“Let’s protect the defenders of science” – L’Express

Lets protect the defenders of science – LExpress

This Friday, April 5, the first hearing of a trial opposing infectious disease specialist Karine Lacombe to the director of the documentary Hold-Up Pierre Barnérias, as well as Martine Wonner and Christian Perronne, great defenders of conspiracy theories during the pandemic. Karine Lacombe sued them for defamation when the film was released in 2020, because her name and image were featured there and used on several occasions to disseminate “false information detrimental to her reputation”, in the words of her lawyer. . An approach that has so far been unique in its kind, as the signatories of this column published by L’Express deplore. In this supportive text, these doctors, scientists and popularizers call for better defense of the defenders of science and reason, “fewer in number every day” because of the intimidation of which they are victims.

Despite the wishes of some, who are increasingly vocal, it is not possible to kill science. It is not possible to transform pseudo-medicines into real therapies, even if we want to believe very hard. It is not possible to give alternative facts the status of facts.

But it is possible to “kill” the researchers. It is possible to gag doctors. It is possible to silence popularizers. And this tactic has been developing more and more in recent years, in media indifference, in the laissez-faire of institutions, in the deafening silence of the Order of Physicians, regional health agencies, Arcom (authority of regulation of audiovisual and digital communication) and of all those who were supposed to be the protectors of whistleblowers and the defenders of ethics and scientific integrity.

READ ALSO: Dominique Costagliola: “I received threats, but if I had to do it again I would do it”

Mandarins banned from publishing and accused of scientific fraud having endangered patient safety can spend tens of thousands of euros of public money in court to intimidate their peers without any authority being upset. Public service channels can broadcast anti-vax, anti-medicine documentaries or documentaries promoting charlatanry, at the risk of creating a new Wakefield affair or a major public health crisis in France, without the bodies responsible for regulation, even duly alerted, take no action. CNRS research directors, Inserm civil servants, department heads of public hospitals, can harass, publicly insult, defame their colleagues and colleagues, the researchers who contradict them and no one, in any of these institutions, will stop them. They can target journalists, popularizers and videographers who have had the audacity to displease them by exposing their inconsistencies and subject them to mass harassment from their admirers, without this having any consequences for their careers. If this is not enough to silence their opponents, some do not hesitate to leave the field of science to drag them before the courts, sometimes thanks to institutional legal aid, paid for by the State.

Doctors give up speaking in public

It is time to look at these practices for what they are: gag procedures, aimed not at reestablishing the facts but at silencing whistleblowers who only have themselves to blame for having done their job. These are far from being protected as they should be, and no one is surprised. No one protected the doctors, researchers and popularizers who, alone and in their free time, made up for the completely failing communication from the public authorities on Covid, its false remedies, its real clinical trials, its vaccines, its conspiracy theories. Popularizers have thrown in the towel in the face of threats, researchers have left the world of research to escape harassment, doctors have given up speaking in public to no longer have to endure insults. And no one seems to be moved by it. The defenders of science, of ethics in research, of ethics in medicine, are fewer in number every day and nothing is done to protect those who still hold the line.

READ ALSO: Karine Lacombe: “I am not a convinced Macronist, but the health pass saved us”

However, a law against SLAPP proceedings exists at the European level, which is supposed to “protect journalists, activists and academics working on fundamental rights, allegations of corruption and disinformation”. But it is not applied by any of the institutions supposed to be its guarantors. Neither by the courts which would have legitimacy to reject abusive procedures and to sanction the initiator, nor by the institutions to which the instigators of such procedures belong which should refuse to finance them, nor by the regulatory bodies of the various professions, ranging from ‘Arcom to the Order of Physicians, who should provide their support to whistleblowers, instead of leaving them, at best, left to their own devices, at worst, targeted by internal procedures, in non-confraternity or affected to copyright. Alone facing the judicial machine when they are attacked, whistleblowers are also alone when they try to use it to defend themselves.

