Many Japanese COVID-19 researchers who spoke to the media during the pandemic were harassed or threatened by the public, a new study has shown.

The research, led by Waseda University professor Mikihito Tanaka and published in the May edition of the academic journal Jinko Chino (Artificial Intelligence), is Japan’s first comprehensive survey on threats targeting COVID-19 experts.

The team sent a questionnaire to 121 experts who gave interviews on the pandemic to the Asahi Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun, as well as five TV broadcasters, between February 2020 and March 2021. Of the 42 who responded, two were women. Thirty-four of the respondents worked at universities, six at research institutions and four belonged to government advisory committees, according to the paper. Half of the 42 experts who gave interviews to the media during the pandemic experienced harassment from the public.