Blog | Wednesday, March 19, 2014

QD: News Every Day--Psst ... you wouldn't believe what half of Americans believe about medical conspiracies

Nearly half of Americans believe in at least 1 medical conspiracy theory, and nearly 1 in 5 believe in 3 or more conspiracies, a survey found.

A political scientist at the University of Chicago conducted an online survey and reported results in a Research Letter published March 17 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The conspiracy theories are:
1. The FDA is keeping natural cures from the public due to pressure from the drug companies.
2. Health officials know cell phones cause cancer but won’t take action because of large corporations.
3. The CIA deliberately infected large numbers of black people with HIV, disguising it as a hepatitis inoculation program.
4. Monsanto’s genetically modified foods are part of a larger plot to shrink the world’s population.
5. Doctors and the government vaccinate children, knowing that the vaccines cause autism.
6. Water fluoridation is a secret way for companies to dump dangerous mining byproducts into the environment.

(Editor’s note: I think that last one is true.)

The survey found that 49% of Americans agreed with at least 1 of these conspiracy theories and 18% agreed with 3 or more.

At least half the sample had heard of the theories about cancer cures, vaccines, and cell phones. 37% believed the theory about the FDA and natural cancer cures; 20% agreed that corporations were suppressing data linking cell phones to cancer. And 20% believe that doctors still want to vaccinate children despite knowing that vaccines are dangerous.

Conspiracy theories about water fluoridation, genetically modified foods, and the link between HIV and the CIA were known to less than one-third of the sample, and only 12% of respondents agreed with each one. (And that’s just the way they want it.)

The researcher wrote, “Although it is common to disparage adherents of conspiracy theories as a delusional fringe of paranoid cranks, our data suggest that medical conspiracy theories are widely known, broadly endorsed, and highly predictive of many common health behaviors.”

These beliefs stem from common attribution processes, the author continued. Doctors should be aware that such patients are less likely to follow medical advice, such as using sunscreens or vaccines, and are more likely to use alternative treatments.

(Editor’s note: This blog post will self-destruct in 5 seconds. Commit it to memory and clear your browser history.)