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Big Pharma Google

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We can’t see the world as it really is, only as we perceive it to be. Wise words from the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant—so what about the world we see, or think we see, when we go online?

The gateway to the web starts for most of us with Google. It’s the world’s dominant search engine and conveys search results impartially, showing the most popular sites first, according to visits and links to it from authoritative sites—at least, it used to.

The world as we perceive it, or are allowed to perceive it, started to shift a year ago when Google made a fundamental change to its algorithm. Quite literally overnight, information about alternative and complementary therapies disappeared from its searches, or perhaps was demoted to page 48 of the results, which is pretty much the same thing.

Big alternative health sites such as Dr Mercola witnessed a 99 percent drop in natural search traffic immediately, and we saw our traffic cut in half. But why did Google manipulate the search results when most people searching for alternative health information are looking for just that?

While Google has never come forward with an explanation, some have surmised it has been a response to ‘anti-vax’ sites, others that it is a corrective to ‘fake news,’ or perhaps Google is trying to clean up its act as a good global citizen following intense scrutiny from regulators.

All feasible reasons, but none of them true. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which originally launched the search engine with the motto ‘Do no evil,’ has set up two pharmaceutical companies in the past six years—Calico in 2013 and Verily Life Sciences two years later. Verily has since partnered with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline to form Galvani Bioelectronics, another innovative drug company, and it’s chaired by the former chairman of Glaxo’s global vaccines business.

The cozy relationship is helping Verily source new patients. One drug industry insider explained how it works: people searching for asthma solutions, for instance, would suddenly see an ad from Verily inviting them to participate in its clinical trial registry, called Baseline.

Google’s close relationships with Big Pharma don’t end there. Alphabet’s president of customer solutions, Mary Ellen Coe, sits on the board of Merck, another drug giant and manufacturer of the MMR vaccine.

Amazon, the world’s biggest online store, is also censoring alternative health information. ‘Anti-vax’ books have been banned, and Whole Foods—bought by Amazon several years ago—has barred our magazine after this column posed a few telling questions about vaccinations.

Oh yes, and Amazon bought PillPack, which presorts medications, for $1 billion, and is also working with a drug company to identify likely patients for new cancer drugs.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is vigilated over by skeptics of all persuasions, who edit out any alternative view within minutes. As Dr Mercola has said: “Wikipedia’s founder and anonymous editors are well-known to have extreme bias against natural health content and authors.” Wikipedia entries also feature strongly on Google, and always appear at the top of search results.

So what happened to ‘Do no evil’? That was quietly dropped several years ago and, according to secret videos for Google staff, has been replaced by the ‘Selfish Ledger.’ The new strategy doesn’t see individuals, only bodies that contain information, and their real profile is made up of their online habits, purchases and searches.

The ledger may change as people’s interests and searches change, but Google is tracking every move. If Google and Facebook know everything about you, they can sell anything to you. And if Google has effectively become a drug company, then it’s pharmaceuticals they want to push. What they don’t want you to see is inconvenient information about non-drug therapies that are bad for business.

And to drive home the point, negative stories about alternative health practitioners and therapies are at the top of the search results. Skeptics, critics and the conventional view are championed—not an alternative whisper will you hear.

But if you instead use a different search engine, such as Yahoo or Bing, the world changes. Alternative health information still appears near the top, and people will see a more even-handed offering of information and counter-information.

Kant was almost right. We cannot see the world as it truly is, only how we’re allowed to perceive it . . .

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