A poll shows scientists who speak in the media about Covid-19 are often subject to harassment as a result Photo: AFP/File
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Death threats, lawsuits: COVID experts targeted

11 Comments
By Natalie HANDEL

Marc Van Ranst, a virologist famous in Belgium for providing expertise about the COVID-19 pandemic, was at home for his first afternoon off in months in May, unaware that his life was under threat and that he would soon be forced to go into hiding.

Jurgen Conings, a soldier aligned with right-wing extremist movements who had stated his intent to harm Van Ranst was sitting in a car nearby armed with four rocket launchers.

It wasn't until the following day Van Ranst learned he was in danger.

"They called me at noon and half an hour later they came with heavily armoured cars," Van Ranst told AFP.

"They took my son from school and my wife from the hospital and me... to a safe house. We were in several safe houses over the course of about a month."

Van Ranst has given hundreds of interviews on COVID-19 since the pandemic began and says he has a file of over 150 threats related to his pandemic expertise.

"Some are minor -- they compare you to Hitler or Mengele," he said. "And then some are death threats."

He is one of dozens of scientists harassed over the pandemic, according to a survey by scientific journal Nature.

Of 321 experts who responded to the journal, 81 percent reported some experience of "trolling or personal attacks after speaking about COVID-19 in the media".

Fifteen percent reported receiving death threats and over half had their credibility attacked.

In its article on the survey, Nature said it reached out to scientists in the U.S., the UK, Brazil, Canada, Taiwan, New Zealand and Germany who had given interviews about the pandemic.

The prestigious journal acknowledges that harassment of scientists speaking on hot-button issues such as gun violence, vaccines and climate change is not new.

But they say even experts who were already prominent noted a rise in abuse related to the pandemic. The survey's respondents described threats by email, online comments, phone calls and more.

French virologist Karine Lacombe rose to prominence during the pandemic for her expertise lent during regular television and radio appearances and in articles.

She told AFP that attacks on her -- largely driven by French right-wing media supportive of controversial doctor Didier Raoult -- began in earnest once she spoke out publicly against Raoult's advice to use hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid.

She describes being insulted in the street, getting anonymous letters threatening rape, and having her inbox flooded with disparaging personal messages.

"It was totally new to me and extremely violent," she told AFP.

She left Twitter and even spent several days with friends, imagining people might be waiting for her in front of her home.

"I had a kind of breakdown," she said.

Both Lacombe and Van Ranst report being targeted by right-wing extremists in their countries, which are often aligned against pandemic measures and vaccines.

Van Ranst describes being repeatedly summoned to Belgian court by anti-vaxers.

"They find different ways of harassing us," Van Ranst said.

He says he makes a point of defending himself at the mandatory court appearances and that he has never lost -- but fighting the suits has taken over 400 hours of his time.

"They’re not keeping me from my job but I have literally no free time," he said, "This is the third one and they said they would keep doing it."

Nature describes a "chilling effect", with experts who experienced the most harassment also reporting the biggest influence on their willingness to speak to the media.

While Lacombe says she has heard similar feedback from colleagues, that it is not the case for her.

For with support from psychologists and groups fighting bullying and disinformation online, she says she was able to return to Twitter after a month and a half.

"It has reinforced my convictions," she said.

"They want to silence us, we who have the knowledge and expertise. I'm trying not to give in."

Van Ranst feels the same.

"I'm not more careful," he said, "I'm equally outspoken against anti-vaccination messages or fake news or whatever. Otherwise they win."

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


11 Comments

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Attacks by the right and right wing media on science. Nothing new here.

2 ( +10 / -8 )

The flag in the photo looks like the Romanian one. Not mentioned in the article.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Zichi, yes, that is a protest in Romania, easy to identify from the flag and orthodox fanaticism. In other news, yesterday's top covid fatality countries were Russia, Romania, and Ukraine, I see a pattern here. Including some of the lowest vaccination rates in the world.

It is difficult to comprehend that we live in a society where scientists, the main driving force of humankind progress, are under constant threat from fanatical idiots. Somewhere evolution failed??

And by the way, I happen to know a Japanese doctor who was also writing pro-science articles, and she started receiving death threats, threats against her family and children, etc. And that was before covid, now I am sure it is much worse.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Yes, they want to kill the people trying to save lives. Sickos.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

It goes both ways, the left-wing fanatics are even worse because they have most of the media on their side but even after the covid hysterics were demonstrably wrong they continued to be put front of centre of everything https://fee.org/articles/modelers-were-astronomically-wrong-in-covid-19-predictions-says-leading-epidemiologist-and-the-world-is-paying-the-price/

There are plenty of scientists that disagree with the poor 'mainstream' position but you'll never hear from them in the media and idiots will start screaming for them to be fired etc or worse because they can't handle having to think. Prime example of media disinfection: https://youtu.be/IuwnQKFtymU

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

*disinformation, not disinfection!

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

Yes, they want to kill the people trying to save lives. Sickos

They are running very low-grade software on their hysterical minds. If you ask them a list of beliefs, you’ll be able to predict the answers to the letter.

Most of them just spout nonsense with sock puppet accounts on social media to make it seem their views are more widespread than they are. They are thankfully a shrinking minority.

Unfortunately, some do get out of the basement and turn violent.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Wobot

It goes both ways, the left-wing fanatics are even worse because they have most of the media on their side but even after the covid hysterics were demonstrably wrong they continued to be put front of centre of everything https://fee.org/articles/modelers-were-astronomically-wrong-in-covid-19-predictions-says-leading-epidemiologist-and-the-world-is-paying-the-price/

Not sure why you would quote Dr John Ioannidis.

In April 2020, Dr. John Ioannidis published a study that asserted that Santa Clara County's number of infections was between 50 and 85 times higher than the official count. Turned out to be dead wrong. It's what happens when you get sloppy trying to prove a preconceived idea. He managed to trash his reputation over it.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

The shame of it is that it will increase as the internet gets the crazies even crazier.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Marc Van Ranst, a virologist famous in Belgium for providing expertise about the COVID-19 pandemic...

Here is a video of the virologist giving some of his expertise last year, where he is laughing about how he manipulated people to take the H1N1 vaccine a decade earlier.

https://rumble.com/vfd98h-belgian-virologist-marc-van-ranst-laughing-about-how-he-got-people-to-take-.html

French virologist Karine Lacombe rose to prominence during the pandemic for her expertise lent during regular television and radio appearances and in articles.

She told AFP that attacks on her -- largely driven by French right-wing media supportive of controversial doctor Didier Raoult -- began in earnest once she spoke out publicly against Raoult's advice to use hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid.

Yes, Didier Raoult is one of the top, if not THE top, expert of infectious diseases. And he has been viciously attacked from all sides by big pharma-backed people because of his work on HCQ. He fights back against these attacks with facts. He has been running a large institute doing research and treating (very effectively) thousands of patients. They give regular updates and seminars by different experts: https://www.youtube.com/user/ifr48

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Why isn't Dr. Van Ranst's employer sending a lawyer to court for him to defend his work instead of making him appear on his own time? At the very least he should be paid for defending the work his employer pays him to do. It's not as if he is doing this research on his own money and on his own time. Whomever pays him to do research needs to step up and defend him in court.  Under the circumstances that doesn't seem unreasonable.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

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