Connect with us

Substacks

Vinay Prasad: Why Was My Talk at a Medical Conference Canceled? Vinay Prasad

Published

on

A mask is seen on the ground at John F. Kennedy Airport on April 19, 2022. (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

As a hematologist-oncologist specializing in cancer drug development, I often quip that my job is to terrify cancer cells. But after my keynote speech at a prominent medical conference was axed for my opinions on the Covid-19 response, I realized that it’s not just malignant cells that get uneasy around me.

I was set to be the keynote speaker this November at the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) annual meeting in Dallas. Then, a vocal minority on X (formerly Twitter) complained. That was all it took for the organizers to cancel my lecture. If you care about free speech and the free flow of ideas, this should alarm you.

Back in May, ACCP’s executive director, Michael S. Maddux, approached me to speak at their event. He told me the 16,000-member organization, like Sensible Medicine, the Substack colleagues and I run, was committed to the “best available evidence” to guide decision-making in medicine. I initially demurred due to overcommitment—last year I accepted 75 invited lectures—but the folks at ACCP were persistent, and I finally accepted. 

We agreed my talk would focus on whether medical evidence should have an expiration date. In other words, as conditions change (less smoking; more obesity), should doctors and pharmacists regularly reassess the evidence for our pharmaceutical treatments? I have published both an academic paper and a Sensible Medicine post on this topic. 

Then, a handful of online critics noticed I was giving the keynote. Some were anonymous accounts, but others identified themselves as members of ACCP. Altogether, I counted, at most, fewer than 200 protesters—less than one percent of the organization’s members.

What was my crime? The critics were vague. In one open letter, Alicia Lichvar, a University of California, San Diego pharmacist, alleged that I had a “history of spreading misleading and inaccurate information” about Covid policy, and that my presence on the podium would be to “spit in the faces” of virtually everyone who has been affected by Covid. 

My views on Covid policy are no secret. I’ve shared them in publications like The Washington Post, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Slate, The Atlantic, and The Free Press

As a physician and medical scholar who has published over 450 academic articles and two books, my research team and I base our opinions on a sober assessment of available evidence. We found that there was no strong data to back up masking kids or closing schools. The drug Paxlovid lacks evidence to support its use in vaccinated people. The CDC has made numerous errors, including inflating the number of children who died from the virus. In early 2021, Covid vaccines did benefit the elderly and vulnerable people who had not contracted the virus. But there’s no solid data to support their repeated use in children or in young people who have already had Covid, especially as of 2023. I believe our policy was largely a self-inflicted wound, one that should have been subjected to rigorous debate. 

I invite my critics to disagree with me on any of my positions and to change my mind. Like any good scientist, I have changed my mind over the course of Covid. I was initially skeptical that Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed could develop a vaccine so quickly—I was wrong. I was optimistic that vaccination would halt the spread of the virus—I was wrong. 

But instead of debate or dialogue, the ACCP organizers preferred to cancel my talk on a topic unrelated to Covid. The same thing happened to geophysicist Dorian Abbot, whose lecture on geology at MIT was canceled because of his views on affirmative action. 

In her letter, Lichvar claimed that, in a 2021 post, I likened the Covid response to the Third Reich. This is false. As journalist David Zweig explained, “Prasad talked about democratic norms that had eroded during the pandemic, including military action in Australia to prevent movement of citizens. . . He argued there can be a slippery slope toward totalitarianism when democracies accept the loss of certain freedoms, and he referenced Germany in 1929–1939. . . . He did not say the Covid response was like Nazi Germany.”

I was surprised to see the chairman of medicine at Indiana University, David Aronoff, label my selection as a speaker “super bad👎” and “gross.” (He and I were on opposite sides of the masking debate—I favored dropping most mask requirements.) You’d think someone charged with fostering high-minded academic engagement and upholding academic freedom would be a bit more, oh, I don’t know, academic about it? One pharmacist who campaigned to have me removed returned to my social media feed to gloat that he succeeded. One person who had called for cancellation posted, “bullying works.” 

In response to the criticism, the ACCP did not ask for my opinion. They did not poll their members. They did not even discuss the controversy with me. (Remember, Covid was not the subject of my talk.) Instead, they caved to a mob—a small mob that, as far as I know, expressed itself only on X. They sent an email notifying me that my talk had been canceled because of complaints, and then posted the announcement online.

What does it say that small groups of people online can cancel talks?

I don’t know how many ACCP members agree with the decision to cancel my keynote. In fact, some members said that they were upset with the cancellation. So while ACCP wrote in their cancellation letter that “your voices have been heard,” they apparently listened only to the angry ones. 

