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Nearly 50 Percent of Americans Believe in a Medical Conspiracy Theory

Update Date: Mar 19, 2014 10:08 AM EDT
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In a new study, researchers from the University of Chicago tested the veracity of medical conspiracy theories. The team interviewed American adults regarding six different theories and discovered that almost 50 percent of the adults believed at least one theory.

The research team interviewed 1,351 adults about six very popular medical conspiracy theories. These theories are: U.S. regulators are preventing people from assessing natural cures, the U.S. government are aware that cell phone use can cause cancer but are not proactively preventing it, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) infects a large portion of African Americans with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the government uses genetically modified organisms to help reduce the world's population, routine vaccinations are the cause of autism, and water fluoridation allows companies to expose the environment to toxic chemicals.

The researchers found that overall, 49 percent of the adults surveyed believed at least one of these six theories. 18 percent of the people had agreed with three or more of the theories. 37 percent stated that they fully agreed with the theory that regulators prevent people from getting natural cures. A little less than one-third of the sample set disagreed with this theory. In regards to the vaccination theory, 69 percent reported hearing about the link between autism and vaccines, 20 percent had agreed with it and 44 percent disagreed. Out of all six theories, the one that people disagreed with the most, at over 50 percent, was that the CIA secretly infects African Americans with HIV.

The researchers also examined people's personal health habits. They found that 35 percent of the people who believed three or more of the theories took herbal supplements, which have not been proven to help improve overall health. Only 13 percent of the nonbelievers took herbal supplements. The researchers explained that for some people, believing these theories is a lot easier than trying to understand the science behind it.

"Science in general - medicine in particular - is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty," lead author, J. Eric Oliver from the University of Chicago, said according to FOX News. "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 study authors added, according to Reuters Health, "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."

The study, "Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States," was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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