Monday, December 05, 2005

"I'll stop being paranoid when They stop following me!"

As a somewhat tangential sequel to the last posting, I'd like to spend a few moments discussing the old/new phenomenon of conspiracy theories, particularly as they apply to "alternative" medicine.

I imagine that the old canard, "The doctors (or "Big Pharma" or the government or...) don't want people to know how [fill in quack remedy] can cure [fill in disorder]!" probably goes back to the days of Hippocrates himself. In fact, he may have used it. But, be it ancient or merely old and hoary, the Internet is crawling with people who claim that their "cure" is being suppressed by "the establishment".

One classic example is Kevin Trudeau, whose book "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" has allegedly sold over a million copies. Of course, he substantiates his claim that "they" are trying to keep these "cures" secret by his own run-ins with the authorities (see here, here and here). How ingenious of "Big Pharma", the FDA and AMA to have him arrested for credit card fraud before he started writing his book on natural "cures"!

Yet, people keep buying this line of luncheon meat (baloney). There are apparently nearly a million people (I doubt that all those copies of his book were purchased by libraries) who think that Mr. Trudeau is telling the truth, despite that ugly business about the credit cards. And, of course, there is the other big unanswered question:

If "They" don't want you to know about his "cures", how did Mr. Trudeau sell a million books?


Apparently "They" aren't as powerful as Mr. Trudeau would like us to think. And Mr. Trudeau is not the only person in the "alternative" medicine "biz" claiming that "organized medicine" (the AMA?), pharmaceutical companies ("Big Pharma") and the "government" (USFDA, CDC, IOM...) are involved in an active conspiracy to "hide the truth" about any number of health-related issues, ranging from thimerosal and autism to the amount of vitamins that are truly necessary for healthy living.

On the face of it, these claims are simply ridiculous, as anyone who has ever been told a secret should know. The "half-life" of a secret is inversely proportional to the number of people who know it and the amount of money/fame/press coverage a person would receive for revealing it. Given the thousands of people who would have to be in on the "secret" in most of these cases - and the amount of press interest such a secret (if it existed) would generate - the half-life of these "secrets" would be only as long as it took one disgruntled employee with a grudge to dial the phone.

What it all comes down to is this - the only way to keep a large conspiracy intact is to for the members to fear being killed (or worse) if they talk. This is how the Mafia and totalitarian governments manage to keep secrets so well. And for those who claim that the governments of the US, UK and the rest of the world operate that way, here is one simple question:

Why is Kevin Trudeau still breathing?

You see, a conspiracy that would be willing to kill its own members wouldn't scruple at killing authors, web-site owners, bloggers or anyone else who threatened their security. If the governments and/or non-governmental organizations involved in these so-called "conspiracies" were that ruthless, there would be a lot fewer websites on the Internet. The conspiracy theorists' continued life is their biggest obstacle to believability. If they were right, then either someone inside the "conspiracy" would have already talked or the conspiracy theorists would be dead.

Seems pretty simple to me.

Still, the conspiracy theorists continue to breathe and continue to make their bizarre accusations. And why are they so often believed? Well, at least part of it is the innate distrust of government that grew out of the 1960's protest movements and was fueled by the numerous untrustworthy things that governments did, do and will probably always do in the future. In short, it is not only popular to distrust government, it is probably also wise.

Having said that, it is important to make a distinction between not trusting and being...well, paranoid. For example, I would not trust a random stranger on the street to hold my purse or wallet for an hour - that is a matter of trust. However, I would not expect a random stranger to be part of a conspiracy to kill me - that would be paranoia.

To bring that example forward to the present issue, I do not trust my government to tell me the truth or act in my best interests at all times - in fact, I think that it acts in my best interest only when my interests and those of the government happen to happily coincide. On the other hand, I don't expect the government to be any more efficient at keeping secrets than it is at delivering the mail, building roads or delivering health care. Which gives me a great deal of comfort, I must tell you.

So, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I will decline to join the tin-foil (or, more precisely, the aluminium-foil) hat crowd and will not be scrutinizing government documents looking for coded messages or inadvertent "slips". Those of you who do, you have my sympathy.


Prometheus.

8 Comments:

Anonymous BronzeDog said...

If "They" don't want you to know about his "cures", how did Mr. Trudeau sell a million books?

That's got to be one of the most concise ways to shoot down the whole conspiracy nonsense. I'm going to try it, sometime. Doubt it'll work, though.

05 December, 2005 12:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are only paranoid if no one is out to get you.

05 December, 2005 13:18  
Anonymous massmama said...

Makes me think of "Men In Black" - I only wish our government had it together enough to be that crafty. As it is, we're lucky things keep chugging along.

05 December, 2005 13:59  
Anonymous AndyD said...

One of the most difficult parts of becoming a qualified scientist is indeed the sheer number of conspiracy initiation meetings you have to attend. I believe I had it worse than most, being a geologist with a hint of biochemistry.. I'm a member of the Creation Denial Conspiracy, Limited Oil Conspiracy, Old Earth Conspiracy, Vaccines Don't Kill You Conspiracy, You don't need half a kilo of vitamins a day conspiracy, Global Warming Promotion conspiracy and, of course, the Wearing a Tinfoil Hat Makes you Look Silly Conspiracy.

I'm also a member of the Evil Athiest Conspiracy, the Knights Templar and the Illuminati, but that's just a hobby.

06 December, 2005 00:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was flipping through the book in a bookstore and found a reference to Bill O'Reilly as an authority. Even if I believed in alternative medicine, that one would make me think twice.

About a third of U.S. M.D.s belong to the AMA and I've never been able to figure out how they manage to keep the remaining two-thirds of us in line.

06 December, 2005 15:26  
Anonymous agonner said...

You know that andyd must be a real illuminati because they are told not to ever share the real spelling of illuminati... it's illooominaaaateeee. If you tell the real spelling you get in big troub

07 December, 2005 00:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear agonner:

some people would like to talk to you about spilling the beans on the spelling thing.

Please step outside your house and approach the black van.

07 December, 2005 19:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why on earth did "They" allow the Internet in the first place? Or introduce universal education? Seems to me they dropped a bit of a clanger...

28 March, 2006 08:06  

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