An Open Letter to Eric Oliver, PhD

To Corresponding Author J. Eric Oliver,
PhD, Department of Political Science,
University of Chicago,
518 Pick Hall,
5828 S University Ave,
Chicago, IL 60637

In regards to this, via this, via the reprinted USA Today article in today’s local daily

Dear Dr. Oliver,

I can’t afford a JAMA subscription, so please tell me it’s just USA Today’s bad journalism that’s making you look like you’re conflating “conspiracy theories” about “malevolent forces” with good, sane, easily researched reasons to “mistrust” the government & corporations in regards to our safety & health.

If this really is your reasoning, I invite you to open even a single book on, say, the history of US nuclear policy & implementation in the US — such as Kate Brown’s Plutopia, or Eric Schlosser’s Command And Control, which are just two of the many well-sourced & not “conspiracy”-based books out there to help you further your research about an issue which very directly & seriously impacts the health of Americans.

It’s also important to notice that this is an issue which has been very obviously & intentionally derailed or dismissed by the same governments & corporations your study flippantly assumes people should trust prima facie as a condition of their sanity. Since this issue has as much to do with the PR/media surrounding the science as it does the science itself, I’d also recommend John Stauber’s Toxic Sludge Is Good For You as a primer.

And this seems so obvious it hardly bears mentioning, but on the topic of “actual, sound reasons people might have to not just wholesale entrust their health to governments or corporations,” I highly recommend you examine the history of Monsanto and genetically modified foods in the US, especially in regards to labeling (or lack thereof). The evidence against this corporation’s trustworthiness and safety — as well as our government’s collusion with it — is so ample & mainstream i’m tempted to just give you a link to But here’s just one small good reason people may have to not take corporations at their word.

Basically all i’m saying is this: in a country where the government and corporations have famously, overtly teamed up to actively trammel its citizenry’s health in pursuit of profit, dismissing our mistrust as conspiracy-mongering seems like either a pretty egregious case of laziness, or else a deliberate hack job. If it’s the latter, i hope you’re being well-compensated; you sure wouldn’t be the first.

I invite you to take a moment to research this issue more deeply, & notice that maybe the real issue isn’t that Americans are credulous buffoons, but rather a nation coping with the catastrophic failure not only of their healthcare apparatus, but also of the basic systems entrusted with the protection of their health & safety.

Sure, in such a climate, bad information & wingnuttery are bound to thrive, as they would anywhere people are forced to resort to self-diagnosis for their health & safety. But as far as making the world a better place goes, there might be better ways to spend your time than trying to lend legitimacy to canards like “Americans are dumb conspiracy nuts who can’t just buck up & trust Pfizer.” Some worries ARE just flimsy, panicked conjecture (the anti-vaccine movement seems to fall into that category) — but dismissing ALL “lack of trust” as “conspiracy theory” strikes me as not just scientifically lazy, but almost insidiously, intentionally dim.

And let’s be honest, “conspiracy theory” is a term only sensationalists will touch anymore.

In even bothering to write this, i’m assuming your motivations are respectable. Which is generous, considering that, as far as i can tell, your research consisted of an “online poll” of 1,300 people — a smaller sample than most political blogs. Hopefully as you study this topic more closely, you’ll find that people sometimes have very good reasons not to swallow information wholesale in regards to their health — especially when the information’s coming from the same people trying to sell them things.

I’m sure you’re getting a lot of email today, & i can’t imagine you have the time to answer this too. I just thought you should know that, in the press anyway, you’re coming off as a bit of a conspiracy nut yourself. Please: do science better.

Yours in inquiry,

Gabby Schulz,

(updated for clarity)

UPDATE 4/3/14: Still no answer from Dr. Oliver.