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Half of Americans believe in one or more medical conspiracies, study finds

12 percent of survey 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.”

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.”

Fifty-one percent of the respondents disagreed with that ludicrous theory, but 46 percent of the respondents said they could neither agree nor disagree with it.

Another 12 percent of the people surveyed said they agreed with the statement that “the CIA deliberately infected large numbers of African Americans with HIV under the guise of a hepatitis inoculation program.” This time 51 percent disagreed, but 37 percent remained on the fence about it.

On yet another conspiracy theory — that “public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump the dangerous byproducts of phosphate into the environment” — 12 percent once again agreed, while 46 percent disagreed and 40 percent took no stand for or against it.

Linked to behaviors

Oliver and Wood also found that believing in these medical conspiracies was associated with a greater use of alternative medicine and an avoidance of conventional medicine.

People who adhered to three or more of the conspiracies (called “high conspiracists” by the researchers) were more likely to shop at farmers markets and to buy organic food and herbal supplements. They were less likely to use sunscreen, get flu shots, visit a dentist or have annual check-ups.

For example, 35 percent of the high conspiracists reported using herbal supplements, compared with 13 percent of the respondents who believed in no conspiracies. And only 37 percent of the high conspiracists reported getting annual physical exams, compared with 48 percent of the respondents who rejected all the conspiracies.

These correlations held even after the researchers adjusted for socioeconomic status and other factors.

‘Otherwise normal’

“Although it is common to disparage adherents of conspiracy theories as a delusional fringe of paranoid cranks,” write Oliver and Wood, “our data suggest that medical conspiracy theories are widely known, broadly endorsed, and highly predictive of many common health behaviors.

“Rather than viewing medical conspiracism as indicative of a psychopathological condition,” they add, “we can recognize that most individuals who endorse these narratives are otherwise ‘normal.’”

In other words, the conspiracy theories arise not from paranoia, but from a common form of thinking bias that often occurs when people are trying to make sense of complex and confusing issues, including — or perhaps, especially — those involving science and medicine.

Still, it’s kind of depressing.

Oh, and one more thing: As Oliver and Wood point out in their study, the percentage of Americans who believe in one (or more) medical conspiracies is roughly the same as those who believe in political conspiracy theories.

You can read the abstract on the JAMA Internal Medicine website.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/21/2014 - 12:10 pm.

    Interesting!

    Again, an international comparison would tell us something.
    Reminds me of the old joke:
    __Which is worse, ignorance or apathy?
    __I don’t know and I don’t care.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/21/2014 - 03:04 pm.

    Sad, sad, sad

    I can’t say I’m stunned by the report – no one who deals with the public on a regular basis is going to be genuinely surprised by the level of ignorance displayed by at least a few – but it IS depressing. Worse, as other research has shown (some of it highlighted right here on MinnPost by Susan), facts will do nothing to dissuade many of these people from their off-the-wall beliefs, and may even strengthen them.

    If nothing else, this destroys the free-market shibboleth of rational humanity.

  3. Submitted by Jerome Levinson on 03/22/2014 - 11:25 am.

    Truth Can Prevail

    The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) should not be considered as a serious source on the debate/survey of the American public (1300 individuals on-line ?) about “conspiracies”. As the “newsprint” of one of the largest unions in the world, their conclusions would be suspect in any Forum, dealing with the health issues of mankind.

    The World Health Organization (WHO), a sister affiliate, has told the world there are to many humans on the planet and their numbers MUST be reduced. Obviously, those who make the “claim” would have the means for the “Reduction” to take place. They have the backing, resources, art and science to carry out THEIR plans. Any objection to their “Plans” would be, necessarily, considered a Conspiracy. Anyone who disagrees with THEIR assessment would be considered a Crazy person. So much for my credentials. LOL!

