You probably don’t think aliens are among us or secret societies are running the government, but do you believe in conspiracy theories of another kind? A new study from the University of Chicago published in JAMA Internal Medicine indicates you might.
According to that study, nearly half of Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories. The study found water fluoridation, vaccines, cell phones, and alternative medicine, among others, as prime subjects for conspiracy-based speculation.
To test just how much faith people put in the theories, the University of Chicago’s professor J. Eric Oliver and his colleague collected data from 1,351 adults through an online survey. Participants in the survey were presented with popular medical conspiracy theories and then asked to indicate whether they had heard them before, and whether or not they agreed with them.
One-third of participants indicated they felt the Food and Drug Administration is deliberately keeping natural cures for cancer off the market due to pressure from drug companies. It was also found that 20 percent of people surveyed think cell phones cause cancer. Another 20 percent of those surveyed said they think doctors and the government want to vaccinate children, and both the government and doctors know vaccines cause autism (doctors are pretty certain they don’t).
In many cases, those who believe in medical conspiracy theories are less likely to get regular physicals as well as being more likely to avoid flu shots and sunscreen. They also have an increased likelihood to seek medical advice from family and friends, the Internet, and celebrity doctors.
Professor Oliver and his colleague pointed out that none of the participants who believe in conspiracy theories disregard health, but instead look at it from a different viewpoint.
“One of the things that struck us is that people who embrace these beliefs are not less health conscious. They’re just less likely to embrace traditional medicine,” Oliver told NPR.
The study also found that though the people who said they believed in conspiracy theories tended to be less educated, poorer, and members of minority groups, according to Oliver they aren’t conspiracy nuts. Instead he thinks they are ordinary people trying to make sense of complicated health issues.
He added, “The world is a complicated place. It’s difficult to make sense of it. A lot of these conspiracy theories are intuitively compelling.”