Newspaper article

Half of Americans Believe in One or More Medical Conspiracies, Study Finds

Newspaper article

Half of Americans Believe in One or More Medical Conspiracies, Study Finds

Article excerpt

Almost half of all American adults believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory, and 18 percent believe in three or more, according to a study published this week by two University of Chicago social scientists in JAMA Internal Medicine.

I find those numbers both stunning and depressing.

We're not talking here about skeptical health consumers who just want to be sure that the medical advice and care they receive is evidence-based.

No, these are full-fledged medical conspiracists -- people who believe that government health officials, drug companies and the medical community are deliberately withholding the truth about such matters as the discovery of a cure for cancer, or the alleged link between vaccines and autism, or the "real" reason genetically modified foods were developed (apparently, to keep people from having too many babies).

Best-known theories

For the study, the social scientists, Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, conducted a nationally representative online survey of more than 1,300 American adults late last summer. The survey asked participants to answer questions about six popular medical conspiracy theories, as well as questions about some of their personal health behaviors.

The researchers wanted to determine not only the strength of the American public's support for these conspiracy theories, but also whether that support was associated with any specific health behaviors.

They found that the three most widely known conspiracy theories - - ones recognized by 57 percent to 69 percent of the survey's respondents -- also had significant public support:

* 37 percent of the survey's respondents agreed that "the Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies";

* 20 percent said they believed that "health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won't let them"; and

* 20 percent said it was true that "doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders."

Amazingly, another 30 percent to 40 percent of the respondents said they couldn't say one way or the other whether these statements were true or false.

Lesser-known theories

Three other conspiracy theories received less support from the respondents, apparently because they were also less well known. But, once again, a remarkably high number of the respondents refused to take a stand against these theories, despite how ridiculous they sounded.

For example, 12 percent of the respondents said that "global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto Inc. is part of a secret program called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to shrink the world's population. …

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