Danish researchers receive threats after commenting in public debate

Many academics censor themselves on contentious issues in the media

Due to threats and harassment, many researchers in contentious fields – such as integration, ethics and extremism – choose to censor themselves in public debate, Jyllands-Posten reports.

The newspaper asked more than 20 researchers and found many decline to contribute to debates on certain matters, despite their research being relevant.

Fear of reprisals
For example, Thomas Søbirk Petersen, a professor of ethics at Roskilde University, explained this was the case for, for example, foster screening.

“The subject can lead to misunderstandings, smearing and threats,” he said.

Rikke Peters, a researcher in extremism at Aarhus University, said that she declines to comment on individual groups.

“I won’t come with concrete characteristics of particular right-wing groups,” she said.

“I can do that in pure research terms, but I’m afraid of reprisals if I comment concretely on named groups.”

Peter Sandøe, a professor of bioethics at Copenhagen University, received emails saying that he should be euthanised when he expressed the view is was okay that Copenhagen Zoo killed Marius the giraffe.

Serious consequences
Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen, an associate professor in science communication at Aarhus University, said there could be serious consequences if researchers aren’t involved in public debate.

“In the end we risk a range of important decisions in society being made on an insufficient knowledge base.”