  4. Submitted by Vadim Shapoval on 04/13/2014 - 07:46 am.

    Medical Conspiracy Theories and Father of Oncology

    People believe that government health officials, drug companies and the medical community deliberately withhold the truth about the discovery of a cure for cancer. There are many different medical conspiracy theories circulating in the US, but the question is: do you know all of them? Cancer researchers ignore iron/cancer information-1905-2014. HIV/AIDS researchers ignore iron//HIV/AIDS information-1990-2014. Iron is a part of all cells. Iron is an essential component of hundreds of proteins and enzymes. The major role of iron in mammals is to carry oxygen as part of hemoglobin. Without iron, cells lose their capacity for electron transport and energy metabolism. Iron-deficiency anemia occurs when the body does not have enough iron. A lack of iron can be caused by a number of factors; the symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include weakness and fatigue. Because cancerous cells and viruses need iron for survival, growth and multiplication, researchers can beat metastatic cancerous cells and HIV/AIDS by iron-deficiency methods. Direct intratumoral injection of anticancer agents has been evaluated extensively in the past few decades. Thus far, however, it has failed to become established as an alternative route of administration in routine clinical practice. Direct intratumoral injections of anticancer antiiron agents can successfully suppress inoperable tumors and large metastases. The World Health Organization predicts that deaths from cancer will double by the year 2030. Cancer is big business and those who are profiting have great financial interest in seeing the deadly trend continue to increase? Since the beginning of the epidemic, almost 75 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 36 million people have died of HIV/AIDS. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars every year? Iron/cancer information and iron//HIV/AIDS information will eat billions of dollars. The Father of Oncology (Vadim Shapoval) says that a cell needs to have iron overload (when excess iron accumulates within cellular organelles) before it becomes cancerous. In inherited forms of cancer, parents give their sons and daughters abnormal iron metabolism within various organs. Iron disorders (sickle cell disease, thalassemia, hemochromatosis, etc.) are inherited and can be confirmed with genetic testing. Genes that maintain iron homeostasis may facilitate iron uptake, storage or egress, or the regulation of any of these processes. The spectrum of known disorders of iron metabolism has expanded dramatically over the past years. Any cancer is caused by iron-related genes (numerous genes directly/indirectly involved in iron metabolism / hereditary cancers) and iron-related events (when excess iron accumulates within the cells, tissues, and organs due to various carcinogenic lifestyle events / sporadic cancers). According to the Ferromagnetic Cancer Theory (Theory from the Old Testament; Iron Conception), any cancer is a subtle iron disease, a form of iron lottery. Ceramic needles can suppress any tumors and large metastases; can quickly create harmless infiltrations (harmless necroses; deposits of cells that die; benign capsules); can enter solution [sulfur (2%) + olive oil (98%); 36.6C – 39.0C] to tumors and large metastases. Anti-iron slow blood loss (even 75%) [hemoglobin control], anti-iron goat’s milk diet and anti-iron drinking water containing hydrogen sulfide can neutralize any micro-metastases and isolated cancerous cells. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/opinions/175119 ; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/opinions/175041 ; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/opinions/174983 ; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/opinions/174771 ; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/opinions/171557 ; http://www.ovarian-cancer-facts.com/what-is-cancer.html ; http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/01/the-conspiracy-to-end-cancer/ ; http://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2014/03/half-americans-believe-one-or-more-medical-conspiracies-study-finds ; Together We (MinnPost, Ovarian Cancer Facts, Medical News Today, The Scientist, TIME, Google, YouTube, YAHOO!, Facebook and Vadim Shapoval) Will Beat Cancer

  5. Submitted by Jerome Levinson on 04/28/2014 - 10:53 am.

    The ‘Father of Oncology’, says …….

    I may wrong, but it appears to me, that Mr. Vadim Shapoval might agree with the ‘theory’ that 50 percent of Americans believe there IS a medical conspiracy, based on Oliver and Wood’s “scientific” social research. On lines #15 – 18 of Mr. Shapoval’s post of April 13, 2014 – 7:46AM. as shown above, he perfectly states one reason for the “conspiracist’s” belief.
    Follow the Money! ‘Someone’ is getting rich off the disease of cancer and obviously they are not interested in a Real cure. As Shapoval has mentioned above, the ‘main-stream’ investigators/researchers have NOT seriously addressed the IRON related genes as they relate to the cancer disease. So, I ask, Why not? The answer is obvious to even the most non-scientific person. MONEY-MONEY-MONEY.
    An honest question regarding this Susan Perry article is this: ‘What do Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, the Social Scientists, expect to receive and from whom for their 1,300 people (National) survey, other than their names on top of a Failed ‘research’ yellow sheet? Their ‘research’ has done nothing to advance the Effective relevance of the Medical Research Industry, that I can see. As is usually the case, the most important statement of a writing is its last paragraph or sentence. This article has not failed us in this regard. Ms.Perry tells us that according to Oliver and Wood, … If you believe in Medical Conspiracies then you are (as stupid) *My words*, as those who believe in Political Conspiracies. So much for “Social Research” validation. In my humble opinion.

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