulation of humans, risk management and consent. A journal faces a pretty stark dilemma that the edition the paper appears in will attract huge attention, be highly cited (though probably not positively) and the journal title will suddenly be on everyone’s lips. But the reputation of the publication, publisher and editor is likely to take a massive hit. Would you publish? We doubt we would.
Given the maelstrom surrounding He’s claims, however, should any journals even consider papers from him? And if they do, what should they keep in mind?
Jeremy Berg, editor of Science, told STAT that while he could not comment on whether the paper had been submitted to his journal, “given the numerous ethical issues with this situation as presented, we would be extremely unlikely to consider it.”
Howard Bauchner, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, wouldn’t comment on the possibility of a submission by He either, but said, “I believe articles should be reviewed and not judged based upon what is written in the media.”.