Over the last 50 years the public has fallen in love with the idea of secrecy.
The truth is almost half of Americans believe in medical conspiracies. The University of Chicago indicates that these beliefs range from alien interactions to secret government operations.
It doesn’t take much to create a conspiracy theory, and just as any good fiction writer can attest to, if you give the public a believable, engaging story they will latch on to it and run.
This is the same principle applied to conspiracies, and regardless of whether or not they are true, something about the story line appeals to the human need for adventure and exploration.
Some of the most popular medical conspiracies surround public health practices, such as the use of vaccinations, the fluoridation of public water, and the deliberate withholding of medical cures to drive economic growth.
To test just how enamored the general public is with such conspiracies, a research team at the University of Chicago polled more than 1,300 adults, asking them government-centric conspiracy questions primarily related to:
- Are US regulators preventing people from getting natural cures?
- Did a US spy agency infect a large number of black Americans with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?
- Does the government knowingly give autism-causing vaccines to children?
- Does the government know that cell phones cause cancer but does nothing about it?
- Do companies dump dangerous chemicals into the environment under the guise of water fluoridation?
What they found was 49 percent of individuals in the research agreed with at least one of the theories presented.
Medical News Today indicates the more popular the theory, the higher the percentage of people who believe it.
For example, the theory that the government is negatively impacting holistic cures is an old conspiracy, and the one most widely believed by study participants (37 percent).
On the other hand, the theory that the government is giving out vaccines that cause autism is a newer theory and only 20 percent of participants believed it to be true.
Professor Eric Oliver, who headed up the research, indicates the uncertainty of the medical field is what gives conspiracy theories their power. Because there is not way to 100 percent prove medicine can or can’t do something, it leaves a lot of room for speculation.
For every study that supports the use of a medical technology, there are two studies that reject the idea, and vice versa.
“Science in general – medicine in particular – is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty,” Prof. Oliver said of the prevalence in conspiracy theory beliefs.
“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.’”
What do conspiracies really have to do with health?
Experts say, quite a bit. Individuals who believe in medical conspiracies are less likely to seek traditional medical care and lean towards alternative medicines.
Approximately 35 percent of individuals who believed in medical conspiracies took herbal medications, compared to only 13 percent of those who did not believe in the conspiracy theories.