By Published On: February 5th, 200710 Comments

Beware the spoon-feeders of anti-conspiracy pap. You know who I mean. Like several local Victoria writers who suggested that if you suspect corporations may influence U.S. policy in Iraq, Princess Diana’s accident was not accidental, or certain leaders may have been complicit in 9/11, then you “forgot [your] medication” and evidently need far-fetched conspiracy theories as “comfort food” to help you “cope”.

Anti-conspiracists relentlessly attack conspiracy theories, yet their reasonings often have nothing to do with facts or proof. In their minds, for example, the suggestion that companies, regulators, doctors, scientists and thousands of victims have been involved in a global cover-up of a drug’s dangerous side effects is so improbable it not only doesn’t merit serious investigation, it’s laughable.

And that’s dangerous.

I know, because I’ve seen the secret Eli Lilly documents. (You can download them yourself here.) They’re the same internal emails, studies and marketing tools the New York Times wrote about in December after a crusading lawyer subpoenaed them. Swiftly, though, the pharmaceutical company obtained injunctions to shut down all dissemination. I downloaded them through the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s groundbreaking anti-censorship stealth network, TOR.

The documents make clear Lilly began suspecting almost ten years ago that its sedative-antipsychotic Zyprexa (Olanzapine) was particularly dangerous. These suspicions grew into convictions even as Zyprexa was becoming the world’s (and BC’s) third top-grossing drug at $4 billion annually, 30% of Lilly’s total income (Zyprexa is currently about number 5 in the world). This astonishing achievement was due in part, the documents suggest, to Lilly reps illegally promoting the powerful schizophrenia medication to family physicians as a “safe, gentle” anti-anxiety pill for anyone, and as treatment for dementia in the elderly (for which the drug is not approved and for whom it’s particularly lethal). This latter misuse also likely explains why the capital region has one of Canada’s highest per capita expenditures in this drug class.

Today, Zyprexa must carry strong warnings against using it in the elderly, and about its links to astronomical weight gain, hyperglycemia, diabetes and death. Lilly has so far paid out $1.5 billion to harmed patients in class-action lawsuits, and it’s likely we have hundreds, possibly even thousands of victims in this region alone.

Reading the internal documents and public record, what’s striking is how easily and straightforwardly a conspiratorial cover-up of global magnitude could dupe us like local bumpkins.

As the damning data accumulated, Lilly scientists alerted with restraint, rationalizing that waiting for more evidence would be prudent.

Later they, along with Lilly executives and salespeople, understandably did what they were paid to do, frequently strategizing about how to be relatively truthful without denting the image of their company’s flagship product. Apparently, none were ready to blow up their careers with unmitigated candor.

Journal editors and government regulators mainly relied on Lilly’s reputable expertise.

Countless practicing physicians were easily misled because, as Lilly marketers discussed, most were too busy to closely analyze the evidence themselves and could quickly be convinced comparable drugs were equally bad or that untreated patients were in more danger.

Thousands of victims were paid off in exchange for confidentiality agreements.

Finally, even as horror stories from 20 million users snowballed, Lilly was still vigorously publicly denying or downplaying most of this. Essentially, the company described the accusations as exaggerations and conspiracy theories.

Simple how it all works together really, isn’t it?

Conspiracies aren’t far-fetched at all.

Conspiratorial faked attacks? The Vietnam War began with the U.S. Navy staging an assault against itself and President Johnson blaming the North Vietnamese before Congress. That lie survived for years until one insider leaked the Pentagon Papers.

Seditious conspiracies behind a war? Declassified documents explicitly show U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped violently overthrow Chile’s democratic government for a dictator friendlier to U.S. corporate interests.

Politically-motivated purges of royal bloodlines? Archduke Ferdinand, anyone?

I recently chatted with someone who’d worked in the Public Affairs Bureau, the top operations room for BC government public relations. He wasn’t ready to sacrifice his career to detail scams he’d helped mastermind. However, he pointed to the “conspiracy theory” that, in 1998, various U.S. government agencies schemed to spectacularly bomb a supposed terrorist WMD factory just to deflect public attention from Clinton’s sexual relations scandal.

“When people call that a ‘ridiculous conspiracy theory’, it makes me laugh,” he said. He noted that the bombed target was eventually exposed as an ordinary pharmaceutical plant, and added, “What the hell do people think we do? If the government is getting bad press, we come up with ways to divert attention. That’s our job!”

That’s just it. Conspiracies are actually common foundations of modern society.

