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After Complaints, Pharmacy Conference Cancels Scheduled Keynote by Doctor.
Accusations were made–many without evidence–against Dr. Vinay Prasad, as part of a campaign against him speaking at a conference. It took less than a day for his invitation to be rescinded.
Yesterday, a pharmacist at University of California, San Diego, named Alicia Lichvar, posted on Twitter a letter she had sent to the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP), resigning from her speaking commitment at the organization’s upcoming conference. Lichvar, who has since locked her account from public view, wrote in her letter that the reason for her resignation was that Dr. Vinay Prasad, a hematologist and Professor of Epidemiology at University of California, San Francisco, was scheduled to deliver a keynote at the conference.
In her letter, Lichvar said that Prasad has a “history of spreading misleading and inaccurate information,” and that he “continues to spread dangerous misinformation.” Remarkably, Lichvar offered zero evidence for these serious claims. No links to outside material, nor citations or quoted text or statements from Prasad were provided.
The only specific reference included in the letter was that Prasad allegedly compared the Covid-19 response to “the Third Reich.” But, again, even here, no context or citation was provided.
Before she took her account private, Lichvar’s tweet was “liked” more than 1,500 times, and followed by a stream of approving replies. Lichvar wrote in the letter that she hoped her resignation would “serve as a call to action.”
She got her wish: today, ACCP rescinded Prasad’s invitation to the deliver the keynote.
This is a troubling development. And, alas, campaigns to cancel doctors from speaking at conferences is becoming normalized.
Last year, for the Boston Globe, I wrote about a campaign to bar Dr. Leana Wen from from being able to speak at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. Wen, like Prasad, is not an obscure physician. She is a frequent contributor to CNN and other news outlets, including the Washington Post, and is a visiting professor at George Washington University. But her views—which echoed the policies in many states and countries at the time—ran afoul of the feelings of some other public health professionals.
To its credit, unlike the ACCP, the APHA did not cancel Wen from speaking. But she backed out before the conference because of threats against her.
I replied to Lichvar on Twitter yesterday asking for evidence behind her inflammatory accusations against Dr. Prasad. I received no response from her.
The one accusation with at least some degree of specificity, regarding the Third Reich, relates to a post Prasad wrote in 2021. In that piece, Prasad talked about democratic norms that had eroded during the pandemic, including military action in Australia to prevent movement of citizens. The piece is a conjecture about a possible scenario in the future. 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.
Would I have made this same reference? No. But it was not presented as Lichvar characterized it. He did not say the Covid response was like Nazi Germany.
At least one other potential attendee of the conference also posted a public letter against allowing Prasad to give a keynote. This person did provide links to ostensibly support some of his claims, including that Prasad purportedly told people to “go to school while sick.”
Prasad had actually said that if a child is sick, in fall of 2023, to not test them for Covid, and when they “look good enough for school, send them in.”
Prasad—who I have interviewed for articles, and who I have conversed with—has a large social media presence and has been openly critical of the CDC and various government officials’ statements and recommendations during the pandemic. I’m not going to get into a lengthy discussion about all of Prasad’s comments. He is far too prolific to cover everything he has said. But though he is often unreserved in his language and tone, much of what he has argued, including his suggestion to not test kids for Covid in fall of 2023, is in line with the official policies and recommendations in numerous countries throughout Europe.
One need not agree with all that Prasad, or Wen, or others say in order to still think they should be able to express their views at academic conferences. (Indeed, I had been highly critical of Wen throughout the pandemic, but still defended her ability to talk at the APHA meeting.)
It is telling that in Lichvar’s letter she says that allowing Prasad to speak at the event “legitimizes his dangerous rhetoric of questioning our public health establishments.” Yet allowing for and encouraging alternative voices—particularly those that question the establishment—is critical for the advancement of science and public discourse. If Lichvar and others disagree with Prasad, why not advocate for a debate or panel discussion with him? That is what true academic inquiry is about. It is worrisome that a portion of public health professionals—and public health organizations—so zealously prefer silence.
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