A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago confirms something many have suspected for a long time: almost half of Americans believe one medical conspiracy theory or more. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, notes that that several theories are more popular than others. For example, nearly three times as many Americans believe that United States regulators keep patients from getting “natural cures” than believe that a United States spy agency intentionally infected a specific population of African American citizens with HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus).
The UC research group conducted a survey of 1,351 Americans over the age of 18. They were presented with six well-known conspiracy theories—such as “routine vaccinations cause autism” and putting fluoride in the water is a way for corporations to dump their dangerous chemicals into the environment”–and asked whether they agreed with the or not. Another conspiracy theory used was that the government has full knowledge that cell phones cause brain cancer but chooses to do nothing. Yet another example of a conspiracy theory used in the study is that “genetically modified organisms are being used to shrink the world’s population”.
The end results revealed that forty-nine percent of the respondents agreed with “at least one conspiracy theory.” Additionally, thirty-seven percent of the people participating believe that regulators are really withholding natural cures. Finally, almost seventy percent of the participants were aware of the conspiracy theory that regular vaccines cause autism and twenty percent actually believed it.
J. Eric Oliver, who led the study, told Reuters: “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.”
The report notes that while it’s “common to disparage adherents of conspiracy theories as a delusional fringe of paranoid cranks (the) data suggest that medical conspiracy theories are widely known, broadly endorsed, and highly predictive of many common health behaviors.”
Oliver concluded: “It’s important to increase information about health and science to the public. I think scientific thinking is not a very intuitive way to see the world. For people who don’t have a lot of education, it’s relatively easy to reject the scientific way of thinking about things.”
What conspiracy theory do you believe? American Live Wire wants to know . . .
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