At the local level, that’s obvious. Naturally mayors who own architecture companies don’t constantly vote anti-development. Of course local councillors, developers, and business and media leaders occasionally meet, sometimes in confidence, to discuss furthering common goals. That’s not “conspiracy”, that’s just people doing their jobs.

But when this is logically transferred to the global scale, the anti-conspiracists become incredulous. It’s as if the suddenly bigger, more variegated lights befuddle them. And that’s dangerous, because many global conspiracies, like Lilly’s, affect our communities even more than local leaders do. Dismissive anti-conspiracy pap merely helps disguise and support our society’s most powerful collusions.

Still, in the absence of hard-to-find, definitive evidence one way or another, some people insist large governments, companies and organizations operate with relative independence and forthrightness.

Well if you believe that, local bumpkin, have I ever got some pills for you.


  1. Jacob February 15, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Great article, Rob. I’ve long maintained that if it wasn’t a conspiracy, “they” would have let “us” in on it.
    I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that so many so-called journalists in the corporate owned media are quick to label as conspiracy nuts those who happen to think that some level of planning went into most, if not all, historical events of import. I guess we’re also supposed to believe that it’s just a coincidence that the super-rich keep getting richer, like as if they didn’t plan it at all.
    That corporations engage in all manner of unsavoury practices including, as we see, “conspiracies”, is not at all surprising though some people still, it seems, labour under the delusion that pharamceutical companies might be above that sort of thing. As if.
    For anyone who’s genuinely interested in educating themselves on this particular topic, two excellent – though somewhat dated – books to consider reading are John Braithwaite’s Corporate Crime in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and Dr. Joel Lexchin’s The Real Pushers: A Critical Analysis of the Canadian Drug Industry. A more recently published book also worthy of consideration is Selling Sickness: How The World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All Into Patients, by Alan Cassels and Roy Moynihan.

  2. Michael Meredith February 16, 2007 at 8:17 am

    The difficulty I have with conspiracy theories is that often those who espouse them do not have definitive proof of what they are alleging. This is why they are called conspiracy “theories”. One fellow I know, who adamantly advances numerous such theories, was asked in a conversation “What would it take for you to change your mind about your theory? What proof would you have to be shown?” He could not think of anything that would persuade him his theory was wrong. Even for the sake of argument, he would not agree that if he were shown “definitive” proof to the contrary, then he would change his mind. Obviously, this is a committed blindness to the facts that borders on zealotry. You either believe or you don’t, and if you believe, then conspiracies are everywhere.

    Like the cops in the Guy Paul Morin case, who, even after DNA evidence had definitively proven his innocence, still said he was guilty. They’d held that viewpoint for so long, changing it would mean undertkaing a change in themselves, their approach to their work, the world around them, and so on. Most of us aren’t prepared to be that “objective” about ourselves or our lives. Most of us live clothed in the warm blanket of our assumptions, almost all the time.

    We don’t help anyone, even ourselves, by indulging in invective and rampant finger pointing. Such an approach actually serves the opposition, because it causes a loss of our own credibility.

    It is no argument to say that because some conspiracies have been revealed, then all conspiracy theories are true. Your suggestion that the existence of actual conspiracies can be “logically transferred to the global scale” is clearly not a matter of logic. At best it’s an argument by analogy, and that’s almost always a weak, if not invalid, argument.

    “Government” and “corporations” are just people, doing what people do. Collective malice is possible, but so is collective good. Cynicism is self-defeating.

    The Lilly case is a good example. The deceit that we now know the “activists” enaged in was at least as self-serving and illegal as the deceit that Lilly personnel engaged in, albeit with different consequences. Although they did manage to re-victimize the victims; the people in whose name they purported to be acting.


  3. Rob Wipond February 16, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks for the comments — I can see you two guys were obviously working together! :)

    I don’t think I meant to say that all conspiracies are by definition bad or good. I’m merely arguing that they are, in fact, very, very common. We can see them in our daily lives around us all the time, and there’s no reason to assume that people wouldn’t be conspiring just as often at the global political level. And we frequently see evidence of it. (Of course, we can also see examples of people not working together for any number of reasons; that’s a given.)

    And you misconstrue my argument, MM. I am only taking my argument this far: that, in the absence of definitive evidence one way or another, it is very revealing when people decide to ridicule a particular conspiracy theory. Of course, it’s also true that if a person resolutely believes in a conspiracy in the absence of definitive evidence, that is also revealing. But I wasn’t talking about those latter people in this particular article. I was talking about the former.

