Cath Ennis, an expat Brit working as a cancer genomics project manager in Vancouver, Canada, explains why she’s feeling so crabby about cancer conspiracy theories in the Guardian:
I remember exactly where I was the very first time I learned that I was part of a global conspiracy, raking in millions of dollars and laughing sadistically as people died all around me: I was at my friends’ 2004 Christmas party, and had just told a fellow guest that I was a research scientist and worked at the BC Cancer Agency.
The millions of dollars were news to me, given that as a freshly minted PhD I was making C$35,000 (£22,000) a year at the time. However, what really took me aback was the sheer vehemence of the anger being directed at me by my friends’ new neighbour. He jabbed his finger at me as he raised his voice and ranted about how “all you scientists are sitting on a 100% effective cure for cancer” (“a bunch of vitamins smushed together with proteins” were his exact words), watching millions of people die as we counted the royalty money from the “useless poisons” we were forcing people to take.
The neighbour was ejected from the party, never to be invited back, after poking my husband in the chest when he came to see if I was OK – but I’ve heard that same conspiracy theory many times since. It crops up most commonly online, to the extent that I read even those news articles about my own institute’s latest research findings with a sense of impending doom that worsens as I near the bottom of the page.
Now, I’m not an idiot – I know progress is frustratingly slow (but steady), and I know that some big pharma business practices are rather less than optimally ethical. However, having spent 12 of the last 14 years in academic cancer research (first in the lab and then as a research project manager/grant application wrangler), I also understand why the problem is so hard. (Briefly, killing cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed is like trying to win an old fashioned infantry battle in which both sides are wearing the same uniform, except some of the enemy have slightly different shaped buttons, others have slightly longer bootlaces, others have slightly lacier underwear, and all have the ability to suddenly change clothes halfway through the fight)…
[continues in the Guardian]