Death threats and violence: what corona scientists experience

In the Corona pandemic, it is a common sight: Female doctors and Virologists, who give interviews on major German news programs, or epidemiologists who comment on and classify the results of current studies on Twitter. In short, the scientific assessment of the pandemic helps the public to understand the Corona situation.

A survey in the journal Nature now shows the dark side of the sudden celebrity of the experts. Because of the more than 300 interviewees, some of the experts have already Hate on the net What starts with angry messages ends with virtual death threats and physical attacks.

Hate on the Net: Half of the experts interviewed were targeted

The "Nature" survey is not a scientifically supervised survey. The magazine sent questionnaires to scientists and to so-called Science Media Centers – institutions that send statements from experts to the media. Total answered 321 people, who had talked to media about the pandemic. They came mainly from the UK, Germany and the U.S.

Of all respondents, about half said they had been attacked online by trolls or even personally attacked after media appearances. In 47 cases even Death threats been spoken out against experts. Six female and male scientists have already been physically attacked.

Epidemiologist: "People email me 'I hope you die'"

In an article that accompanies the "Nature" survey, topics that provoke particularly strong reactions are revealed. Corona vaccinations, for example, are an expected irritant, explains Australian epidemiologist Gideon Mayerowitz-Katz. Surprisingly, though, he said he gets even more threats from people who use the anti-worm drug Ivermectin defended as an alleged miracle cure for Covid-19.

Pandemic intensifies hatred against scientists

Among experts, there are fears that hate messages could lead to Withdrawal and Self-censorship of experts and could discourage their colleagues from appearing in public themselves. In the survey, those who had experienced particularly frequent personal attacks and troll comments said it had had a huge impact on their willingness to talk to media outlets.

According to communications experts, this is not a new phenomenon. "The pandemic, however, acted as a double burning glass. All the dynamics that we had already described in research now emerged in high concentration and at lightning speed," Konstanze Marx of the University of Greifswald told dpa. She sees a need for action in the "general climate of discourse", so also in media and politics. Used a climate of science-friendliness.

Lauterbach and Drosten among those affected

Even though the survey conducted by the journal was anonymous, well-known affected persons from Germany have expressed the massive hostility against them has already been made public. They include SPD health politician Karl Lauterbach and virologist Christian Drosten. Drosten recounted the downsides of sudden notoriety at a convention this spring. The Robert Koch Institute was also attacked with incendiary devices.

Drosten explained he was "pretty uncomfortable" being stared at while shopping. That's why he goes out wearing sunglasses and a cap to avoid being recognized. On his handling of Hate Drosten said at the time, "All I can do there is to leave that out as much as possible."

One consolation remains, as the survey shows: Asked about positive experiences after media appearances, 83 percent agreed they had been able to get their message out to the public.

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