Almost 50% believe in medical conspiracy theories
A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that around 50 percent of all Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories, such as those involving suspicious governments or secret underground organizations.
Researchers from the University of Chicago reported that at least half of all adults in the U.S. believe in at least one medical conspiracy, thanks in part to popular cult TV shows like The X-Files.
According to lead study author, J. Eric Oliver from the University of Chicago, the reason so many people believe in conspiracy theories is because they're simpler to comprehend than complicated scientific and medical information, which can be “cognitively challenging”.
For the study, Oliver and one of his fellow researchers analyzed data from 1,351 adults who participated in an online survey that asked questions about six popular medical conspiracy theories.
Some of the theories presented were that the government knows cell phones cause cancer, but refuses to do anything about it; that getting vaccinated causes autism, and that water fluoridation is a way for corporations to dump hazardous substances into the earth.
After being presented with the six medical conspiracy theories, the participants were then asked if they had ever heard of them before, and whether they agreed with the theories or not.
Each of the six theories centered around a suspicion or mistrust of the government and other large organizations, with some of the theories being better known than others.
For example, 69 percent of the adults in the survey reported hearing about vaccinations causing disorders like autism – a theory due, in part, to actress Jenny McCarthy, who used Twitter as a forum to express some controversial comments.
Other popular theories presented to the survey participants included the one about U.S regulators stopping people from getting natural cures, which 37 percent of the participants believed, compared with a third of them who did not.
The study also discovered a fascinating link between belief in conspiracy theories and the manner in which such believers managed their own health, as 35 percent of those who believed in three or more conspiracy theories took herbal supplements, compared with just 13 percent of non-believers.
Among the adult participants taking part in the survey, nearly half of them agreed with at least one of the conspiracy theories presented, and they were also among those most likely to avoid traditional western medicine and opt for alternative therapies instead.
In summarizing the findings of the study, Oliver explained that it’s “relatively easy” to get those who are not educated about medical matters to reject “the scientific way of thinking about things.”
SOURCE: Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States, J. Eric Oliver, et al., JAMA Intern Med, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.190, published online March 17, 2014.