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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

UF researchers say they were pressured to destroy COVID-19 data in new report

Posted By on Tue, Dec 7, 2021 at 3:02 PM

  • Screenshot via Florida's Community Coronavirus Dashboard

There's no doubt that the state of Florida has done what it can to obfuscate the data on COVID-19. The switch from a daily report to a weekly one just as we began to see the worst numbers of the pandemic is proof enough on its own. But University of Florida researchers are alleging a heavy-handed approach to stifling work on the coronavirus pandemic.

The report was put together by a committee convened to investigate the university's decision to bar professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the state. While interviewing faculty about the general feeling of academic freedom on the campus, they found that several researchers felt pressure to destroy COVID-19 data from authorities over them.

Researchers interviewed said they felt "external pressure to destroy deidentified data" as well as "barriers to accessing ... data in a timely manner." Once research was completed, they said there were hurdles placed in the way of publishing. 

The report paints a picture of a culture of fear among faculty, who felt their jobs were at stake for expressing unpopular opinions or going against the dominant narrative.

“More problematic than the individual examples of pressure to stifle unpopular viewpoints or restrict research was the palpable reticence and even fear on the part of faculty to speak up on these issues,” the report adds. “There was grave concern about retaliation and a sense that anyone who objected to the state of affairs might lose his or her job or be punished in some way.”

The report comes after months of questions about the way that Florida handled its COVID-19 data. Concern was first raised when possible whistleblower/equally plausible crank Rebekah Jones went public with allegations that the state was hiding its true numbers. It continued when politicians like Orlando's Carlos Guillermo Smith sued the state over their refusal to fulfill his public records requests concerning Florida's coronavirus numbers.

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