The art of creating a martyr

The art of creating a martyr

“Université Laval wants to be a place where all voices can be heard and where different points of view can be submitted and debated in a spirit of inclusion, respect and dignity. »

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? This is taken from the institutional statement on the protection and enhancement of freedom of expression at Laval University. The text, adopted in February 2021, proclaims that “any subject can be discussed and, in front of those who are controversial, the establishment avoids censorship and promotes speaking out”.

It’s beautiful, but one wonders if these virtuous principles are worth the paper on which they were written.

On June 13, human resources at Laval University suspended without pay, for a period of eight weeks, Patrick Provost, researcher in biochemistry. Not for a history of harassment or absenteeism, as HR usually manages.

No, what the University criticizes Patrick Provost for is having made controversial remarks about the messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, whose effectiveness against the ravages of COVID-19 is no longer to prove.

Regardless of the scientific value – weak, if not zero – of the arguments put forward by the researcher: this sanction, as rare as it is severe, is unfortunate. It has enough to make all university professors tremble.

RNA specialist Patrick Provost suffered significant side effects after receiving his first dose of the vaccine. Migraines, dysregulation of his diabetes. Since then, he has been warning the population against what he considers to be “vaccines developed in a few months and in an emergency”.

His concerns are obviously not shared by the vast majority of scientists. Billions of doses have been injected into billions of arms around the world; if messenger RNA vaccines were dangerous at this stage of the pandemic, we would know.

Never mind, Prof. Provost maintained that the risks of the vaccine, for children, outweighed the benefits. Outraged, a colleague from the faculty of medicine filed a complaint with the management of Laval University. There was an investigation; the penalty fell.

In its letter of suspension, the establishment accuses Patrick Provost of having shown a “voluntary confirmation bias in the choice of the information withheld” and of having lacked responsibility “towards the general public, who have been exposed to studies that do not reflect all current scientific knowledge”.

In short, Laval University accuses him of having slipped. Solidly.

You will say to me: too bad for this researcher. After all, it is not a scientific point of view that he defends, but a lie. He deserves what is happening to him, especially since in the midst of a pandemic, his words were not only wrong, but irresponsible, even dangerous.

Highly possible. However, it was also not up to human resources to decide.

“For researchers to do their job, they must be able to raise questions and hypotheses freely without fear of reprisal. Even if their ideas are eccentric at first sight and that they turn out to be completely false at the end of the line”, recalls the scientific journalist Jean-François Cliche, who revealed this affair in The sun, sunday.

The teachers’ union filed a grievance to defend not the words of Patrick Provost, but his right to express them. Its president, Louis-Philippe Lampron, professor at the faculty of law and expert in human rights and freedoms, fears a drift: that of “sanctioning colleagues who do not respect the majority opinion in their field of discipline”.

It’s scandalous ! The professors are not the employees of the rector, nor of HR.

Yves Gingras, Scientific Director of the Science and Technology Observatory at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)

It was Mr. Provost’s colleagues who should have brought him to order. Not by demanding censorship, but by refuting his words, point by point. “That’s science. »

I point out to him that it may be true, in normal times. But that times are not normal. A scientist who slips, in this age of misinformation, finds a wide audience. Already, on social networks, Patrick Provost is portrayed as a martyr persecuted by the University, an accomplice of Big Pharma.


PHOTO ANDRÉ PICHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Yves Gingras, Scientific Director of the Science and Technology Observatory at UQAM

I also point out to him that there are limits to freedom of expression. A history teacher couldn’t deny the Holocaust. A physics teacher couldn’t teach that the earth is flat. And yet, I must surrender to the arguments of Yves Gingras: the sanction is not the solution.

Because “minority ideas can contain a part of truth which is not considered by the dominant thought and that debating it can bring to light truthful and fair elements”.

That too is taken from the statement on freedom of expression at Laval University.

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