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.
"One of the things that struck us is that people who embrace these beliefs are not less health conscious," says Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who led the study. "They're just less likely to embrace traditional medicine."
Oliver was studying political conspiracy theories when he realized that quite a few of them involved medical care, including vaccine avoidance and a vote rejecting water fluoridation in Portland, Ore.
So he asked people what they thought about six common medical conspiracy theories, including the ones about vaccines, cellphones and natural cancer cures. They were the theories most widely supported.
Three other theories were each supported by 12 percent of people surveyed. They were that the CIA deliberately infected African-Americans with HIV, that genetically modified foods are a conspiracy to reduce population worldwide and that companies use water fluoridation to cover up pollution.
And though the people who said they believed the conspiracy theories tended to be less educated, poorer and members of minority groups, they aren't conspiracy nuts, Oliver says. And they aren't ignoring their health. Instead, they are normal people trying to make sense of complex issues.
Corporations and government institutions are complicated organizations with a lot of different motivations. "Public mistrust is understandable," he says.
Written By: Nancy Shute
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