Months of harassment and insults

Thus, this Friday April 5, Karine Lacombe will face, in the Paris court, the director of Hold-Up, Pierre Barnérias, and two of his speakers, Martine Wonner and Christian Perrone. The conspiratorial film accuses, for more than an hour and a half, numerous doctors, researchers and research institutes by name. Karine Lacombe is one of them because, despite the risks, she insisted on doing her job, informing patients honestly, warning against unproven treatments, and castigating those who sold empty hopes and simplistic explanations to concerned citizens. His case should achieve consensus. But Karine Lacombe will face it alone. To date, no other proceedings for defamation, endangering the lives of others or public insult are underway against the film, its creators or its participants. None of the institutions supervising the targeted researchers or doctors saw fit to take measures to protect them.

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And it takes extraordinary mental strength to, after months of harassment and insults endured while continuing research or patient care, find the energy to fight in court. Karine Lacombe has it. But few will have it. Most will remain silent, so as not to have to enter the judicial crusher, leaving the voice free to those against whom they have warned in vain, shouting in the desert. SLAPP procedures and the lack of protection for whistleblowers are two sides of the same coin which, to use the words of the article Science dedicated to the case of the IHU of Marseille, “dysfunctions at all levels”. If we want our doctors to provide the best care, for our researchers to make real progress, for our popularizers to be able to report all of this to us objectively, it is urgent to protect them against these new threats. Before there are none left to protect.


Arpadis (French-speaking Association for the Promotion of Intellectual and Scientific Self-Defense), Astec (Association for Science and the Transmission of Critical Thinking), Pertussis awareness (Information group on whooping cough and its risks), Les Vaxxeuses (Collective fighting against vaccine and medical disinformation), NoFakeMed (Collective of doctors fighting against pseudoscience and for evidence-based medicine), SPAV – Stop AntiVaccin Propaganda (Group fighting against vaccine disinformation) , Vaccins France (Information and fight against vaccine misinformation group), Vaccination & Lien Social (Think tank on preventable diseases and their vaccines). Acult (videographer), Abraham Al-Ahmad (PhD, Teacher-researcher, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center), Damien Barraud (MD, PH Réanimation CHR Metz-Thionville), Jérôme Barrière (MD, Medical oncologist, President of CME), Lonni Besançon (PhD, Assistant Professor (lecturer at Linköping University), Bioweb (Immunologist and popularizer of science), Pr Alexandra Calmy (HUG Geneva), Sarah Campich (MD, Anesthetist FMH Geneva), Vanessa Christinet (MD, Physician) , Christophe de La Roche Saint-André (PhD, CNRS Researcher at the Marseille Cancer Research Center, Vice-President of the French Association for Scientific Information, Afis), Pauline Delahaye (PhD, Researcher and popularizer – The Dendrobate Doctor), Kristell Delarue (MD, PMI doctor, medical journalist and blogger – Stethoscope in compote), Thomas C. Durand (PhD, Popularizer of science, La Tronche en Biais), Clément Freze, G Milgram (video maker), Nicolas Godelle (Engineer), Jérôme Guison (MD, Specialist in internal medicine and clinical immunology), Thomas Huchon (journalist), Kalou (Skeptics in the Pub Valais, content creator, information and prevention of the sectarian phenomenon), Corentin Lacroix (MD, Doctor general practitioner and popularizer, WhyDoc), Vincent Lautard (Nurse and health law lawyer), François Lecardonnel (Specialist in clinical drug development), Marine Mercadié (general practitioner and popularizer, Fantine et Hippocrate), François Morel (MD, surgeon in Rouen and popularizer, Doc Primum), Matthieu Mulot (PhD, popularizer, Le Biostatisticien), Dr Florens Nans (PH at Strasbourg university hospitals), Pharmagueudon (Pharmacist and popularizer), Mathieu Repiquet (medical student), Tipunch (graphic designer ), Alexandre Varin (President of ASTEC), Vled Tapas (Scientific and cultural mediator – Accessibility manager), Marjorie Whitfield (PhD, Researcher at Inserm), Avistew (Volunteer in popular science).