A significant number of Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories and filter medical advice through their bias affecting everything from vaccinations to mobile phone use.
Published in the JAMA Internal Medicine magazine this month, University of Chicago researchers surveyed 1,351 people to see if they had heard of popular medical conspiracy theories and if they believed them.
The most staggering number came from the statement, “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.”
- 63 percent had heard of the theory
- 37 percent agreed with the theory
- 31 percent neither agreed nor disagreed
- 32 percent disagreed
More than two-thirds of those polled wouldn’t reject the theory as completely outlandish. What do you think of those numbers?
Here’s another theory that is sure to spark discussion among our Sermo physicians. “Doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders.”
- 69 percent had heard this before
- 20 percent agreed with the statement
- 36 percent neither agreed nor disagreed
- 44 percent disagreed
Again, 56 percent of those polled did not outright reject the idea of a government conspiracy, an idea that arose from a controversial study published in the Lancet in 1998. The study was so flawed that it was stricken from the record four years ago, but the fear surrounding the MMR vaccine persists, and has sparked a whole movement of “anti-vaxxers” who believe in a slower vaccination schedule or not having any vaccines of any kind.
Due to the anti-vaccine movement, we are seeing a resurgence of certain diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, health experts are squarely putting the blame on anti-vaxxers.
In a Slate.com interview, the lead author of the study, J. Eric Oliver, Ph.D., said,
“Science in general — medicine in particular — is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty. To talk about epidemiology and probability theories is difficult to understand as opposed to, ‘If you put this substance in your body, it’s going to be bad.’ It’s important to increase information about health and science to the public … for people who don’t have a lot of education, it’s relatively easy to reject the scientific way of thinking about things.”
Other conspiracies include mobile phones causing cancer, the CIA deliberately infecting African-Americans with the AIDS virus, the release of GMO foods as a plot to decrease the planet’s population, and flouridated water as a means for the mining industry to legally dump chemicals and phosphates into the water supply.
As a physician, have you encountered conspiracy theorists within your practice? What were the theories and were you successful at debunking them? We will be discussing this inside Sermo; if you’re an M.D. or D.O., please join your peers for the conversation.