Three weeks ago, ethnobiologist Darrell Posey closed the door of his house in Belém, Brazil, leaving behind his life and scientific work of the past 12 years. The 42-year-old United States scientist’s involuntary departure from his post as coordinator of ethnobiology at Belém’s Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, South America’s oldest natural history museum, was forced by Brazilian authorities, who Posey says are retaliating for his activism on behalf of native rights.

In the past two years, he says, they have charged him under the country’s sedition laws, excluded him from his study area, kept him on a short leash at work, undermined his scientific and personal reputation. and generally created an intolerable research climate.

The case of Darrell Posey—an eminent scientist deprived of his research platform as a result of extra-science factors—prompts serious questions about the proper role of researchers working abroad in politically sensitive areas. Is one’s effectiveness or...

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