Blog | Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Medical conspiracism

Do you believe any of the following?
• The FDA prevents the public from getting natural cures for cancer because of pressure from drug companies.
• Cell phones cause cancer, but due to corporate pressure, the government won’t disseminate the information.
• Global distribution of GMO (genetically-modified) foods by Monsanto is part of a plan to help shrink the world’s population.
• Doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children though we know these vaccines cause autism.
• Putting fluoride in our water is a mechanism for allowing industries to rid their factories of phosphate waste.

I don’t believe any of them. A lot of Americans do. Eighteen percent of respondents to a survey believe in three or more of these canards. Almost half of the respondents believed at least one. None of them are true. But people believe what they want to.

The survey was done by a political scientist at the University of Chicago, who previously has studied the prevalence of belief in political conspiracy therapies. I like that he was willing to cross over into Medicine to continue the exploration.

One conclusion from this work will likely not surprise you: conspiracy believers were more likely to use herbal supplements, seek alternative medicine, and eat organic food; and less likely to receive flu shots, use sunscreen, or have regular physicals.

That said, there’s no evidence that physicals “do” anything, other than perhaps let you establish a stronger relationship with your provider or medical home. Many medical authorities counsel against them in people without symptoms of illness.

So maybe the conspiracists are right in at least one regard …

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.