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An Argentinean scientist is facing criminal charges for a 2011 glacial survey that angered environmentalists.
An Argentinean scientist is facing criminal charges after he released a glacier report with results and methods that angered environmental activists.

What happened?

Geo-scientist Ricardo Villalba, who heads the South American country's Institute of Snow, Ice and Environmental Research, has been charged with "abusing his authority and violating his duty as a civil servant," Nature.com reported.

The charges stem from a complaint from environmentalists who allege Villalba doctored a 2011 glacier survey to protect gold-mining interests. In that survey, Villalba included only glaciers one hectare or larger. The environmentalists were angry because Villalba didn't include smaller glaciers. But as Nature.com noted, the international norm for scientific glacial surveys is to only include glaciers one hectare or larger.

Villalba appealed his charges on Dec. 4. If the indictment isn't overturned, his case will go to trial. In the meantime, the court has ordered the seizure of Villalba's assets up to 5 million pesos, or about $300,000.

What has Villalba said about the charges?

The scientist rejected the idea that he or his team failed to properly do their job. He said the notion that he sought to protect the mining industry "is totally wrong" and hurts the scientific community in Argentina.

"There is no other institution in Argentina that has done more for the knowledge, care and protection of glaciers than IANIGLA," he told Nature.com

What do other scientists say about the charges?

The case has drawn international attention, and scientists in other parts of the world believe the charges are bogus and politically motivated.

More from Nature.com:
Villalba's co-workers at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) in Mendoz protested on his behalf as he entered his appeal on 4 December. And scientists in other countries who have worked with Villalba are collecting signatures on a letter defending him and his glacier survey. Many of these researchers see parallels between Villalba's case and that of six seismologists who were found guilty of manslaughter for misleading the public about the dangers of an earthquake, although their convictions were later overturned.
Bruce Raup, a glaciologist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, said: "It's surreal and kind of ridiculous."