Pick Your Poison – 49% in U.S. subscribe to at least 1 of 6 medical conspiracy theories

Health misinformation abounds in the results of a recent survey of American adults on medical conspiracy theories.

Half Of Americans Believe In Medical Conspiracy Theories (NPR.org)

Misinformation about health remains widespread and popular.

Half of Americans subscribe to medical conspiracy theories, with more than one-third of people thinking that the Food and Drug Administration is deliberately keeping natural cures for cancer off the market because of pressure from drug companies, a survey finds.

Twenty percent of people said that cellphones cause cancer — and that large corporations are keeping health officials from doing anything about it. And another 20 percent think doctors and the government want to vaccinate children despite knowing that vaccines cause autism.

The findings of the survey are available in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

Oliver JE, Wood T. Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States. JAMA Intern Med. Published online March 17, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.190

According to the survey, the following six medical conspiracy theories were polled:

Conspiracy Narrative Heard Before Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree
FDA deliberately preventing public from getting natural cancer cures because of pressure from drug companies 63% 37% 31% 32%
Health officials know cell phones cause cancer but do nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them 57% 20% 40% 40%
CIA deliberately infected large numbers of African Americans with HIV under the guise of hepatitis immunization 32% 12% 37% 51%
Global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto Inc is part of secret program, “Agenda 21,” by Rockefeller and Ford foundations to reduce world population 19% 12% 46% 42%
Doctors and government still want to vaccinate children, knowing these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders 69% 20% 36% 44%
Public water fluoridation is secret way for chemical companies dispose of dangerous byproducts of operating phosphate mines 25% 12% 41% 46%

(Source: Oliver 2014)

Agreement scales pretty linearly with prior exposure, with one outlier: cancer cure suppression.

Agreement scales pretty linearly with prior exposure, with one outlier: cancer cure suppression.

As you might expect, for the most part, the more widespread (i.e. the more people who have heard of a medical conspiracy narrative), the more widely accepted or agreed upon the narrative is.

One particularly pervasive conspiracy theory narrative in the bunch was that of the suppressed cancer cure. Note in the above figure that acceptance of a medical myth scales with exposure, but the cancer cure suppression conspiracy theory is able to “outlie” its brethren. Is this in part due to widespread misleading claims (as described by Texas medical authorities and others) about dubious therapies, as Doubtful News has covered several times?

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  5 comments for “Pick Your Poison – 49% in U.S. subscribe to at least 1 of 6 medical conspiracy theories

  1. Gary
    March 21, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    I talked to one of those Hulda Clark supporters a few years ago. That way to refute them is to ask why doctors and their family members still die of cancer

  2. March 21, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    What I find shocking is that the “agree” column has all double-digit percentages.

  3. Lagaya1
    March 22, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    I think the pharmaceutical industry is partly to blame for their own bad press. They do so much marketing on TV; and many people, like me, learned skepticism first from questioning what we saw on commercials. Add to that the fact that in between all the ads for drugs are ads for lawyers who are suing the drug companies for releasing harmful drugs. No wonder people don’t trust them. They’ve earned a rather slimy reputation.

    • March 25, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      I agree with Lagaya1. When I’ve asked people what they think is so bad about so called Big Pharma, it seems to turn out that what they’re really objecting to are the over-the-top TV ads. They tell me that the ads seem manipulative and “tricky” particularly since the ads show fun-loving adults playing tennis, basketball, walking on the beach, having BBQs…and then listing a dozen really atrocious possible side effects.

      Interestingly (in my modest sampling of opinions) they do understand that drug companies spend millions of dollars developing and testing formulas for both ordinary and life-saving drugs. They understand that there are elaborate and strict government controls and procedures they have to follow, that they conduct serious clinical trials to determine safety and efficacy. And they understand that, like any entity, they’re in business to make a profit.

      But then they see the TV ads for drugs, often followed or preceded by dramatic lawsuit ads talking about how you may have a big settlement coming your way if your life has been ruined by (supposed) careless drug companies.

      As Lagaya points out, is it any wonder?

      • Lagaya1
        March 25, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        The internet ads are even worse. When you click on something you think is an article about health, it ends with “if you think this applies to you, print out this checklist and take it to your doctor…” Of course the drug you suddenly “need” is printed on the checklist, too.

        I’m sure this puts doctors in a bind, as well. Now their patients are diagnosing themselves and wanting to prescribe for themselves, too.

        It’s sleazy, but it must work well enough for the drug companies to continue to do it.

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