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Many Americans Believe Medical Conspiracy Theories Are True

health-118-300x199A new study surveying 1,351 American adults finds that half agree with at least one medical conspiracy theory.

The most commonly believed theory is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies.” About 37 percent agreed with that statement.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, about 18 percent of the people surveyed believed in three or more theories.

Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and researcher in the study, said, “We see that Americans have conspiracy theories about a lot of things, not just about politics, but also about health and medicine as well.”

He adds that people may believe in conspiracy theories because they are easier to understand than complex medical information.

“Science in general – medicine in particular – is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty,” Oliver said to Reuters.

Here are the breakdown of the survey results of the top conspiracy theories:

  • Twenty percent agreed with the statement: “Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them.”
  • Twenty percent agreed with the statement: “Childhood vaccines cause psychological disorders like autism and the government knows it.”  Only 44 percent disagreed.
  • The only theory that at least half disagreed was true was that a U.S. spy agency infected a large number of African-Americans with HIV.

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

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, and visit her website at

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