Bats and Academics: How Do Scientists Perceive Their Object of Study?
Bats are associated with conflicting perceptions among humans, ranging from affection to disgust. If these attitudes can be associated with various factors among the general public (e.g. social norms, lack of knowledge), it is also important to understand the attitude of scientists who study bats. Such reflexive information on the researchers community itself could indeed help designing adequate mixed communication tools aimed at protecting bats and their ecosystems, as well as humans living in their vicinity that could be exposed to their pathogens. Thus, we conducted an online survey targeting researchers who spend a part of their research activity studying bats. Our aim was to determine (1) how they perceive their object of study, (2) how they perceive the representation of bats in the media and by the general population, (3) how they protect themselves against pathogen infections during their research practices, and (4) their perceptions of the causes underlying the decline in bat populations worldwide. From the 587 completed responses (response rate of 28%) having a worldwide distribution, the heterogeneity of the scientists’ perception of their own object of study was highlighted. In the majority of cases, this depended on the type of research they conducted (i.e. laboratory versus field studies) as well as their research speciality. Our study revealed a high level of personal protection equipment being utilised against pathogens during scientific practices, although the role bats play as reservoirs for a number of emerging pathogens remains poorly known. Our results also disclosed the unanimity among specialists in attributing a direct role for humans in the global decline of bat populations, mainly via environmental change, deforestation, and agriculture intensification. Overall, the present study suggests the need for better communication regarding bats and their biology, their role within the scientific community, as well as in the general public population. As a consequence, increased knowledge regarding scientists’ perceptions of bats should improve the role scientists play in influencing the perception of bats by the general public.