March 25, 2022
Allyson J. Bennett, Amanda M. Dettmer
In a new report, Science writer Cathleen O’Grady provides a thought-provoking look at abuse directed at scientists. Her report focuses on COVID-19 scientists and includes stunning new survey data. O’Grady connects the dots to other areas of science, like animal research and climate change, where scientists have long been targeted, harassed, subjected to online abuse, received death threats, and consequently feared for their lives. What these scientists have in common is their commitment to working to advance knowledge and address threats to people, other animals, and the environment. Put simply, scientists work to benefit society.
We encourage you to read the article, titled “In the line of fire.” The subtitle “Scientists have been harassed for years. But a Science survey shows the pandemic has made things far worse for some” captures the alarming new evidence and situation.
We were particularly struck by this quote:
“The problem of online hate can’t be solved by individuals, Sobieraj says. “We tend to misrecognize this as a personal problem, when it is absolutely a social problem or a public issue.” Universities that encourage public communication need to recognize that they are exposing researchers to a hostile environment, and that the impact of this may fall disproportionately on people from more marginalized groups, she says. All too often, institutions fail to support researchers who are experiencing abuse, Marwick adds.”
Over the past decade, Speaking of Research has often written to condemn attacks on scientists. We have also written about the many scientists who engage in public communication and who push back against attacks (here, here, here, here, here). We agree with Marwick, institutions must support their scientists. O’Grady’s article is also timely and could be offered as required reading for those who call for greater openness, transparency, and public engagement. It provides a good view of the challenges and climate that must be addressed to move forward and support serious, thoughtful, and civil dialogue about science and society.