Researcher sacked for role in destruction of field trial (Science Magazine)

The sacking of a Belgian researcher involved in the partial destruction of a test field for genetically modified (GM) potatoes has trig- gered a fierce debate about academic free- dom in Belgium.

Barbara Van Dyck, a bioengineer who studies local development and social change at Catholic University of Leuven, says she did not uproot any plants herself during the 29 May operation by a group called the Field Liberation Movement near the Flemish town of Wetteren. But she was present and defended the raid in interviews, referring to the movement as “we.”

Van Dyck, who was fired 4 days later, says the university never gave her a proper chance to explain the protest, which she says was a form of civil disobedience. Stijn Oosterlynck, a faculty colleague, calls the university’s response “disproportionate” pending a judi- cial inquiry against the group. But university Rector Mark Waer said in an e-mail to staff members that Van Dyck violated one of the institute’s core principles. “The university expects its employees to respect each other’s research and to not destroy it,” Waer wrote.