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Science Council calls for better protection of researchers from shitstorms

In the Covid-19 pandemic, “communicative challenges in the relationship between science and politics, the public and the media” have become particularly visible, which is not only shown by the example of the virologist Christian Drosten. The Science Council emphasizes this in its position paper on science communication published on Tuesday. Social media platforms in particular are increasingly being used to spread disinformation, it says. Provocative misrepresentations, which overall would have a greater reach than differentiated scientific information, could be harmful to individuals and society.

Scientists say that “degradations, accusations, personal threats and hateful comments” can “trigger shitstorms” on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in a very short time according to the opinion “mostly unprepared and unprotected”. Their institutions are also often not prepared to deal with hostile reactions. In a plural society, the increase in the social importance of science is necessarily connected with critical reactions. These should not be misunderstood as a general loss of authority. The increasing criticism signals, however, “that science in many socio-scientific subject areas is held jointly responsible for societal implications and political decisions”.

The advisory committee of the federal and state governments should be aware of these circumstances “who accept the increased responsibility and hold discussions with the public on conflict-laden topics”. You should be prepared for the dynamics of social controversy and for “possible personal risks”. Further training that addresses this tension could support the researchers and should be available if necessary.

The Council sees it as the duty of scientific institutions to support their staff “in dealing openly with justified queries and with factual criticism”. In the case of personal attacks, those affected should know “who to turn to”. You should receive “reliable protection” immediately and regardless of the content of the attacks. To ensure that this also works in time-critical situations, the experts recommend creating a crisis response plan in advance. In terms of media policy, they said “further regulatory measures may be necessary to curb hate speech and threats on the Internet”. It is important to ensure successful communication about scientifically sound knowledge in the long term.


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