Tuesday, August 28, 2007

As Brazil Defends Its Bounty, Rules Ensnare Scientists

Via: NYT

Marc van Roosmalen is a world-renowned primatologist whose research in the Amazon has led to the discovery of five species of monkeys and a new primate genus. But precisely because of that work, Dr. van Roosmalen was recently sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison and jailed in Manaus, Brazil. Earlier in August, his lawyers managed to get him freed while they appeal his conviction on charges stemming from an investigation into alleged biopiracy. But scientists here and abroad are outraged, and they describe the case as only the most glaring example of laws and government policies they say are xenophobic and increasingly stifling scientific inquiry.

“Research needs to be stimulated, not criminalized,” said Enio Candotti, a physicist who has been the president of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, the country’s leading scientific body, for the last four years. “Instead, we have a situation in which overzealous bureaucrats consider everyone guilty unless they can prove their innocence.”

At a biologists’ conference in Mexico last month, 287 scientists from 30 countries signed a petition saying that the jailing of Dr. van Roosmalen was “indicative of a trend of governmental repression of scientists in Brazil.”

The treatment of him, they warned, is unduly harsh and is “already discouraging biological research in Brazil, both by Brazilian scientists and by potential international donors.”

Brazil’s government officials say they have no vendetta against the scientists and are merely trying to protect the nation’s natural and genetic patrimony; they also declined to talk about the van Roosmalen case.

Read rest of article here

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