Violent drug cartels stifle Mexican science

Source: Nature

For astronomers at the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico's Puebla state, the new year began with disturbing news. Their work probing the formation and evolution of stars, planets, black holes and galaxies had been put on hold until further notice, after a spike in drug-cartel activity around Sierra Negra — the extinct volcano that hosts the telescope. The final straw came in December, when one of the facility’s employees was carjacked. Officials at the observatory — which is funded by the Mexican government and the University of Massachusetts Amherst — decided that it was no longer safe for people to go to work.

Across Mexico, drug-related violence has been on the rise for more than 12 years. The country documented 33,341 homicides last year — a record, the government said last month. Much of the surge was driven by a rise in increasingly violent drug gangs. Clashes between cartels and government security forces have driven scientists to abandon field sites, interrupt experiments or even change research interests.

Nobody has systematically documented the effects of organized crime on the Mexican research community, says David Ledesma, a spokesperson for the country’s science funding agency, the National Council for Science and Technology. But individual stories make clear that it has hampered scientific research.