Conspiracy theories abound in many places around the world, including the United States. And while many deal with space aliens or assassination plots, health issues are also the focus of concern.
After surveying more than 1,300 adult Americans, scientists at the University of Chicago report that 49 percent of them believe in at least one of the six best known medical conspiracy theories.
Those include that childhood vaccines cause autism, that authorities intentionally hide the benefits of natural cures and that the government secretly infected a large number of African Americans with the virus that causes AIDS.
Writing in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine
, the researchers said 69 percent of those polled had heard about a link between vaccination and autism. 20 percent believed it and only 44 percent actively disagreed.
Are U.S. authorities intentionally hiding the benefits of natural remedies? Thirty-seven percent of the respondents said yes, while less than a third said they do not believe that at all.
The data also showed that those who believe in medical conspiracies are more likely to avoid conventional medicines in favor of alternative approaches to health care.
Overall, the biggest suspects in the conspiracy theories are the government and drug companies.
Lead scientist J. Eric Oliver, of the University of Chicago, said the belief in conspiracies may stem from the fact that they were much easier to understand than complex medical information. Oliver said doctors and public health officials should find better ways to inform the public about health and science.