About half of Americans believe in at least one of the medical conspiracy theories that have emerged over the past 50 years, according to a study by scientists at the University of Chicago. The results of the social survey are published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Conspiracy theories about aliens, secret societies and hidden government organizations have become popular thanks to cult TV shows, novels and films like The X-Files and The Da Vinci Code. But over the past 50 years, conspiracy theories have also emerged around many public health issues. For example, water fluoridation, vaccines, cell phones, and alternative medicine are the subject of much debate and a wide variety of speculations.
American researchers decided to find out how much the public believes in unconfirmed conspiracy theories of this kind. To do this, they conducted an online survey in which 1,351 people took part in the period from August to September 2013. During the survey, participants were presented with popular medical conspiracy theories and asked to indicate if they had heard of them before and if they agreed that they were correct. All of these theories expressed distrust of the government and large organizations. The survey included questions such as:
- Does the public health system prevent people from using natural medicines?
- Do you think that the US Secret Service intentionally infected large numbers of black Americans with HIV?
Is the government knowingly using vaccines for children that cause autism?
- Does the government know that cell phones cause cancer, but is silent about it and does nothing?
- In your opinion, chemical companies throw out hazardous chemicals under the guise of water fluoridation?
20% of Americans believe vaccinations are linked to autism in children.
Overall, 49% of survey participants agreed with at least one of the theories. Of these, 20% agreed with the theory that vaccination is associated with autism in children. The most popular theory has been that health care structures deliberately prevent people from accessing natural medicines and treatments; 37% of people agreed with this theory. And the least popular, as it turned out, was the idea of the US Secret Service's connection to the spread of HIV among African Americans.
"Science and, in particular, medicine are complex and multifaceted, they have an element of uncertainty and can not always give unambiguous answers," - quoted Medical News Today as the words of Professor Eric Oliver (Eric Oliver), the main author of the study.
The researchers also found a relationship between belief in a conspiracy theory and people's attitudes toward their health. Thus, 35% of people who believed in three or more conspiracy theories took herbal supplements, while only 13% of people who did not believe in any of the theories used any herbs for treatment. Also, people who agree with the existence of a medical conspiracy theory most likely resorted to methods of alternative medicine and avoided using the services of traditional medicine.
"Although it was believed that only paranoid eccentrics believed in the theory of a medical conspiracy, our data suggests that such ideas are well known, widely supported and inherent in so many people," the scientists concluded.