    And though I appreciate that there are lots of wacky folk out there with wild conspiracy theories unconnected to anything I might call reality, it seems to me that it is much more common in our mainstream media to have pundits “knowledgeably dispelling myths and conspiracy theories”, who are in fact doing nothing more than ridiculing quite plausible conspiracy theories merely through the use of tone of voice and appeals to convention, not hard evidence. And I’m suggesting that they often do this precisely in the same way others resolutely believe in a particular conspiracy even when the evidence contradicts it.

    The evidence I’m using, then, is this: Large, complex, nefarious conspiracies are not at all uncommon. The logic I’m using is this: Therefore, in the absence of definitive evidence one way or another, it’s ridiculous to ridicule a conspiracy theory out of hand. Why do so many people want to do this?

    Incidentally, with reference to the Lilly case, I don’t understand how the “activists” have revictimized the victims. What do you mean by that? I can only see that as an abstract ‘possible future victim of another similar situation’, not as a concrete victimization of the actual victims of this drug. Is that what you mean?

  4. Michael Meredith February 20, 2007 at 6:02 am

    I think my point about the avid adherents to un substantiated conspiracy theories is that they give the more serious social and political critics, including those who allege and sometimes prove conspiracy theories, a bad name. Consequently, it is not surprising that those who espouse this or that conspiracy theory are openly mocked; because so many others have put forward ludicrous and ubsubstantiated theories. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that there are many more vocal proponents of unproven (and sometimes wacky) conspiracy theories than there are proponents of actual, and substantiated conspiracy theories. For 2 reasons: Conspiracies are hard to prove, and those who really want to prove them and shed some light on the issues don’t go around bellowing their results until they’ve obtained enough evidence to support their allegations. Woodward and Bernstein are good examples of this. You don’t want to alert your target. Given the proportion of unsubstantiated theories to proven ones, its no surprise commentators are skeptical.

    Regarding Lilly, the court protections concerning Lilly’s (and others’)documents were in place to facilitate what what obviously an extremely complex and widespread set of settlements (I think I read that 1.5 billion had been paid out so far). In other words, the company has acknowledged liability and is seeking to make payments to injured parties, through a court-supervised process. The thing is, in their apparently fraudulent and illegal subpoenaing of documents, the protections afforded Lilly, and the victims (including their privacy rights) thwarted. I don’t suppose we know exactly which documents were obtained and whether among them were documents containing personal medical and other information of any of the victims, although the judge in the case seemed very concerned about this. At a minimum however, any comfort or assurance those victims had, that the court process was able to protect their privacy and supervise the resolution of the issues between them and Lilly, has now likely been shattered. This is what I meant about re-victimizing the victims. All the worse because the motives of the wrong-doers were so self-serving.


  5. Rob Wipond February 20, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Ah, I see now what you’re saying, yes. That’s probably true. Indeed, people often even use examples of quite far-fetched conspiracy theories to ridicule much more plausible ones.

    But generally I don’t think it has anything to do with the relative levels of evidence or lack thereof. We just seem to have a tendency to believe or disbelieve whatever we want.

    I found it particularly ironic, for example, that Mark Milke (he’s one of the commentators I quote in the article) suggested people had forgotten to take their “medication” if they believed war conspiracies, specifically like the argument that anyone in the U.S. gov’t could possibly have been in any way complicit in 9/11. This, despite virtually all the major wars of the 20th century having been begun partly using conspiracies and faked attacks — The conspiracy that led to Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, Hitler claimed Germany was attacked first, the U.S. staged a mock attack against itself in North Vietnam, etc. Meanwhile, literally the very words Milke uses to ridicule one theory about reality reveal that he himself has bought into a far less substantiated theory about reality — evidently tacitly believing in the pseudo “science” of healing madness using drugs (drugs like… Zyprexa!).

    On the other topic, I still don’t really see how the activists in the Zyprexa case harmed the victims, though. From what I’ve seen, there’s nothing of people’s personal medical info in there. I would guess most of the victims would like nothing better than to see Lilly raked over the media coals publicly, and only signed confidentiality agreements themselves reluctantly, don’t you think? And were the activists only self-serving? Evidently, based on what the judge reported of their testimony, that was an element, but I can’t see how all this has really “helped” Gottstein, for example. I think he genuinely did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. Berenson and Egilman probably did, too. I suspect they doubted they would ever get the documents into the public sphere in any other way, despite what the judge suggested about legal avenues. And would that have been something they would have admitted to the judge, or would that have made them look even worse to criticize the judicial process in that way?

