Internet harassment, death threats, and even attempted assassinations. The consequences for scientists that have had media presence as a result of the COVID-19 they have been violent at times, according to a poll published by Nature on Wednesday.
When he thought of taking the afternoon of May 17 off, the Belgian virologist Marc van Ranst He did not know that this detail would save his life.
This scientist was the target of Jürgen Conings. Pursued by the police, this extreme right-wing military man managed to flee and ended up committing suicide on June 20 with a firearm. Four grenade launchers and ammunition were found in his car.
The investigation showed that Conings was near Van Ranst’s home on the famous May 17.
“Surveillance cameras show that his car was parked on the street waiting for him to return” from work, this virologist tells AFP. “What he didn’t know is that, for the first time in 18 months, I had taken half a day off and was at home. “
Marc van Ranst and his family have lived under police protection ever since, and for about a month they were housed in various secret places.
This Belgian scientist had become the black beast of the opponents of the chinstraps due to his participation in the media during the health crisis: “I have a folder with about 150 threatening messages. In some they compare me with Hitler or with the Nazi doctor Mengele, but others are death threats ”.
And it’s not the only one. According to the magazine survey Nature Known Wednesday, scientists who appeared in the media to discuss the coronavirus were often the target of threats and harassment.
In total 321 scientists, most of them from the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, responded to the survey of the prestigious scientific journal.
Only a third claimed not to have suffered negative consequences after having spoken publicly about the COVID-19. More than half believe that their credibility was questioned and 15% say they have received death threats.
“It was extremely violent. I had never experienced something like this ”, explains to AFP the French infectologist Karine Lacombe, co-author in December 2020 of a letter in the medical journal The Lancet where they denounced the harassment suffered by women scientists.
A media figure during the pandemic, Lacombe became the target of threats when he took a stand against the use of hydroxychloroquine, the treatment promoted by controversial French physician Didier Raoult.
“Everything begins there”, remember. “They insulted me on the street. They sent me anonymous letters, threatened to rape me. Things like that. It was a very difficult time ”.
“One day, I received 1,000 emails with the same text, and some people had put a very humiliating personal message at the beginning of the email. In the end, repeating the same message drives you crazy “, insists Karine Lacombe.
Lacombe is part of a collective of doctors and scientists known for their commitment against COVID-19 misinformation. At the beginning of September they denounced the insults and threats they have suffered for months, as well as the inaction and political inaction.
“I stopped filing complaints”, if Lacombe complains, “Psychically overwhelmed” recognize. “I developed a kind of post-traumatic stress: I didn’t go home for several days because I thought there would be people waiting for me ”.
For “take perspective” leaned on “psychologists who know well the mechanisms of internet hatred “, and in “Groups fighting hate and misinformation online.”
In the end, “They strengthened my convictions”, ensures: “They want to shut us up. Above all, do not give in to their blackmail ”.
Same diagnosis as Marc van Ranst: “I have not become more cautious, I continue to strongly oppose anti-vaccine messages and misinformation. If not, they win ”.