An Argentine Scientist Is Facing Criminal Charges For A Very, Very Disturbing Reason

The Perito Moreno Glacier, in southern Argentina. Luca Galuzzi/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 2.5

Just recently, for example, Europe’s top court shocked vaccine experts when it ruled in favor of a man who claimed he got multiple sclerosis from his hepatitis B vaccine, despite there being no evidence for any link. In this case, legal wording overcame rigorous scientific practices.

How about those geologists that were convicted of manslaughter for the advice they gave back in 2012 when the L’Aquila earthquake struck?

Predicting when an earthquake will occur, how powerful it will be, and what damage it will do is notoriously difficult. Back in 2012, a team of scientists in Italy played it cautiously, gave out some debatable scientific advice on the possibility of a major tremor in the region, and ultimately missed the mark. Facing some serious jail time, they were ultimately exonerated.

Villalba’s case is quite different from these two, but there is a parallel theme here: who should ultimately be responsible for negative outcomes? Villalba suggests that those responsible for the pollution itself should be brought to justice, not the scientist(s) that constructed the glacial boundaries in Argentina.

Patagonia's glorious glaciers, seen from the International Space Station. JSC/NASA

Many scientists, including his former colleagues, agree with him. In an open letter, they note that “Dr Villalba is an exemplary model of an interdisciplinary, international, collaborative scientist”, adding that he is internationally recognized as a researcher, mentor, and collaborator.

They describe the indictment as “false” and “unjust”, and explain that it sets a worrying precedent that undermines public trust in scientists. The case “not only endangers the continuation of that long-term painstaking scientific program but it also defames the competency, honesty, and integrity of the collaborative team of researchers who implement [it].”

According to Los Andes, supporters of the beleaguered scientist are organizing a protest march.

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