Beware! Pop culture tells us that the big pharmaceutical companies know all about the simple, natural cures for everything — cancer included — but are jealously covering them up. Should you be unfortunate enough to contract some terminal illness, the best the doctors are going to give you is some synthetic, patented drug that can be sold to you at a high profit. It won’t work as well as that natural treatment would, but that’s OK, because it means they get to sell it to you over and over again, until you finally die. Guess what? You’ve just been victimized by the Big Pharma Conspiracy, one of the most popularly believed conspiracy theories.
How could it be that I’ve been doing Skeptoid for almost 11 years and never covered the Big Pharma Conspiracy? Oh well. It be.
The basic Big Pharma Conspiracy says that pharmaceutical companies suppress natural cures on the principle that they are not patentable and thus not profitable to sell; so they instead distribute only patented, expensive, and less effective drugs. This allows them to keep profits up, and since the drugs are less effective, it keeps the patients sick enough to require more and more of the expensive products. Most familiar is the claim that a perfect cure for all cancers exists, but Big Pharma suppresses it because if everyone was cancer-free it would kill their profitable cancer business. A corollary takes it a step further, asserting that the drug companies actually create some of the diseases that make their products necessary.
Who exactly is Big Pharma? Author Robert Blaskiewicz describes them as:
…An abstract entity comprised of corporations, regulators, NGOs, politicians, and often physicians, all with a finger in the trillion-dollar prescription pharmaceutical pie.
This definition is important, because it allows the conspiracy theorist to vastly simplify what is, in reality, a complicated industry filled with conflicting roles and interests. Lumping them all together into a single entity turns them into a proverbial “they” at whom it is easy to point an accusing finger.
A quick and easy way to hear the Big Pharma Conspiracy elucidated in detail by someone in your neighborhood today is to talk with any alternative medicine practitioner whose diploma is unaccredited, like a naturopath or a chiropractor.
Hollywood celebrities have a reputation for espousing a sort of prepackaged, fast-food version of politically correct “liberal” issues, as if they buy a kit of personal convictions off the shelf at Whole Foods. It includes environmental concerns, usually exaggerated and often wrong; rejection of “all things corporate” including pharmaceuticals and biotech, with a corresponding embrace of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and “empowered individual” philosophies like home birth. Then there are the outliers who go the other way toward full alt-right with an imagined superior insight into world affairs. They tend to reject history and science in favor of conspiracy mongering and alternative science, be it the young Earth, the flat Earth, or calling us all sheeple for believing in the standard model of the universe.
Interestingly, anti-vaccination is found in both camps. Left-leaning antivaxxers tend to reject it because it’s not a natural healing method, and right-leaning antivaxxers think it’s an evil government program of enforced mercury poisoning. It increasingly seems that a rational, level-headed, science-literate Hollywood celebrity is as rare as a truly good movie.
So here my list of top 10 celebrities, 2017 edition, who contribute to the Endarkenment by abusing their notoriety to spread misinformation far and wide:
#10 – Shaq and the NBA Flat Earthers
Former player Shaquille O’Neal and current NBA basketball players Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, and Draymond Green have all expressed their belief that the Earth is flat, but I put them all the way down at #10 because it’s not clear that all four literally believe this. They may just be trolling. But whether they are or not, they do genuinely influence a huge number of young people, including some demographics where education is not necessarily a life priority. Guys, if you want to inspire kids to achieve and succeed, you’re doing it wrong.
#9 – Michael Phelps
I include him as a representative of the many athletes and celebrities who loudly and proudly promote cupping, the overtly pseudoscientific technique of suctioning great round hickeys into the skin by rupturing capillaries. A lot of trainers sell this because it costs nothing to administer, requires no training, and they can charge whatever they want for it; and since it’s unregulated, they make a vast array of claims for whatever workout benefits they say it confers. Usually, it just happens to solve whatever that athlete’s complaint of the day is. Phelps proudly shows off these ugly bruises, as do many other athletes and celebrities, and has even posted pictures of himself getting it done on his Instagram. Sellers have even come up with a sciencey-sounding name for it to impress the scientifically illiterate: “myofascial decompression”.
This New Age alternative health fad claims to be based on ayurveda… but is it?
So it’s the 21st century, and our collective knowledge in fields such as medicine and hygiene is better than at any other time in our past. If you have some medical problem, chances are we’ve developed a pretty good treatment for it that’s better than it was 25 years ago, and 25 years before that. Just about everything anyone can think of has been tried and tested as a treatment for that condition. Why then do some Westerners shun the results of what we’ve been able to learn, and instead seek out folk remedies notable only for their roots in pre-scientific knowledge? Nowhere is this trend more aptly illustrated than in the latest fad, oil pulling.
Oil pulling is an alternative therapy that involves putting vegetable oil in your mouth, swishing it around for a few minutes, then spitting it out. There are many different variations. Some say you should do it for about 3 minutes; some say you should do it for a full 20 minutes. Some say you should gargle it; some say you should swish it around; some say you should fill your entire mouth cavity completely and just hold it. The types of oil to be used also do not seem to adhere to any particular standard: some say that any store-bought oil is equally useful; some specify that coconut oil should be used; some say sesame oil, sunflower oil, or even the oil produced by separating butter, called ghee in India.
For all the many variations of how oil pulling is to be done, there are just as many conflicting beliefs about what it is supposed to do for you. Most often found is the claim that it cleans and protects your teeth from plaque and bacteria, but just as common is the idea that it “pulls” toxins out of your body (thus the name oil pulling). Like all alternative detoxification claims, there is no accepted description of what these alleged “toxins” are. An article on Food Matters, an anti-pharmaceutical activism web site based on the 2008 film of the same name, lists the following as other “possible benefits of oil pulling for overall health”:
- Migraine headache relief
- Correcting hormone imbalances
- Reducing inflammation of arthritis
- May help with gastro-enteritis
- Aids in the reduction of eczema
- May reduce symptoms of bronchitis
- Helps support normal kidney function
- May help reduce sinus congestion
- Some people report improved vision
- Helps reduce insomnia
- Reduced hangover after alcohol consumption
- Aids in reducing pain
- Reduces the symptoms of allergies
- Helps detoxify the body of harmful metals and organisms
Oilpulling.com says that:
Oilpulling heals totally “head-aches, bronchitis, tooth pain, thrombosis, eczema, ulcers and diseases of stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs and women’s diseases. It heals diseases of nerves, paralysis, and encephalitis. It prevents the growth of malignant tumors, cuts and heals them. Chronic sleeplessness is cured.”
Taken by itself, any one of these is likely to raise your eyebrows: How, the 21st century mind might ask, could swishing a non-specific type of oil in your mouth using non-specific technique address any or all of these conditions? Is human biology really so simple and its health really so easily manipulated? How could someone be convinced by such a claim?
The answer to that question should come as no surprise to regular Skeptoid listeners. We turn to our list of logical fallacies, and look up the Appeal to Antiquity: the invalid logic which states that an idea is old, therefore it’s valid. The antiquity in this case, as presented by nearly every book and web site that promotes oil pulling, is ayurveda, traditional medicine from India.