Science and Health

Half Of U.S. Believes In Medical Conspiracy Theories

A survey out of University of Chicago shows almost half of Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories.

Half Of U.S. Believes In Medical Conspiracy Theories
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There are scary things out there when it comes to health — HIV, cancer, even the food we consume. But could it all just be part of massive health conspiracy? Well, according to a new study, about 50 percent of Americans think so.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, asked more than 1,300 adults about six common medical conspiracy theories. (Via The JAMA Network )

Those theories: the FDA suppresses natural cures. (Via National Cancer Institute

The government knows cell phones cause cancer but doesn't do anything about it. 

Genetically modified organisms are a plot to shrink the world's population. (Via Flickr / David Goehring

The CIA intentionally infected African-Americans with HIV. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Tim Evanson

Fluoride is just a way to mask the dangerous industrial chemicals in our water supply. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Jenny Downing

And doctors know vaccines cause autism and other problems but tell the public they don't. (Via U.S. Army

Eighteen percent of people agreed with three or more of those theories. The most well-known and widely believed were that the FDA prevents natural cures, cell phones cause cancer and vaccines cause autism. 

In a statement, the study's lead author Eric Oliver said: "One of the things that struck us is that people who embrace these beliefs are not less health conscious. ... They're just less likely to embrace traditional medicine." Like getting vaccinated or using sunblock. (Via NPR)

So why are so many Americans so untrusting? Well, there are plenty of theories about that, too.

The Christian Science Monitor says it's an American trait. "​In a country where the Founding Fathers' distrust of government is enshrined in the Constitution, conspiracy theories often give wider scope to that worldview."

The New York Times says feeling like you can see through deception is comforting. "It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep."

But Oliver attributes it to an evolutionary trait: that we don't like to attribute things to coincidence.


"If you hear a noise in the bush, it's much more adaptive to believe that there's a predator there than not." (Via LiveScience)

Oliver notes doctors should be aware of patients who believe medical conspiracy theories and treat them accordingly. He also says improved education in science and medicine can help make  people less susceptible to misinformation.