Thursday, March 31, 2011

Voodoo Histories.

In my 30 years in charge of a blood bank we only twice gave a patient the wrong blood. The first occasion was when the othopedic ward was closed for August. A patient was returning to the general surgical ward having had a hip replacement. A ward sister instructed a staff nurse to set up a unit of blood for him. Unfortunately, a general surgical patient returned from the OR at the same time and the nurse gave the first patient blood meant for the second one. She did not follow protocol and never checked with another nurse that she was giving the correct blood. It was in fact group A blood into a group O patient. He had a massive transfusion reaction with acute kidney failure, but he recovered completely after three weeks in intensive care. He sued the hospital for £5000. He was badly advised - he could easily have got £50,000.

The second occasion was caused by a lab technician who just picked up the wrong tube of blood to cross match and didn't read the label. Luckily he realized his mistake and rushed over to the ward and stopped the transfusion when only 10cc had gone in. The patient suffered no ill effects and he did not sue the hospital.

Here's the amazing thing. It was the same patient, in this time for a prostate operation. When I told my colleague he snapped his fingers and exclaimed, "Bother! But we will get him next time!"

The patient could be excused if he thought that there was a conspiracy out to get him. Who would be responsible? MI5? The CIA? The IRA?

I have just been reading Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch, a book about conspiracy theories. It covers the Protocols of Zion, supposedly a conspiracy among rich Jews to take over the world, the show trials in Russia, supposedly uncovering a conspiracy among Trotskyites and particularly among Trotskyite Jews to sabotage Stalin's five-year plans, the America-Firsters who suspected a conspiracy to get America into the second world war for the benefit of Roosevelt's (mostly Jewish) friends in the armaments and banking industries who would make a killing from war profiteering (viz Steinbeck's East of Eden). It was even suggested that Roosevelt engineered the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to ease America's way into the war. It goes on to cover the McCarthy hearings, aimed at detecting a plot by Jewish movie moguls at indoctrinating America's youth with communistic ideas.

You may have guessed by now that Aaronovitch is Jewish and is particularly sensitive to conspiracies implicating Jews, but this should not detract you this book deals with other issues and is pretty comprehensive and well written.

Of course the Kennedy killings were ripe for the conspiracy theorists. Oliver Stone's film JFK would have made the apparent inconsistencies of the Warren report available to a wide audience. It seems to me that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, was a nutter who wanted to be famous and Jack Ruby was an angry anti-communist who wanted revenge. Similarly, Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy was alone responsible for Chappaquiddick. Marilyn Monroe was not murdered at the behest of RFK, Martin Luther King was not murdered as an FBI or CIA conspiracy, the Bush cabal did not blow up the levies in New Orleans to kill black people, OJ Simpson probably did kill his wife, Princess Diana should have been wearing a seat-belt and she might have survived the accident in Paris, David Kelly, the weapons inspector committed suicide and was not murdered by MI5 at the behest of Tony Blair. There was no Passover plot not has the Catholic church kept secret that the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene living in France.

The question is why are such conspiracies so easily believed in. It is interesting that many will dismiss many obviously ridiculous conspiracy theories but then say I am sure we are not being told the truth about --- it could be anything. Very intelligent people dabble in areas in which they are not expert, but have heard it from a trusted source. Since the Internet became available these theories have 'gone viral' as they say. They have been widely believed in however implausible. There has come a new definition of truth. No longer is there objective truth, merely a truth that fits my prejudices. They call it post-modernism.

We all like a story. The truth is that real life isn't a story. Like my anecdote about blood transfusions, co-incidences happen. Life stories don't have a beginning, a middle and an end. They don't resolve themselves with a happy ending or even a sad one. They just sort of dribble out. Perhaps our minds are conditioned to look for patterns in everything we see. I once attended a lecture by epidemiologist, Ray Carwright, during which he plotted on a map cases of childhood leukemia. He told us that every one of these was within 5 miles of a military establishment. Of course, we all expected this to be something to do with radiation, but at the end of the lecture he told us that the military establishments were iron-age hill forts.

Far more dangerous than the conspiracy theories is the reaction to them by those who believe in them. After all, Hitler believed in the protocols of Zion and these are still believed in by most Arabs. Similarly, street Arabs are absolutely convinced that 9/11 was the result of a plot between George W Bush and Mossad.

Of course we who believe in absolute truth can dismiss these theories with aplomb.

Now about global warming...

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