Big Pharma conspiracy theory

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This article is about a conspiracy theory. For the pharmaceutical industry in general, see Pharmaceutical industry.

According to the Big Pharma conspiracy theory the medical establishment in general, and pharmaceutical companies in particular, operate for sinister purposes and against the public good.[1]

History and definition

The term Big Pharma is used to refer collectively to global pharmaceutical industry.[2] According to Steve Novella the term has come to connote a demonized form of the pharmaceutical industry.[3] Professor of writing Robert Blaskiewicz has written that conspiracy theorists use the term Big Pharma as "shorthand for an abstract entity comprised of corporations, regulators, NGOs, politicians, and often physicians, all with a finger in the trillion-dollar prescription pharmaceutical pie".[1]

According to Blaskiewicz, the Big Pharma conspiracy theory has four classic traits: first, the assumption that the conspiracy is perpetrated by a small malevolent cadre; secondly, belief that the public at large is ignorant of the truth; thirdly, that its believers treat lack of evidence as evidence; and finally, that the arguments deployed in support of the theory are irrational, misconceived or otherwise mistaken.[1]


The conspiracy theory has a variety of different specific manifestations. Each has different narratives, but they always cast "Big Pharma" as the villain of the piece.[1]

Alternative treatments

In Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About, Kevin Trudeau proposes that there are all-natural cures for serious illnesses including cancer, herpes, arthritis, AIDS, acid reflux disease, various phobias, depression, obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit disorder, muscular dystrophy, and that these are all being deliberately hidden and suppressed from the public by the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the major food and drug companies.[4]


In a 2006 column for Harpers magazine, journalist Celia Farber claimed that the antiretroval drug nevirapine was part of a conspiracy by the "scientific-medical complex" to spread toxic drugs.[5] Farber said that AIDS is not caused by HIV and that nevirapine had been unethically administered to pregnant women in clinical trials, leading to a fatality.[5] Farber's theories and claims were refuted by scientists, but, according to Seth Kalichman, the resulting publicity represented a breakthrough moment for AIDS denialism.[6]


Steven Novella writes that while the pharmaceutical industry has a number of aspects which justly deserve criticism, the "demonization" of it is both cynical and intellectually lazy.[3] Novella considers that overblown attacks on Big Pharma actually let the pharmaceutical industry "off the hook" since they distract from and tarnish more considered criticisms.[3]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Blaskiewicz, R. (2013). "The Big Pharma conspiracy theory". Medical Writing. 22 (4): 259. doi:10.1179/2047480613Z.000000000142. 
  2. "big". Oxford English Dictionary (Third ed.). Oxford University Press. December 2011.  (subscription required)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Novella, S. (22 April 2010). "Demonizing 'Big Pharma'". Science-Based Medicine. 
  4. Michael Shermer, "Cures and Cons: Natural scams "he" doesn't want you to know about," Scientific American, March 2006.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Schaffer, A. "Drug trials and error: conspiracy theories about big pharma would amuse, if they were not a matter of life and death". MIT Technology Review. 109 (2): 70.  (subscription required)
  6. Nattrass, N.; Kalichman, S. (2009). Denying AIDS: conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and human tragedy. Springer. p. 183. ISBN 9780387794754.