A survey revealed that scientists around the globe have been threatened with death or sexual assault after discussing Covid-19.
Nature magazine asked 321 scientists to respond to a questionnaire. 15% of them said they received death threats, while 22% reported being threatened with physical and sexual violence for speaking publicly about the pandemic.
Two-thirds of respondents said that they had experienced a negative experience following their appearance in the media.
Scientists shared how they were left scared and distressed, and even stopped speaking out publicly after being intimidated and harassed.
Most people abuse Covid vaccination views, face masks and information about the origins of Covid virus, as well as the efficacy and effectiveness of drug treatments. Some of the people who opposed Covid vaccination have championed ivermectin as an anti-parasite medicine.
Andrew Hill, a University of Liverpool pharmacologist, was shown images of coffins and hanged people after he and his colleagues published a meta analysis in July that suggested that ivermectin might be effective in treating Covid. However, they withdrew the paper after questioning the data in one of their studies.
Most of the scientists were from the USA, Germany, and UK. They shared how they received abusive or threatening messages and emails, including threats to their lives or loved ones. Their home addresses were also published. Six out of 321 scientists who responded in the survey to magazines said that they had been victims of physical attacks.
I was shocked and saddened by the number of scientists who have been threatened with violence or death because they did their job, Dr Simon Clarke, a Reading University associate professor in cell microbiology, who participated in the survey.
After appearing in the media, I've had bad experiences, especially after calling out conspiracy theorists. On occasion, I was threatened with violence, death and imprisonment for my beliefs.
Clarke said that he was able to ignore threats but I know of colleagues who have had worse experiences. He said that these negative experiences are indicative of a larger malaise in public discourse, which is fueled by social media and growing political tribalism.
After a survey of 50 scientists conducted by the Australian Science Media Centre, Nature interviewed seven scientists from seven countries about Covid. Six (12%) had received death threats while six (12%) were threatened with physical and sexual violence.
The larger magazines had a greater sample and found that scientists were more likely to have been victims of verbal aggression, threats, abuse or hostility. Over two-fifths of the 321 respondents stated that they experienced psychological or emotional distress as a consequence.
Nature claims that scientists have been targeted by social media campaigns, threats emails, and phone calls in the past. This was after they spoke out about gun violence, vaccines, and climate emergencies. Nature adds that even scientists with a prominent profile before Covid-19 said that abuse was a new, unwelcome phenomenon related to the pandemic.
Dr Michael Head, a Southampton University senior research fellow in global healthcare, stated that there has been a lot of abuse directed towards everyone involved in the pandemic response. This harassment has increased in intensity across the pandemic. It is now more organized and scary than just mindless comments on social networks.
One scientist who was harassed said that they don't want to be mentioned in the media about Covid issues.
Fiona Fox was the director of the UK Science Media Centre. She said that it was a huge loss for a scientist who was engaging the media and sharing their expertise. This happened at a time when they were most needed.