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For Venezuelan academics, speaking out is risky business

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Science  17 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6207, pp. 287
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6207.287

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When Ángel Sarmiento discovered that eight patients had died of an unidentified fever in the capital of Aragua state in Venezuela, he did what he was supposed to do: sound the alarm. But instead of heeding the announcement, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused the physician of fomenting "psychological terrorism." Sarmiento fled the country a few days later. The episode continues to reverberate in Venezuela, where intellectuals consider it a signal of the central government's disdain for science and the medical establishment. Sarmiento was the second academic to be singled out for punishment by Maduro in September. Many other researchers feel beleaguered: Even noncontroversial experiments are subject to byzantine rules that leave scientists unable to follow new threads, and bureaucratic mistakes can bring harsh punishments.