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Belief in Medical Conspiracies is Very High

Think Progress reports that about half of all Americans believe in at least one of six major conspiracy theories involving medicine and health, from anti-vaccine myths to the idea that the cures for diseases are being hidden from us by the pharmaceutical industry.

Are companies dumping large quantities of dangerous chemicals into our water supply under the guise of fluoridation? Did a U.S. spy agency infect African Americans with HIV? Does the government tell parents to give vaccines to their children even though that could increase their risk of developing autism? Are U.S. health officials withholding information about natural cures for cancer so that pharmaceutical companies can continue to profit, or pretending they don’t know that cell phones can cause cancer? Are genetically modified foods a plot to shrink the global population?

About half of the American public believes at least one of those medical conspiracy theories, according to a study conducted by University of Chicago researchers. The greatest proportion of respondents, 37 percent, believes that the FDA is deliberately suppressing information about natural treatments for cancer. On top of that, less than a third of participants were willing to say they actively disagreed with this theory, leaving everyone else somewhere in the middle.

I find the idea that researchers, government officials and pharmaceutical company executives are hiding cures for cancer to be especially absurd. A sizable number of those people will get cancer themselves and far more will have a loved one get cancer. Can someone really believe that they would watch themselves or their family members and friends die rather than develop treatments for those diseases?

Comments

  1. D. C. Sessions says

    Can someone really believe that they all of them would watch themselves or their family members and friends die rather than develop treatments for those diseases?

    Even more ludicrous than Ed originally makes it out to be.

  2. busterggi says

    This is a country where ~ 20% of the population believes demons cause cancer – if people can believe that then conspiracies sound relatively sane.

  3. raven says

    Chemtrails!!! It’s all you need to know.

    HAARP weapons!!! It’s all you need to know.

    Zombies!!! Vampires!!! Democrats!!! It’s all you need to know.

    There are so many conspiracy theories, everyone is bound to be a member of one of “them”. I’m (supposedly) in quite a few, not that I’ve ever gotten the secret ID card or money or anything.

    Can someone really believe that they all of them would watch themselves or their family members and friends die rather than develop treatments for those diseases?

    Docs die at about the same rate from the same conditions as everyone else.

    My parents who are very old have outlived a large but unknown number of…their own doctors.

  4. John Pieret says

    Are companies dumping large quantities of dangerous chemicals into our water supply …

    YES!

    … under the guise of fluoridation?

    NO! They don’t need any excuse as long as politicians need campaign donations.

  5. Doug Little says

    Yep this shit is unbelievable. I try my best to combat all manner of anti-science on social media but even among my small group of facebook friends and their friends it’s almost a daily battle. I think we need to become more active in calling bullshit even if it ends up pissing people off otherwise this type of shit will keep getting more of a stranglehold. Of course there’s always that study they did where people tend to double down on the stupid the more you can show then that they were stupid in the first place, so it’s probably a battle that can’t really be won.

    Now I’ve just depressed myself more.

  6. raven says

    This can be BTW, rather dangerous and life ending.

    I see people go alt medicine or faith healing every once in while. To avoid modern medicine which is…something or other. I’m sure we’ve all seen this before with older relatives and kooky friends.

    They frequently end up dead and quickly.

  7. rory says

    I’m not a patent attorney, but my understanding is that even a totally ‘natural’ product may still have specific uses patented. I.e., you can’t patent strawberries, but if you discover that an extract of the strawberry can be used to treat the common cold, you can patent it’s use in this setting.

    That immediately blows away the idea that any drug company would conceal the existence of an effective natural cure for cancer–if one was known to exist, the drug companies would be fighting each other tooth and nail to be the first to secure a patent on it, because there would be enormous revenue to be gained.

  8. mistertwo says

    As John Pieret #4 says, companies are dumping dangerous chemicals into the water. Every once in a while they are caught and fined.

    I think the statement in the article is worded incorrectly:
    “Are companies dumping large quantities of dangerous chemicals into our water supply under the guise of fluoridation?”

