Long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 spotted this story in today’s New York Times. (Also re-published in the Seattle Times.) In early 2020 a team of U.S. and Chinese scientists “released critical data” on the speedy spread and lethality of the coronavirus, remembers Times, “cited in health warnings around the world… Within days, though, the researchers quietly withdrew the paper, which was replaced online by a message telling scientists not to cite it…

“What is now clear is that the study was not removed because of faulty research. Instead, it was withdrawn at the direction of Chinese health officials amid a crackdown on science.”

It’s not the only retraction. The Times also points out a paper published on March 9 of 2020 relying on patient samples from mid-December of 2019, which “added to evidence that the virus was spreading widely before the Chinese government took action.” Two months later the journal that published an update that “said that the Wuhan samples were not collected in December after all, but weeks later, in January… After Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle tweeted about the discrepancy, the journal’s editors posted a third version of the paper, adding yet another timeline. This revision says the samples were collected between Dec. 30 and Jan. 1.”

Beijing’s stranglehold on information goes far deeper than even many pandemic researchers are aware of. Its censorship campaign has targeted international journals and scientific databases, shaking the foundations of shared scientific knowledge, a New York Times investigation found. Under pressure from their government, Chinese scientists have withheld data, withdrawn genetic sequences from public databases and altered crucial details in journal submissions. Western journal editors enabled those efforts by agreeing to those edits or withdrawing papers for murky reasons, a review by The Times of over a dozen retracted papers found.

This scientific censorship has not universally succeeded: The original version of the February 2020 paper, for example, can still be found online with some digging. But the campaign starved doctors and policymakers of critical information about the virus at the moment the world needed it most. It bred mistrust of science in Europe and the United States, as health officials cited papers from China that were then retracted. The crackdown continues to breed misinformation today and has hindered efforts to determine the origins of the virus.

The article notes an international team’s discovery last month of genetic sequence data collected in January of 2020 at Wuhan market, “withheld from foreign experts for three years — a delay that global health officials called ‘inexcusable.'”

The sequences showed that raccoon dogs, a fox-like animal, had deposited genetic signatures in the same place that genetic material from the virus was left, a finding consistent with a scenario in which the virus spread to people from illegally traded market animals… Soon after the group alerted Chinese researchers to their findings, the genetic sequences temporarily disappeared from a global database. “It’s just pathetic that we’re in this stage where we’re having cloak-and-dagger conversations about deleted data,” said Edward Holmes, a University of Sydney biologist who was part of the group that analyzed the sequences containing raccoon dog DNA.

The Times cites retracted coronavirus papers flagged by Retraction Watch, which tracks withdrawn research. Amid tighting government censorship in 2020, Chinese researchers began asking journals to retract their work, the Times reports, and “a review of more than a dozen retracted papers from China shows a pattern of revising or suppressing research on early cases, conditions for medical workers and how widely the virus had spread — topics that could make the government look bad.”

Journals are typically slow to retract papers, even when they are shown to be fraudulent or unethical. But in China, the calculus is different, said Ivan Oransky, a founder of Retraction Watch. Journals that want to sell subscriptions in China or publish Chinese research often bend to the government’s demands. “Scientific publishers have really gone out of their way to placate the censorship requests,” he said…

The journal retractions continued, and for unusual reasons. One group of authors noted that “our data is not perfect enough.” Another warned that its paper “cannot be used as the basis for the origin and evolution of SARS-CoV-2.” A third said its findings were “incomplete and not ready for publication.” Several scientists promised in retraction notices to update their findings but never did.