Scientists around the world have received death threats and sexual assault after speaking to the media about Covid-19, a new survey revealed.
Of 321 scientists asked by the journal Nature, 15% said they had received death threats and 22% had been threatened with physical or sexual violence as a result of speaking publicly about the pandemic.
Two-thirds said they had a negative experience after appearing in the media.
Scientists revealed how they have become distraught and scared and, in some cases, stopped sharing their views publicly after experiencing harassment and intimidation.
The most common triggers for abuse were offering opinions on Covid vaccination, face masks, the origins of the Covid virus, and the efficacy of drugs to treat the disease. Among them was ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that has been advocated by some of those who oppose vaccination against Covid.
Dr Andrew Hill, a pharmacologist at the University of Liverpool, received images of hanged people and coffins after he and his colleagues published a meta-analysis in July that suggested ivermectin could help treat Covid, but later withdrew the article. after having doubts about the data that supported one of the studies they had analyzed.
Scientists, mainly from the UK, Germany or the US, reported how they had received abusive or threatening emails and messages, including threats to kill them or their loved ones, made via email, phone calls and social media, and their home addresses were published. Six of the 321 scientists who responded to the magazine’s survey said they had been the victims of a physical attack.
“I am shocked and saddened to hear that so many fellow scientists have experienced death threats or threats of physical or sexual violence, simply for doing their job trying to communicate the scientific facts that are so important to society in understanding and responding to this global health. emergency, ”said Dr. Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading who participated in the survey.
“I’ve had some bad experiences after being featured in the media, particularly after calling out conspiracy theorists and some politicians, who seem to dislike having their favorite theories debunked. At times I have been threatened with various forms of death, violence and imprisonment for life ”.
Clarke added that while she has been able to ignore the threats, “I know some colleagues have had much worse experiences.” “I suspect that these negative experiences reflect a broader malaise in public discourse in society, fueled by social media and growing social and political tribalism,” he added.
Nature surveyed scientists from seven countries who had appeared in the media talking about Covid after a survey of 50 scientists by the Australian Science Media Center found that six (12%) had received death threats and another six (12 %) had been threatened with physical injury or sexual violence.
However, the journal’s much larger sample found that a higher proportion of scientists had been subjected to abuse, hostility, verbal assault, or threats. More than two in five of the 321 respondents said they had experienced emotional or psychological distress as a result.
Scientists have previously been the target of coordinated social media campaigns and threatening emails and phone calls after speaking out about the climate emergency, vaccination and gun violence, Nature says. “But even scientists who had a high profile before Covid-19 told Nature that abuse was a new and unwanted phenomenon linked to the pandemic,” he adds.
Dr Michael Head, senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton, said: “There has been a great deal of abuse targeting everyone who contributes to the response to the pandemic. The intensity of such harassment has increased significantly throughout the pandemic, including becoming more organized and terrifying than simple nonsensical comments on social media. “
Some scientists who were harassed told nature that they no longer appear in the media to discuss Covid problems.
Fiona Fox, Director of the UK Science Media Center, said: “It is a great loss for a scientist who got involved with the media, sharing his experience, to be pulled out of a public debate at a time when we have never seen them. needed so bad. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism