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Serious consequences of hatred and threats

Have you abstained from speaking out as a researcher? Or avoided getting involved in a particular issue? Or even thought about leaving your field of research or academia altogether?

These are some of the consequences for someone who feels exposed to hate and threats in the academic sphere. It takes just a few keystrokes to defame a colleague. What are the consequences for academic freedom in the long run? Not to mention the poor work environment we risk establishing at our seats of learning?

The questions and consequences can be seen in the study entitled Threats and hatred against researchers and teachers  (In Swedish)in the academic sphere, which was published during the summer. It is the first study of its kind, and is one of two reports illustrating the situation in the sector. The number of people and the categories who felt vulnerable are of course important, but I focused on the consequences.

What can these problems lead to? What happens to research if self-censorship comes in? Or if fear or feelings of discomfort lead to excessive caution? What does this mean for credibility in the long term?

In our sector in particular, where there is keen competition for resources and attention (which are closely linked), these issues are especially important. With intense, far-reaching competition for the same funds, there is a greater risk that people start clambering over and attacking, and perhaps even slandering, each other. We also work in an environment where openness and the sharing of results and data – open science – are increasingly becoming the norm.

Certainly this can feel like a kind of utopia, but the importance of working together in research groups, working groups and lab environments at an academic establishment cannot be stressed enough. It’s about being able to distinguish between the subject, the person, and one’s personal conduct. Often when core values or ethics policies come under discussion, our tendency is to yawn and look away, as if they have nothing to do with reality but are just words on paper.

But I think the opposite is true. A university is a workplace like any other, and with that comes a responsibility for everyone to play a part in creating a good work environment.