Experts often intimidated after public appearance, including by own colleagues
Increasingly more experts have become hesitant to do public appearances. Often experts are intimidated after speaking on a topic in public, including sometimes from their own colleagues, Trouw reported.
“Their social safety has been tested while they are contributing to debates on important scientific questions”, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) Ineke Sluiter said. “But also, the debate itself and democratic values are being tested, if researchers retreat and censor themselves. That’s what we see happening now.”
Around 43 percent of experts were intimidated after a public appearance in the past five years, a survey by ScienceGuide showed. The negative reactions not only come from anonymous trolls but also from students, colleagues and employers.
Especially for young researchers who are just starting their career can such messages push them to stay silent. “Personally, I feel pretty safe”, Americanism professor Sara Polak said. “I have a fixed position and good colleagues. But for young researchers that not do yet have a fixed contract can intimidation be devastating.”
“It is part of the job of researchers to make their discoveries public. But if they do that they get reactions from their colleagues, such as ‘You were really outspoken’.”
One researcher in the ScienceGuide survey said they faced death threats after publishing a scientific paper that sparked controversy.
The work of female scientists is more often discredited based on their gender, than the scientific work of their male colleagues, the survey showed. Around 85 percent of researchers who reported gender discrimination were women. “Since it is no longer explicitly written in my social media accounts that I am a woman and there is no picture of myself, there have been fewer negative reactions”, one female researcher said.
Sluiter hoped that in the future there will be overarching guidelines for how to handle the intimidation of experts. Certain universities have already implemented measures but overall rules have not yet been established.