Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • NEWS

Scientists under attack and weird viruses — the week in infographics

Why winter viruses are behaving weirdly

Pandemic response measures such as social distancing suppressed other viral infections: seasonal influenza almost vanished for most of 2020 and 2021. Now, as pandemic restrictions ease, some respiratory viruses are returning in unexpected ways. Infections with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) were at a historic low for a year and then started rising months later than usual, in April 2021. They were still climbing at the end of August. RSV usually causes mild cold symptoms — but is also responsible for about 5% of deaths in children under 5 worldwide.

STRONG REBOUND: chart comparing the average yearly cases of respiratory syncytial virus in Western Australia with 2020

Source: D. A. Foley et al. Clin. Infect. Dis. (2021).

COVID researchers under attack

A survey of more than 300 scientists who have given media interviews about COVID-19 — many of whom have also commented about the pandemic on social media — has found wide experience of harassment or abuse. Some 15% said they had received death threats and 22% had received threats of physical or sexual violence. Scientists in fields such as climate change and vaccination have drawn similar attacks in the past, but even researchers who had a high profile before COVID-19 told Nature that the abuse was a new and unwelcome phenomenon tied to the pandemic.

Negative impacts: Scientists' responses to survey about negative impacts of speaking about COVID-19 to the media or online.

Source: Nature analysis

Scientists silenced

Nature’s survey suggests that even though researchers try to shrug off abuse, it might already have had a chilling effect on scientific communication. Those scientists who reported higher frequencies of trolling or personal attacks were also most likely to say that their experiences had greatly affected their willingness to speak to the media in the future.

Chilling effect: Being attacked after speaking to the media affected scientists willingness to speak to the media in future.

Source: Nature analysis



Nature Careers


Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing


Quick links