The Big Pharma Conspiracy

Picture Credit: John Cook


You can find a brief overview of conspiracy theories here

Across the social landscape of ideas, science operates to provide explanations about what is unknown. To do so it must sometimes contest with information from competing institutions such as political or religious organisations. Often these competing ideas share some common ground and can coexist within our collective understandings of the world. However, conspiracy theories are increasingly gaining foothold within this landscape, serving a dangerous alternative that is antithetical to years of scientific knowledge.

Science related conspiracy theories often capitalise on science’s relative inaccessibility to the general public or aversion to making claims of certainty. Examples of which include making spurious claims about an emerging disease or secret cures for deadly diseases, deceptively concealed courtesy of Big Pharma. The Covid-19 pandemic has popularised some of these conspiracy theories and this uptake has highlighted the potential dangers they pose to public health.

The Big Pharma Conspiracy Theory

I’d like to preface this section by saying that healthy skepticism of corporations is not a conspiracy theory but a justified form of critical thinking and academic studies have shown that healthcare privatisation can be attributable to increased mortality rates and avoidable deaths.

The Big Pharma conspiracy theory however, suggests that pharmaceutical companies should be mistrusted as they have purportedly obscured a viable cure for cancer, dispensed non-effective or potentially harmful drugs, and even concocted widespread hoaxes, all in a bid to increase their profits. In 2020, the global revenue of the pharmaceutical sector was estimated to be insanely high at (US$) 1,265.2 TRILLION DOLLARS!

Assuming that Big Pharma had produced a cancer cure and obscured it from public knowledge, the truth would eventually be heard. According to University of Oxford academic David Robert Grimes, there is an equation that assesses the secrecy sustainability of a conspiracy theory. Because pharmaceutical research and development of drugs requires the involvement of at least hundreds of people, the ability to maintain a secret cure for cancer is limited by the number of people who necessarily know of it’s existence. Grimes estimated about 714,000 people would be involved in such a conspiracy and would therefore be uncovered within 3.17 years. As the duration of secrecy of a suggested conspiracy increases, the number of conspirators decreases exponentially with a maximum limit of 125 people needing to be maintained to prevent a century-long conspiracy from becoming widespread.

A table outlining the estimated duration certain conspiracies might be expected to last. Image Credit: David Robert Grimes



Proponents of the Big Pharma conspiracy may have ulterior motives, instead advocating the use of alternative medicine as trustworthy because it may offer a natural remedy that has not become impure because of “chemicals”. This phenomenon, known as chemonoia, heightens suspicion around lab synthesised drugs and can be exploited by those with influence in the so-called wellness community.

Operating predominantly online, wellness influencers can use their positions on social media to advocate for or advertise almost anything, giving rise to what has been called the conspiritualist movement. Between the anti-vaccine yoga practitioners and oil-slinging nazi scum, those in the wellness sphere are exposed to a legion of affluent, charismatic, and photogenic personalities bearing promises of healthiness. In these spaces, it is only conventional science that is questioned.

Legitimate concerns exist about the profit-oriented and results-focused nature of pharmaceutical corporations, and I fear that the more extreme conspiritualists are too far gone to ever even begrudgingly accept pharmaceutical treatments. Their adopted lifestyles and belief systems are steeped in misinformation and pseudoscience and social media allows people to become immersed in closed-off spaces, oblivious to other perspectives, particularly when these communities are defined more by their opposition to something (e.g. laboratory synthesised medicines) than any single defining commonality. Perhaps only complete transparency and abolition of a market economy for medicines will ever be enough to gain the wholesale support of the population.

5 Responses to “The Big Pharma Conspiracy”

  1. Conor Day says:

    This was a really well put take on conspiracy theories. I also hadn’t heard of Grimes’ equation but find it so interesting! I think we’ve all come into more conspiracy theorists in the last 18 months than we had in the past 10, so it’s so interesting to see things laid out like this.

  2. Ameer says:

    Thanks Kyle, unfortunately I don’t expect the popularity of conspiracy theories to decrease in the future. Partly due to the growing complexity of the world, but also it’s becoming easier to misinform or influence people across social media which is then reinforced by engagement algorithms. I’d like to think that wider education is the answer but I don’t think that being educated or having critical thinking skills is as valued in general society as maybe it once was.

  3. Ameer says:

    Thanks Joshua!

  4. Kyle France says:

    Really interesting read! With this being such a controversial topic it was really interesting to see a very grounded point of view on the topic. Also the Grimes equation was new to me so that was interesting to see a number against how long they think a conspiracy may last. Do you think there might be a way to limit conspiracies in the future?

  5. Joshua Andrikopoulos says:

    Great post, Ameer! It has been interesting seeing the distrust in the pharmaceutical industry through this pandemic and the rise of the brilliantly named conspiratuality. I had never heard of Grimes’ equation either so it’s also interesting to see how we’ve quantified the feasibility of conspiracy theories.