    The conspiracy theory is that the fluoride IS the dangerous chemical, that it’s being added to our water supply under the guise of preventing tooth decay, but that it’s actually being done to deliberately poison us.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    Off-topic: More Christian persecution pR0n hits the theaters:
    Persecuted (2014)

    The new movie Persecuted opening this July 18th depicts evangelist John Luther as the last obstacle in the way of sweeping religious reform. When a Senator frames Luther for the murder of an innocent teenage girl, an unprecedented era of persecution is unleashed. An evangelist turned fugitive, Luther’s mission brings him face-to-face with the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the entire Christian community in America…

  10. Loqi says

    I’ve also always been particularly baffled by the cancer treatment coverup idea. People actually believe that every single person who works or has worked at a drug company is so evil that they’ll let their own children die of leukemia to keep their salaries, but aren’t evil enough to backstab their colleagues and reap the fame and fortune that would come with toppling a trillion dollar industry?

  11. vereverum says

    I find the idea that researchers, government officials and pharmaceutical company executives are hiding cures for cancer to be especially absurd. A sizable number of those people will get cancer themselves and far more will have a loved one get cancer. Can someone really believe that they would watch themselves or their family members and friends die rather than develop treatments for those diseases?

    The cures are already developed and THEY have access to them.
    On a related point
    (climbs up on soapbox)
    The only distinction the RW sees any more between the haves and have-nots is access to healthcare hence the hatred for ACA since that removes this distinction.
    (climbs down off soapbox)
    Perhaps an extreme position, but IMHO a plausible one (about ACA not the hiding cures nonsense).

  12. says

    I find the idea that researchers, government officials and pharmaceutical company executives are hiding cures for cancer to be especially absurd

    Cancer is an odd one for that. Cancers often lead to death. Dead people don’t buy medicine. Seems like a pretty shitty business model. Granted that is a little different than “big pharma wants me to do chemo, but If I use [some natural cure] it’ll be as good/better than chemo”. That’s a little less ridiculous

  13. coragyps says

    And crap! My grandson is getting another dose of vincristine today for his lymphoma (hint – a form of cancer.)

    Vincristine is a “natural” product extracted from Madagascar periwinkles. Big drug companies sell it, not conceal its existence. Maybe the conspiracy is to make him better.

  14. abb3w says

    @0, Ed Brayton

    A sizable number of those people will get cancer themselves and far more will have a loved one get cancer. Can someone really believe that they would watch themselves or their family members and friends die rather than develop treatments for those diseases?

    I recall reading a SF short story (possibly in the “100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories” collection; maybe some random Analog SF issue) about a researcher who thought he was onto a cure for cancer, and was trying to argue with some government funding agent about why his grant was being declined. His boss explained to him: you are onto one; the research has been done, and suppressed — as with the elimination of most other major mortality sources, cancer was the only thing between humanity and an impossible Malthusian overpopulation crisis. The researcher protests “but I’m probably going to DIE from this;” his boss nods and says “so will I.”

    It’s not too hard for me to imagine fear-addled conservatives who believe that ecology-crazy ZPG liberals have actually done this.

  15. says

    raven “My parents who are very old have outlived a large but unknown number of…their own doctors.”
    You know, if my parents’ doctors kept dying I’d be a little suspicious…

  16. D. C. Sessions says

    abb3w:

    That one was certainly in Analog. I don’t have my collection here or I could look it up.

  17. Alverant says

    Actually I don’t have any difficulty believing an executive would let people die to protect their profits. We see it often enough. But the problem with a conspiracy is that the more people who are involved, the harder it is to keep it secret. A secret cure for cancer would involve too many people. All it would take is one disgruntled member with a wi-fi connection to make it public (whether or not it will be believed is another story).

    As a side note, the guy who wrote the book “Natural Cures THEY Don’t Want You to Know About” once set up a company in Downers Grove, IL and a recruiting company sent me there for an interview a few years ago. I remember the guy talking about the Law of Attraction and other BS. I recognized it as a scam and used the interview for practice. I never accepted any more calls from that recruiting company again. The guy who wrote the book, he’s in jail for violating FCC regulations about making misleading infomercials. The judge won’t let him out on bail because he’s a proven flight risk.

  18. A. Noyd says

    @rory (#7)
    Yep. I distinctly recall a fellow at the natural market here trying to sell my alt-med-loving mother on a particular brand of echinacea based on its “patented extraction method.”

  19. Kevin Kehres says

    @17: That’s Kevin Trudeau you’re talking about.

    He also wrote a “diet book” that was about 400 pages long, promising in the 200+ pages leading up to the actual “plan” that it would be painless, require no starvation, no heavy exercise, and was all natural.

