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”.
Via Skeptical Raptor
Like all medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals, vaccines are not perfect. What matters is that the benefits, not only medically but also economically, outweigh any risks. As far ask I know, no perfect medical procedures, devices or pharmaceuticals, none, that are perfectly safe or perfectly effective.
Sometimes the ratio is small. For example, there are chemotherapy drugs that only add a few months to a patient’s life, usually with substantial side effects to the medication. Yet, if you ask a patient whether it was worth it, to spend just a few extra months with their children and loved ones, the value becomes nearly incalculable.
But mostly, the FDA and other regulatory agencies demand that new products and procedures must meet or exceed the safety, and meet or exceed the financial and health benefits of currently acceptable versions. Actually, the FDA examines a lot more than that. They check packaging, shelf life, instructions, manufacturing practices, and so much more, it would take a book to explain it (and there probably are several). It may not be a perfect process, but it’s better than what we had 100 years ago, and it continues to improve every single day. People tend towards a form of confirmation bias where they remember where a drug may or may not have been found to be dangerous (best example is Vioxx). But they forget about the millions of medications and devices that save lives or measurably improve the standard of living.
After arguing the scientific point of view with the antivaccination forces for nearly 15 years, I have observed that they tend to vastly overstate the safety risks, while vastly understating the financial and health benefits. It’s a form of the Nirvana Fallacy, which is a fallacy that if something is not perfect, then it’s junk. For some, if a vaccine is only 95% effective in stopping a disease, it’s worthless. And they want a “guarantee” that there are NO side effects of the vaccines, even when the “adverse effects” of a vaccine preventable disease could be hospitalization or death.
Of course, no pro-science proponent of vaccines would ever say “vaccines are perfect.” We never claim that vaccines never have an adverse effect, though there is no evidence that a vaccine has killed anyone in the last 30 years. On the other hand, I do have plenty of evidence that vaccine preventable diseases have killed children across the world, including the USA.
NEW YORK—A wave of concern reportedly spread through the pharmaceutical industry this week as several major drug companies reported a dip in quarterly earnings, with experts placing the blame largely on the growing trend of mothers choosing to make vaccines for their children at home.
According to medical industry observers, the homemade inoculations, which are often assembled from scratch in kitchens or atop home craft tables, have become increasingly popular due to their low cost, their do-it-yourself appeal, and rising parental unease over the quality and origins of the ingredients in mass-produced immunizations.
“With some simple mail-order biochemical compounds and a little bit of elbow grease, mothers can now make and administer their own vaccines in the comfort of their own homes, saving themselves the expense and hassle of visiting a pediatrician,” said Deloitte senior business analyst Deborah Eisenson, who noted that the trend is spreading rapidly as more mothers post recipes and images of their handcrafted vaccines to Facebook and Pinterest. “In certain parts of the country, it has already become commonplace to see a continuous-flow centrifuge right there next to the microwave and the coffeemaker on the countertop.”
She added, “More and more of today’s moms want to know exactly what’s going into their children’s bodies, so they’re learning how to generate antigens from a home-grown chicken embryo or bacterial culture and then inject the vaccine into their child’s arm or upper thigh tissue themselves.”
Sources confirmed that groups of mothers across the country confer daily in online forums to swap their favorite vaccine-production methods for pertussis, diphtheria, polio, and other viruses, often suggesting adding little touches to the suspending fluid—such as customized blends of chemical compounds and antibiotics—to make the vaccine their own. In blog posts, moms reportedly share tips on ingredient-sourcing, dosages, and how to keep inactive viruses from going bad in the fridge, as well as how to make vaccinations fun by getting their kids involved in the process of making them.
When interviewed, many mothers described quality time spent gathered around the kitchen table, with the whole family helping to grind recombinant proteins with mortars and pestles while a supervising adult helps purify the mixture through chromatography and ultrafiltration. Others reportedly do prep work ahead of time on Sundays so that during the week they can simply come home from work, stir in any necessary adjuvants or stabilizers, and have an inoculation ready to go.
In addition, YouTube has become a popular resource for mothers, who . . .
Via Skeptical Raptor
One of the ongoing memes, tropes and fabrications of the vaccine deniers is somehow, somewhere, in some Big Pharma boardroom, a group of men in suits choose the next vaccine in some magical way, and foist it upon the world just to make billions of dollars. And while magically concocting the vaccine brew, these pharmaceutical execs ignore ethics and morals just to make a profit on hapless vaccine-injured victims worldwide.
It’s one of my favorite tropes of the antivaccination world.
The vaccine deniers pollute the internet with their screeds about the profits of vaccines. One of them said, “measles expert Offit has already made millions of dollars profit from his ties to vaccines and the measles MMR vaccine maker Merck.” Using a childish ad hominem, the article calls him, Dr. Paul “For Profit” Offit. Seriously, that’s how you’re going to “prove” that vaccines are a Big Pharma conspiracy? A 3rd grade playground tease? That’s the best you can do.
You can find whole threads of tedious commentary about vaccine profits on any typical anti-vaccine forum. One of the more illogical claims is that “maybe vax companies see vaccines as more of an investment? Break mostly even on what the vaxes cost to make and sell, but make a bank load of money on treating all the chronic problems they cause!” Of course, that would be a business strategy that would be laughed out of the secret Big Pharma boardroom, because they know that vaccines don’t cause chronic problems. The vaccines prevent it.
What is infuriating about these rants by the antivaccine cult is that not only that their scientific knowledge about vaccines is ridiculous, so is their business knowledge.
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[A]re vaccines as profitable as other Big Pharma endeavors? And second, if Big Pharma execs were truly immoral and corrupt, would selling vaccines actually be the best business strategy?