Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories. While there certainly are people and organizations conspirating to get away with all manner of shady and unscupulous activities, I don’t think that conjuring up unfounded hypotheses is a productive way to spend your time. I also think that it ends up splitting people into different “camps” — those who believe the conspiracy and those who don’t. And worst of all, this leads to the two camps perceiving reality differently, which leads to division and an inability to agree on the facts. But I digress on that point — don’t get me started!

In class the other day we were discussing data security and privacy concerns, and the conversation began to veer into conspiracy theory territory. I steered us back into reality, but not before one of my students repeated to me a conspiracy theory that I’ve heard hundreds of times before: cancer has already been cured, but it’s not in the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies to actually use it, so they keep the cure locked in a vault somewhere and let people keep suffering and dying of cancer.

Luckily, I had a rebuttal for it tucked away in my proverbial back pocket, and so I share it now just so I have my thoughts officially collected and recorded.

If we accept, for the moment, the hypothesis that pharmacuetical companies would ignore the overall wellbeing of patients for the sake of making more money, it is still in their financial interests to cure cancer. Sure, they make a ton of money on cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, but cancer often leads to an unfortunately early death. And you know who can’t spend money? Dead people.

I mean, think about it. Someone gets cancer in their thirties, gets treatment for a year, and eventually succumbs to the disease. How much money did the pharmaceutical company make? Thousands and thousands, sure, but that revenue source dries up as soon as they die.

But you cure that thirty-year-old and keep them alive until they’re 100, and guess what you get — 70 years of medical care. Think of how many surgeries they’ll need, hosptializations they’ll have, medicines they’ll take, you name it. You can fleece them of their cash for nearly another century! Plus, who knows — maybe some of them will have more kids, and then you have those kids for 100 years. And then those kids’ kids. And so on.

So even if we accept that these companies are heartless, corrupt, cruel organizations who care only about raking in more cash, it still is in their financial interest to cure cancer patients.

So knock it off already with the “we’ve cured cancer” theories, will ya?