Liam Scheff: Conspiracy Realist

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05/06/2013
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Male:        Liam, you have a book titled "Official Stories". Can you talk a little bit about your background and how that came about?

- Liam: A what? A book you called "Official Stories", you say? Why yes, I do. I grew up in a family of doctors, and scientists, and academicians. They practiced the family business during holidays. Every holiday and every family meeting was a series of arguments and conversations about what was true, who was righter. They would quote chapter and verse from whatever journal article had come out. They really argued with each other.

They weren't really a loving family. They weren't demonstrative. They didn't really hug. Their emotions went into this academic pursuit of, what, I don't know. The journal articles would change from month to month or from half-year to half-year. The most important thing I learned when I was growing up was that doctors change their minds a lot behind the scenes. Or as I like to put it, facts change.

The authorities get to tell you what's true, but you're not permitted to say to them, "Wait a second, this wasn't true six months ago, and 20 years ago you had a totally different idea. Why should I trust you? I'm confused. Wait a second, you used to give people high doses of this drug, but now you say that kills people. We were supposed to trust you then, and we're supposed to trust you now. If we don't trust you now, we're a denier of science, but in six months you'll be denying the science that you're telling us is true."

It was a good education in that way. Doctors were always people to me. People who ate too much, or drank too much or got divorced, or cared or didn't care about their patients, or complained about the HMOs or the incursion of pharmaceuticals into their business. It was just a business. 

There's a priestly quality to it. There was a pater familias quality to it. My grandfather was accomplished, essentially a decorated doctor in that field, PhD, MD, having written important papers, and three sons, two doctors and another in the sciences, my mother a doctor, would compete for his attention and favor.

It was a microcosm of the university system. It was microcosm of the hospital board and the people who were important and making decisions. My mother, a doctor, reported to me, without knowing she was, every day of my life when I was growing up about how hospitals work. "Oh, well, you can't get this done unless you're essentially," the word they use on Comedy Central is blowing. I won't use that word, but the concept is unless you're favoring, kissing arse. That's what they said. Brown nosing. There was a lot of talk of having to brown nose, and you know what that means.

I grew up in that family. I was very much on the outside for a variety of reasons. My mother married somebody that the family didn't like, and that ended in a divorce. He was a doctor too, so I saw doctors on every side of the family. I just supposed I had an artistic temperament, and drew and painted, and was interested in the arts and letters and language, and these sorts of things. 

I was good at the sciences; gifted, I suppose. I enjoyed them, but they weren't true. Poetry was more true than the lie that comes up every six months that you're poisoning people with.

When I became an adult I went through a number of passages. I studied foreign language. I studied a lot of different things. I tutored. I got to study music. I had a nice, well-rounded education that I chose for myself. 

I think that doctors and people who hyper-specialize lose the ability to be people, and lose the ability to be critical thinkers, because they've focused on the very, very tiny tip of this bottle, and this is the whole world, and they're looking at this. This becomes the patient, and they're looking at the tiny, tiny, tiniest tip. The patient is bleeding out of all these holes up here. The doctor says well, "Based on your studies, it looks like we have to try this new drug." The person is saying, "Doctor, could you plug these holes, or I've got a nail in my foot. Could you stop doing PCR on me?" PCR is a polymerase chain reaction. 

They do these tiny genetic tests. Meanwhile, can you get the rusty nail out of my foot? "Well, you may have a strange new disease. Based on the test, you seem to have a high level of iron in your system." "Can you get the nail out of my foot?" 

I wrote the book because coming up through my twenties, I wanted to understand politics. I wanted to understand the world that we lived in. I discovered, bit by bit and piece by piece, not all at once, that everything we're told that's supposed to be true is a story. It's a kind of story. It's a kind of myth. I think we live in myth more than we live in anything. I think what we call reality is sort of a system of agreed upon fables. Medicine, science is a concept of democracy. What is it really?

Then I got into "What is government, really? What am I voting for, again? Isn't it the same no matter who I vote for? Aren't the oil companies sending teenagers who don't have a better idea for themselves to kill people in a country that didn't do anything to us, as far as I remember?" I had to focus on "What is politics?" That's in here. 

There's a chapter on Shakespeare in here because you have to ask why that's a controversy. The book is ten topics, 11 chapters. It's the book I wanted to have when I was 20, when I was 27, when I was 30, 32 to answer the big political, philosophical, existential questions about what is this system we call the human experience? I'll stop talking for a moment.
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Journalist and author Liam Scheff discusses his background and what went into writing his recent book, 'Official Stories'. He talks about how his life growing up in a family of doctors affected his view of medicine among other things.

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