The Right to Be Wrong?

Delaware State U. defends (and also criticizes) professor who published piece in Liberian newspaper suggesting Western authorities may be responsible for Ebola.

September 29, 2014

At a time when U.S. authorities are attempting to organize a massive international effort to combat the spread of Ebola, an article by a Delaware State University professor published in a Liberian newspaper suggests that Western authorities are responsible for the deadly disease. The article also attacks government and non-government organizations -- such as Doctors Without Borders and the Centers for Disease Control -- that are trying to deal with the severe public health crisis that has broken out.

The Washington Post, which first reported on the article by Delaware State's Cyril Broderick, noted that theories such as those promoted by Broderick are attracting attention and support in Liberia and elsewhere, making public health efforts much more difficult. Delaware State, while disassociating itself from Broderick's views, has stated that he is entitled to his opinions, and that no action will be taken about the statements.

Broderick, who has taught at Delaware State for more than 20 years, teaches plant pathology and has tenure.

The article by Broderick appeared in The Daily Observer under the headline "Ebola, AIDS Manufactured by Western Pharmaceuticals, US DoD?"

The piece suggests that the question mark might not be appropriate for the headline. It says that tests supported by the U.S. and other governments took place just before the recent spread of Ebola and are responsible for it, the article says. "The U. S., Canada, France, and the U. K. are all implicated in the detestable and devilish deeds that these Ebola tests are. There is the need to pursue criminal and civil redress for damages, and African countries and people should secure legal representation to seek damages from these countries," writes Broderick.

The World Health Organization, the CDC and Doctors Without Borders are identified by Broderick as "implicated in selecting and enticing African countries to participate in the testing events, promoting vaccinations, but pursuing various testing regiments."

The Post characterized the article as "semi-intelligible" and said that several of the sources cited were to conspiracy websites.

Delaware State originally responded to inquiries from the Post by saying that it could not be responsible for the published views of tenured professors.

Carlos Holmes, a spokesman for the university, told the newspaper that "the university is not going to abridge his First Amendment rights to give his opinion about the issues of the day." Holmes added in that interview that it was important to note that Broderick had tenure. “A lot of people can have tenure at a university and then they’ll go out and commit mass murder, O.K.,” he said. “We didn’t know that they would do that before they were granted tenure. You’re talking about something that is happening first of all after he has been granted tenure.”

Via email to Inside Higher Ed, Holmes declined to comment on the quotes in the Post, or whether Delaware State would take any action in the matter, but said that Broderick wrote as a private citizen. "DSU does not share his troublesome opinions or conclusions. As such, his comments raise great concerns for the university, even as he was speaking as a private citizen."

In a phone interview with Inside Higher Ed, Broderick said that he believed that the U.S. government was in fact trying to help stop the spread of Ebola, but he added that it was important to note that there are some people who are "unscrupulous and unethical" when it comes to the health of Africans.

He said he was surprised by some of the reaction to the piece. "The article wasn't intended to cause any consternation," he said. "It was a plea for help."

Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University-East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors Committee A on Academic Freedom, also defended the right of Professor Broderick.

His statement in the Liberian press are "not the business of the university, unless they have evidence he is promoting scientific falsehoods in his classes (and then he would be entitled to be judged by his peers via due process), to pass judgment on, much less punish him for those opinions," said Reichman via email. He noted that there are "literally thousands of professors who every day make statements, for instance that there is a God or that creationism is true, that are not based on scientific (or sometimes any) evidence. And some such statements -- for instance about abortion or birth control -- may arguably hurt the public health."

Further, Reichman noted that while many may disagree with Broderick's views, "there are indeed instances in history -- including in U.S. history -- in which the government or private corporations have in fact knowingly spread diseases (e.g., the Tuskeegee syphilis "experiment"), especially among the poor and minorities. Given that history, it should come as little surprise that even some informed and educated people will express skepticism about conventional explanations and give credence (even if undue credence) to various conspiracy theories."



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