You're Not Alone: Medical Conspiracies Believed By Many

NEW YORK Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:27pm EDT

Flu vaccine drips out of a syringe as a nurse prepares for a patient at a clinic in central London November 22, 2005. - RTR1BGZ1

Flu vaccine drips out of a syringe as a nurse prepares for a patient at a clinic in central London November 22, 2005. - RTR1BGZ1

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - About half of American adults believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory, according to new survey results.

Some conspiracy theories have much more traction than others, however.

For example, three times as many people believe U.S. regulators prevent people from getting natural cures as believe that a U.S. spy agency infected a large number of African Americans with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

J. Eric Oliver, the study's lead author from University of Chicago, said people may believe in conspiracy theories because they're easier to understand than complex medical information.

"Science in general - medicine in particular - is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty," Oliver said.

"To talk about epidemiology and probability theories is difficult to understand as opposed to 'if you put this substance in your body, it's going to be bad,'" he said.

For the new study, he and his colleague used data from 1,351 adults who answered an online survey between August and September 2013. The data were then weighted to represent the U.S. population.

The participants read six popular medical conspiracy theories and then indicated whether they had heard of them and whether they agreed or disagreed with them.

Like the theories about conspiracies to infect African Americans with HIV and to prevent citizens from accessing alternative medicines, the other theories on the list had mistrust of government and large organizations as themes.

They include the theory that the government knows cell phones cause cancer but does nothing about it, that genetically modified organisms are being used to shrink the world's population, that routine vaccinations cause autism and that water fluoridation is a way for companies to dump dangerous chemicals into the environment.

Some 49 percent of the survey participants agreed with at least one of the conspiracies.

In fact, in addition to the 37 percent of respondents who fully agreed that U.S. regulators are suppressing access to natural cures, less than a third were willing to say they actively disagreed with the theory.

With regard to the theory that childhood vaccines cause psychological disorders like autism and the government knows it, 69 percent had heard the idea, 20 percent agreed with it and 44 percent disagreed.

The only conspiracy theory with which more than half of the respondents disagreed was that a U.S. spy agency infected a large number of African Americans with HIV.

The survey results suggest people who believe in medical conspiracy theories may approach their own health differently, the researchers said.

For example, while 13 percent of people who did not believe in any conspiracies took herbal supplements, 35 percent of those who believed in three or more theories took supplements.

Overall, the researchers say people who believed in conspiracies were more likely to use alternative medicine and to avoid traditional medicine.

"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," the researchers write in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Oliver said the findings may have implications for doctors.

Instead of viewing patients who believe in conspiracy theories as crazy, he said doctors should realize those patients may be less likely to follow a prescription regimen.

"It's important to increase information about health and science to the public," he said. "I think scientific thinking is not a very intuitive way to see the world. For people who don't have a lot of education, it's relatively easy to reject the scientific way of thinking about things."

SOURCE: bit.ly/1lLueQV JAMA Internal Medicine, online March 17, 2014.

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Comments (63)
Pravitus wrote:
I really don’t know about “conspiracy”, but I have seen several malpractice cover-ups.

Mar 18, 2014 5:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Benny52 wrote:
I disagree with this article, I am quite sure that everyone who believes in homeopathic medicine is not uneducated.

Mar 18, 2014 5:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
stupac wrote:
Learn the history of the church of Modern Medicine – better termed Allopthism. They are the original snake oil salesman. They killed George Washington with mercury. They use poison, radiation and radical surgery and have turned it into a sales association called the AMA. Anything or anyone that doesn’t promote these 3 treatments are labeled as quacks and conspiracy theorists. Allopathic medicine kills 100,000′s each year and injures even more. Almost every current pharmaceutical turns off a natural function that your body depends on and inflames your internal system. Allopathic priests (doctors) try to manipulate and replace your immune system, and then wonder why auto-immunity is skyrocketing.
Healing or homeopathic medicine seeks to empower your God-given immune system. Learn the difference and break out of the church of modern medicine

Mar 18, 2014 5:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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