Three case studies from Canada and Australia about suppression of heterodox opinions in universities.
Two thousand five hundred years ago the Greek playwright Aeschylus is reputed to have said “the first victim of war is truth.” Recent events in the academic world have demonstrated that truth is also a casualty when ideology and commercial interests are at stake.
The most recent case occurred last month at Laval University in Canada, when professor and RNA expert Patrick Provost was suspended without pay for anti-mRNA vaccine comments. Patrick Provost has run an RNA lab for 20 years and has published nearly 100 peer-reviewed studies. In 2003, Provost’s work on the role of microRNA in gene expression was named one of the 10 discoveries of the year by the Quebec Science Magazine.
Based on the government’s own hospitalization and mortality statistics for children, which are both very low, Provost said he believed the risks of Covid-19 vaccination in children could outweigh the benefits because of the potential side-effects from mRNA vaccines, which have only gone through two of the usual four stages of testing required before vaccines are approved for general use.
“I was just doing what I was hired to do,” he said in an interview. “I had some concerns about something, I searched the literature and I prepared a talk and I delivered it to the public. Being censored for doing what I’ve been trained to do — and hired to do — well, it’s hard to believe.”
“As soon as you raise some concerns about vaccines, or side-effects, or complications related to vaccines, then it’s worse than the N-word,” he continued. “You’re condemned by the media, by the government and you’re chased and put down …. We should be able to discuss any ideas — any opinions — and because I expressed opinions that went against the government narrative, I was suspended.”
Regarding the University’s reaction, one might well wonder about the fact that the top 20 pharmaceutical companies spent C$139 billion on Research & Development in 2022, a portion of which went to university researchers. Faculties of medicine are particularly favoured beneficiaries of such funding. And Patrick Provost is a professor at the Faculty of Medicine.
In an entirely different field, geophysicist Peter Ridd was sacked in 2018 by James Cook University, in Australia, for criticizing the work of a colleague studying the Great Barrier Reef. In an email to a journalist, he said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority “is grossly misusing some scientific ‘data’ to make the case that the Great Barrier Reef is greatly damaged.” Ridd maintained that scientific organisations were “quite happy to spin a story for their own purposes, in this case to demonstrate that there is massive damage to the Great Barrier Reef.”
In a report published last year based, like Provost’s talk, on publicly available data, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, aka the AIMS, Ridd notes that “the average coral cover as of 2022 is (…) the highest level on record. Figure 2 makes it clear that AIMS has effectively hidden the very good news about the reef between 2016 and 2022 by not publishing the Great Barrier Reef average data since 2017.”
Since 2014, the Australian government has committed A$4 billion to saving the Reef. The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at James Cook University, has been a major recipient of this funding. It should be no surprise that Ridd’s colleagues did not take kindly to someone undermining the claims on which their research, and the government funding that subsidizes it, is based.
Back in Canada, Frances Widdowson, a professor of economics, policy, and justice at Mount Royal University in Alberta was fired last year after colleagues and activists called for her termination because she dared to challenge groupthink on indigenous issues. Widdowson had made the self-evident claim that residential schools provided access to education that otherwise might not have been available, which was not an endorsement of the residential school system, but a mere statement of fact. A large percentage of Indian parents willingly opted for residential schools as they were the only way for their children to get an education. Despite the factuality of the claim, she was vilified and called a “denialist.”
Widdowson observes that no one dare question indigenous leaders in Canada these days, which makes it difficult to check their claims about buried remains of children. Widdowson has remarked that while lurid talk of buried indigenous children has circulated for more than 25 years and is “now firmly ensconced within the Canadian consciousness,” there is still no hard evidence to support it. Not a single body has been found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School where 215 bodies were allegedly detected by ground-penetrating radar.
Widdowson’s words in her last hearing at the disciplinary committee just before being fired are worth quoting as a moral to these stories:
“My final thought is that I don’t think it’s understood, not just at Mount Royal but in universities generally, that there is a fundamental conflict between academic universities, academic values and these ideological types of intrusions which are put forward under a number of different names, whether it be diversity, inclusion or equity policies. (…). I’m being pushed out because I can’t accept things that I believe to be untrue. I can’t say that I think something is true when I don’t think it’s true and I think it would be a violation of my academic position to do that. And unfortunately there are people who are either opportunistic or just afraid who won’t stand behind the academic foundation of the university.”
The university is now a house without foundations. We all know what eventually happens to such houses.