  6. Michael Meredith February 22, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    A couple of points about victims and activists.

    Regarding the victims, at least those who are part of the litgation proceedings in the U.S., they are represented by counsel and legally advised as to the fairness of any payment they receive or any confidentiality agreement they sign. I can’t speculate about their reluctance to sign such agreements. In my experience a party who is being paid money is generally happy to do what they need to do to receive that money, and if their counsel are doing their jobs, there will be a premium attached to the settlement amount in exchange for the victim’s agreement not to talk. The great majority are not that interested in participating in a media campaign or becoming advocates with respect to their issues.

    If they really want to talk, they can do what others before them have done, and talk! Then settle the case afterwards, and assume an obligation to keep mute. Best of both worlds.

    As I said, I don’t know if actual medical or other personal records made it out of court protection in this case. But clearly any comfort victims may have taken at the prospect fo having their privacy protected by the court has been compromised by the ulterior methods of the various individuals involved in obtaining the documents this time.

    Regarding activists, I have questions about the selflessness of the motives of the doctor, the lawyer and the journalist. The journalist insisted on an exclusive; a “scoop”. Surely if he wanted the word out he would have been pleased to have the docs disseminated to anyone who’d take them.

    The doctor/expert sought to modify his obligations to the law firm that retained him, in a knowing effort to get around any limit on his ability to talk about the material he was going to be asked to review and analyse. Yet he knew confidentiality attached to those documents. if he was not serving himself in this effort, he was at least not having regard to the confidentiality issues attached to the documents, and seemed unconcerned about the court’s established mechanism for protecting the information. The fact that he played with the language of the agreement the law firm asked him to sign, and was immediately terminated by the firm when it learned what he’d done speaks at least to an inconsistency in the position he purported to commit to on paper, and the one he knew he was actually pursuing.

    Regarding the lawyer, it seems the judge found that he and the journalist conspired to obtain the documents by means of a sham; a purported participation in a process (as an intervenor, no less)which was in fact undertaken not to present a specific relevant and material perspective to the court in the case they were intervening in (as is usually the case for an intervenor) but an intentional conspiracy to get access to the documents for the purposes of disseminating their contents, and thwart the court ordered protections; including those afforded to Lilly or anyone else who may have wanted to speak to the issue of the release of the doucments before it was granted.

    We are of course privileged here in North America to have relatively credible legal systems both in Canada and the U.S., and the freedom (if not always the finances) to avail ourselves of that system. We are privileged to be able to invoke the power of that system in our own name, and in the name of others (as a representative plaintiff in a class action does) in order to seek redress for harm done. When that system is invoked for ulterior means (as it was here) then it is an abuse of that privilege. It puts the credibility of that sytem at risk (which helps no one), and it is not satisfactory to argue “Well, our cause was just, and our intentions were good.” Much nastiness can be committed under a banner proclaiming those words.

    Viewed from another perspective, and by way of illustration, if you’re Lilly and don’t believe the legal system has a fair and credible means of resolving the dispute you’re engaged in, then you’re approach is not going to be to sit down with claimants and start writing cheques (to the tune of 1.5 bilion and counting). Instead, you’ll fight every issue, every step of the way. Burn up the plaintiff’s and the court’s time and money, cause delay, anxiety, frustration… the list goes on. So maintaining credibility and not abusing the system benefits everyone involved, especially the victims.


  7. Berne Mills May 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    ROB, I saw your first article in Adbuster’s this month and encourage you to keep up the fight. I am a 60 year old Canadian who never was an activist, I don’t know where the 60’s went, and no I wasn’t doing drugs. I write Email’s regularily to MP’s now and socially conscious sites. I believe as Mr. Kapuscinski
    wrote; ” the value of writing is not in what is said, but in its consequences”, so I add my voice to the wind.

  8. Rob Wipond May 29, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Berne.

    Yeah, what happened to the 60s?! I wasn’t there, but I think they mainly got buried under the more conservative young of the 70s, 80s, 90s etc.

    I tend to think that the real value of writing emerges insofar as it sparks personal inner reflection and genuine dialogue between people, and out of that comes sometimes exploration, greater insight and more intelligent action. Which is I think the same thing as you’re saying!?


  9. rob February 2, 2008 at 8:03 am

    I’ve closed commments on this post because for some reason it gets spammed a lot.

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