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Florida’s Ladapo finds new ways to become even more controversial

Joseph Ladapo was already one of the nation’s most controversial public health officials. A mess surrounding his tenured professorship makes matters worse.

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When Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped Dr. Joseph Ladapo to serve as Florida’s surgeon general, the highly controversial doctor became the Sunshine State’s top public health official. The University of Florida wanted to go a step further and give Ladapo a second well-paid position.

In fact, as Politico reported, it was just two years ago when the school — the flagship of the state’s university system — took steps to fast-track Ladapo into a tenured professorship, with the expectation that he’d bring in lucrative grant funding and conduct worthwhile research on internal medicine. With this in mind, Ladapo was able to skip past the usual review process generally required for candidates for tenured professorships.

Apparently, that hasn’t turned out especially well. From the Politico report:

[Ladapo] edited science research manuscripts, gave a guest lecture for grad students and wrote a memoir about his vaccine skepticism. ... Some also bristled that Ladapo, in an email to the heads of the medical school, said he’d only visited the sprawling Gainesville campus twice in his first year on the job, showing a lack of familiarity with Florida’s flagship medical school.

An unnamed professor was quoted saying that Ladapo has “undoubtedly sullied the academic reputation” of the University of Florida.

Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky added that she’d asked Ladapo during his confirmation hearing last year about his performance at the school, and he responded with “his typical word salad answers.” She added, “This guy is a charlatan.”

It’s worth noting for context that this is hardly the first controversy surrounding Florida’s surgeon general. Revisiting our earlier coverage, Ladapo has rejected vaccination guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and faced accusations about misleading the public. He’s embarrassed professional colleagues with his antics and urged the public not to trust scientists, physicians, and other public health officials.

Despite the seriousness of the pandemic, Ladapo questioned the efficacy of Covid vaccines, denounced vaccine requirements, referenced unsubstantiated conspiracy theories to argue against the vaccines, and encouraged Floridians to “stick with their intuition,” as opposed to following the guidance of those who actually know what they’re talking about. The editorial board of The Orlando Sentinel described Ladapo as a “COVID crank” who’s been “associated with a right-wing group of physicians whose members include a physician who believes infertility and miscarriages are the result of having sex with demons and witches during dreams.”

Earlier this month, Ladapo even took the unusual step of hitting the campaign trail, participating in a super PAC event in an early primary state in the hopes of giving a boost to the politician who gave him his influential job.

What’s more, let’s also not forget that Ladapo’s former supervisor at UCLA discouraged Florida officials from hiring the controversial doctor, explaining that he relies on his opinions more than scientific evidence. The UCLA supervisor added that Ladapo’s weird theories “created a stressful environment for his research and clinical colleagues and subordinates,” some of whom believed the doctor “violated the duty in the Hippocratic Oath to behave honestly and ethically.”

One UCLA source told my colleague Kay Guerrero, in reference to Ladapo, “A lot of people here at UCLA are glad that he is gone because we were embarrassed by his opinions and behavior. At the same time, we don’t wish this on the people of Florida. They don’t deserve to have someone like him making their health decisions.”

The relevance of that quote lingers for a reason.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

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