Dozens of scientists who speak publicly about COVID-19 say they've been abused, with some receiving death threats and getting physically attacked, survey says
- Nature surveyed 321 scientists who had spoken publicly about
- 60% of them reported receiving abuse, with 15% even reporting receiving death threats.
A small survey by the scientific journal Nature found that dozens of scientists who had spoken publicly about COVID-19 had reported receiving abuse, with some saying they had gotten death threats or been physically attacked.
The survey found that most of the respondents reported some kind of abuse following their media appearances:
- 189 (59%) reported receiving attacks on credibility.
- 134 (42%) reported feeling emotional or psychological distress.
- 72 (22%) reported getting threats of physical or sexual violence.
- 47 (15%) reported death threats.
- Six (2%) said they were physically attacked after speaking about COVID-19.
Medical products that are particularly politicized, like COVID-19 vaccines or ivermectin - the antiparasitic drug that has not been proven to treat COVID-19, some scientists told Nature.
"Any time you write about vaccines - anyone in the vaccine world can tell you the same story - you get vague death threats ... and endless hatred," Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia, told Nature.
"I think I've received more death threats due to ivermectin, in fact, than anything I've done before," he added. "It's anonymous people e-mailing me from weird accounts saying 'I hope you die' or 'if you were near me I would shoot you.'"
Health experts have reported abuse related to their COVID-19 comments for months. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical advisor, previously said that he and his family have received death threats.
Marcus Lacerda, a Brazilian health researcher, told Nature Medicine in April that he needed to be escorted by "bodyguards with guns" after he published a trial disproving that the antimalarial drug chloroquine could be used to treat COVID-19.
Earlier this year Marc Van Ranst, a leading Belgian epidemiologist, had to be moved to a safe house with his wife and son for nearly three weeks after a far-right sniper went on the run promising a vendetta on virologists and COVID-19 lockdowns, the BBC reported.
Heidi Tworek, a historian at the University of British Columbia who studies online abuse of health communicators, told Nature that abuse was harsher for women and people of color from marginalized groups.
"That abuse will probably include abuse of your personal characteristics," she said.
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