Countering the Idiocracy

I was struck by this item of news recently, about the fact that Macmillan, the well-known cancer charity, have appointed someone to counter the myths about cancer being promoted online (see It is sad that this is necessary, but it surely is. This is a subject that affects me personally, because I have had cancer twice. It was my experience that mentioning this in conversation acts as a kind of beacon for the deluded: like the well-meaning person who insisted on telling me about the woman in Bristol who had “cured herself” of cancer (presumably she also diagnosed herself in the first place); or the person who solemnly assured me that it could be cured with lemon peel.

I decided early on in my treatment that I would ignore the idiots, and accept that the doctors treating me were exactly what they seemed to be: humane and intelligent people, who would not recommend a treatment unless it was actually likely to of real benefit. So I had surgery, and chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and yes, it is quite brutal, it is not an experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for a laugh. But the thing is that it actually works, and I am still here several years later.

Of course it is not a new thing that some believe that their ill-considered opinions are as valid as those of people who have spent years of their lives studying and researching a subject. But it is only recently that the internet has given them such a powerful platform, so at least the harm that they could do was more limited in the past. There is something particularly pernicious about promoting myths about cancer, it can quite literally kill people who are gullible enough to believe them. I have noticed that those who do so, while being all too quick to condemn “Big Pharma”, usually gloss over their own interests in promoting dubious “cures”.

There is no conspiracy among doctors and drug companies to suppress some safe and “natural” cure for cancer, whether it be vitamin C, or green tea, or magic beans for whatever. Why? Conspiracies just do not work because most people are absolutely terrible at keeping secrets. And the biggest reason is because doctors are human beings too, they get cancer too, and so do their husbands, wives, lovers, parents, children, brothers, sisters and friends. If such a cure existed they would want it to be developed, and would want to use it.

I called this post “Countering the Idiocracy”, but in truth I don’t know what the solution is. I still think that the internet is (on the whole) a force for good, and that there is no morally acceptable way of preventing idiots from having access to it. I think that the best thing that we can do, at least on an individual level, is to try not to be one.

And don’t be these people:

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