San Francisco

Four scientists who feel that their work has been suppressed by the biotechnology industry issued a call for greater scientific freedom at a rally on 10 December at the University of California, Berkeley.

Nearly 500 people turned up to hear the researchers describe the obstacles they claim to have faced in disseminating research findings that questioned the safety of pesticides and genetically engineered crops.

“I want to make this the beginning of something,” said Ignacio Chapela, the Berkeley ecologist who organized the event. Chapela claims that he was denied tenure at Berkeley last month because of his outspoken stance against corporate financing of public research (see Nature 426, 591; 2003).

At the rally, Berkeley amphibian biologist Tyrone Hayes gave a detailed account of what he called industry attempts to suppress and discredit his work on atrazine, the most widely applied herbicide in the United States.

Joining the rally on an Internet video link was John Losey, an entomologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who in 1999 found that pollen from insecticide-producing maize is toxic to monarch butterfly larvae. Losey said he had been asked by industry representatives not to publish his findings.

One sceptic asked if the panellists were really victims of suppression, when their findings had attracted so much publicity. Chapela responded that for each panel member there were many others whose careers were ended by industry pressure. “We are the survivors,” he said.