Sunday, June 06, 2010

Swine flu: The British Medical Journal a tool of Big Tobacco and Exxon?

Denialism, a pejorative formerly only applying to those refusing to accept the reality of the Holocaust, is now used to discredit anyone holding contrarian views. A classic example from New Scientist contributor Debora MacKenzie (19 May 2010):

HEARD the latest? The swine flu pandemic was a hoax: scientists, governments and the World Health Organization cooked it up in a vast conspiracy so that vaccine companies could make money.

Never mind that the flu fulfilled every scientific condition for a pandemic, that thousands died, or that declaring a pandemic didn't provide huge scope for profiteering. A group of obscure European politicians concocted this conspiracy theory, and it is now doing the rounds even in educated circles.

This depressing tale is the latest incarnation of denialism, the systematic rejection of a body of science in favour of make-believe. There's a lot of it about, attacking evolution, global warming, tobacco research, HIV, vaccines - and now, it seems, flu. But why does it happen? What motivates people to retreat from the real world into denial?

According to social psychologist Seth Kalichman those who reject the orthodox aren't quite right in the head:

He believes the instigators of denialist movements have more serious psychological problems than most of their followers. "They display all the features of paranoid personality disorder", he says, including anger, intolerance of criticism, and what psychiatrists call a grandiose sense of their own importance. "Ultimately, their denialism is a mental health problem. That is why these movements all have the same features, especially the underlying conspiracy theory."

Neither the ringleaders nor rank-and-file denialists are lying in the conventional sense, Kalichman says: they are trapped in what classic studies of neurosis call "suspicious thinking". "The cognitive style of the denialist represents a warped sense of reality, which is why arguing with them gets you nowhere," he says. "All people fit the world into their own sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts reality with uncommon rigidity."

The denialist movement was, of course, founded by the most evil of corporate interests: "Big Tobacco started it in the 1970s..." with Exxon later coming on board. Thus all contrarians are bundled into one neat package of corporate shills deluding the weak minded.

What then to make of the 6,200 word article – Coflicts of Interest WHO and the pandemic flu "conspiracies" – in the British Medical Journal? Are its authors paranoid, neurotically suspicious or perhaps simply weak minded? Or maybe they're on the Big Tobacco/Big Oil payroll.

Then again, there just might be something not quite right in the WHO bureaucracy, which refuses to divulge, or even discuss, the behind-closed-doors machinations that led to governments spending billions on unneeded vaccines and on anti-virals of doubtful efficacy. Click the link immediately above and read the whole article; it's a real eye-opener, the article concluding:

The number of victims of H1N1 fell far short of even the more conservative predictions by the WHO. It could, of course, have been far worse.. Planning for the worst while hoping for the best remains a sensible approach. But our investigation has revealed damaging issues. If these are not addressed, H1N1 may yet claim its biggest victim—the credibility of the WHO and the trust in the global public health system.

The WHO boffins need to realise that an apparent conflict of interest, real or not, is just as damaging to credibility as a genuine conflict of interest


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