I pity those unwilling to engage in ideas. But I feel intense concern for the young men and women who are receiving the message: keep your ideas to yourself, or else be punished. That’s not the America I cherished, where we were encouraged to express our opinion to friends, colleagues, and the public sphere. A 2017 survey by FIRE showed that 78 percent of students who consider themselves “very liberal” and 38 percent of “very conservative” students support withdrawing a guest speaker’s invitation in some cases. I worry that those who carry this authoritarian impulse often have more influence than those who are committed to open discourse.

No one is entitled to give a speech. But once an invitation to speak has been extended, it should not be canceled merely because a tiny online minority dislikes the speaker. It simply incentivizes online rage, and the more that organizers give in, the more calls for cancellation they will get. It’s a lot harder to have principles and stick to them. 

Free Press columnist Vinay Prasad is a hematologist-oncologist, and a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. Follow him on Substack, on his YouTube channel Vinay Prasad MD MPH, or on Twitter (now X) @VPrasadMDMPH.

Become a Free Press subscriber today:

Subscribe now

 

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Substacks

June 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

Published

on

By

 

Continue Reading

Substacks

My First Job, at the Stanford Internet Observatory Julia Steinberg

Published

on

By

Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised I’d “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time,” writes Julia Steinberg. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

The Stanford Internet Observatory—a research center tasked with rooting out “misinformation” on social media—is shutting its doors. Chances are if you’ve heard of the SIO it was in a scathing piece from Michael Shellenberger or Matt Taibbi, who have accused the center of being a key node in the censorship-industrial complex.

It was also my first employer. Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised to “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.” To me, that meant ending internet abuse like the glamorization of anorexia on social media or financial scams that steal billions every year. But mostly I worked on the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which SIO ran during the 2020 and 2022 elections. The purpose of that project was to identify so-called “fake news” spreading on social media. 

In actuality, SIO hired a load of interns to scan social media for posts deemed to be mis- and disinformation. It turns out that the posts we students flagged were often sent along to moderators at Twitter (now X), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, which took them down in order to quash dissenting viewpoints—viewpoints that sometimes ended up being right, as in the case of Covid likely being the result of a lab leak, or Hunter Biden’s hard drive being his actual hard drive—not Russian disinformation. 

Thanks to the work of independent journalists, the SIO’s work has come under a lot of scrutiny, including in Washington. A recent House Judiciary Committee report alleges that, by cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security, the SIO’s Election Integrity Partnership “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” 

The SIO has stated that “Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure. SIO does, however, face funding challenges as its founding grants will soon be exhausted.” But on June 13, Platformer reported that much of SIO’s staff was on the way out: “Its founding director, Alex Stamos, left his position in November. Renee DiResta, its research director, left last week after her contract was not renewed. One other staff member’s contract expired this month, while others have been told to look for jobs elsewhere, sources say.”

The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case, Murthy v. Missouri, that addresses whether the U.S. government should be able to collaborate with social media companies to censor commentary. The plaintiffs, in their brief, lambast SIO for its role in abetting government censorship. We’ll be watching that case closely.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

To support The Free Press, become a subscriber today: 

Subscribe now

 

Continue Reading

Substacks

My Promise to Palestine Chris Hedges

Published

on

By

When I accepted the Tafik Diab Prize for my writing on the genocide in Gaza in Cairo on June 10 I explained why the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I are planning to do our next book together on Gaza.

Written speech:

I would like to start with a story that happened to me in Gaza on October 5, 2000. One day I was working on a report at Natzarim (Jewish settlement). There were Palestinian boys near me. The boys threw rocks towards the Israeli army. A soldier shot one of the boys — and the boy died. Four boys each lifted up a limb and we ran. The incident aftected me to such an extent that I did not shave for three weeks. After three weeks, I went to visit the boy’s house to meet his family. I told his mother I was with her son when he was killed. The mother told me that when her younger son heard that his brother had been killed he went into the kitchen, and then he left the house. After ten minutes she asked her husband where her son had gone. They went out to look for him and saw him in the street with a knife in his hand.

She asked him, “Where are you going?”

He answered, “I am going to kill Jews.” I have never been able to forget that child. I often wonder where he is. He would be a man in his thirties now. Is he still alive? Married? Does he have children? Are he and his family frightened of the bombing? Where have they taken refuge? God willing, I will write a book on Gaza with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, the author of “Palestine” and “Footnotes in Gaza.” During that time I will look for him, I will complete his story and the stories of many others. Israel is determined to erase them from existence and from history. This is my promise.

Share if you enjoyed!

Share

The Chris Hedges Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

 

Continue Reading

Shadow Banned

Copyright © 2023 mesh news project // awake, not woke // news, not narrative // deep inside the filter bubble