    The “plan” — about 20 compact pages of bullet points included a mishmash of such gems as:
    * 500 calorie a day restriction
    * Walking at least 1 hour a day
    * Weightlifting 3 times a week
    * 3 times a week injections of HCG (an illegal drug that got Manny Ramirez banned from baseball)

    It was like he lifted all the other scam diet advice from other diet scammers and crammed it into those 20 pages. But, of course, you had to follow the plan exactly, which is how he avoided getting sued for fraud, because nobody could.

    His profit, of course, came from the book sales. I read it at my local library. What a load of crap.

  20. says

    A. Noyd “Yep. I distinctly recall a fellow at the natural market here trying to sell my alt-med-loving mother on a particular brand of echinacea…”
    Worse, I was at the natural meat market here and, based on its “patented extraction method”, a fellow tried to sell my alt-med-loving mother on a particular brand of echidna.

  21. Kevin Kehres says

    As to the “cancer cure” claim…which cancer? People think of “cancer” as this monolithic thing — and it’s dozens to hundreds of distinct illnesses. With treatments that vary by stage of illness, patient’s age and health status, and on and on.

    There will be no single cure for cancer because there can’t be. It’s like saying there will be only a single TV show that everyone will be satisfied with.

    But, of course, if such a cure were to happen, it would make the pharmaceutical company rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Because curing one patient’s cancer doesn’t make “cancer” go away. People get cancer all the time. It’s as common as hemorrhoids. So, you cure Paul’s cancer, and Betty’s cancer, and Frank’s cancer…and on and on and on. And each day, several thousand new cases of “cancer” are diagnosed, waiting to be cured.

  22. A. Noyd says

    @Modusoperandi (#21)
    Well, you would need to be pretty clever to get the meat out of an echidna, wouldn’t you?

  23. Alverant says

    Kevin Kehres, thanks. I’m bad with names. I could have looked it up but I was in a hurry. I went there for a web development position so I examined the website first. It promised if you joined (big up front cost with a smaller monthly cost, with the promise of referral bonuses) that you would be in contact with members who are part of the Illuminati, The Brotherhood, and other conspiracy groups. I literally LOLed when I read that. Since then they’ve taken that part down on the site. I thought the whole thing was funny and smelled fishier than a tuna cannery.

    Earlier I gave the recruiting firm specific limits of how far I was willing to commute. This place exceeded both my distance and time limits and they didn’t seem to care. The only thing I got out of that interview was a good story. And that’s worth a lot to me.

  24. raven says

    raven “My parents who are very old have outlived a large but unknown number of…their own doctors.”

    You know, if my parents’ doctors kept dying I’d be a little suspicious…

    It is odd that they look about 20. And don’t have much in the way of food in the refrigerator. And never go out during the day.

  25. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The conspiracy theory is that the fluoride IS the dangerous chemical, that it’s being added to our water supply under the guise of preventing tooth decay, but that it’s actually being done to deliberately poison us.

    The other conspiracy theory. Mistertwo @ 8, is that the fuss about fluoride is intended to stop people thinking about the other chemicals- especially insecticides and antibiotics in animal feed- that are used without checking on their long-term effects. a psychological homeopathy, you might say, to stop people worrying about the really frightening prospect.. I’m not sure if I don’t find the thought that we accept it without a conspiracy even more frightening. A conspiracy theory supposes that at least people are rational and can make and carry out plans.

    abb3w@ 14. The problem with that story is that cancer becomes more common as people get older. They’ve usually had all the children they would have when they die of cancer. A Malthusian population control requires diseases of childhood to be lethal to take effect.

  26. says

    Unfortunately pointing out that too many people would be involved for conspiracy X to work doesn’t dissuade a lot of believers. They come up with all sorts of excuses, such as that the people involved know the bad guys will have them murdered if they talk. In Conspiracy World no one ever gets drunk/stoned and talks to the wrong person, or has a change of heart and decides to reveal things no matter what the cost, or gets into trouble and uses their conspiracy knowledge as a bargaining chip, or even just gets pissed off at the bosses for some reason and decides to get revenge by revealing it all.

  27. D. C. Sessions says

    Or ever lies dying and decides to come clean because what can they do? His family etc. have already all died of the diseases that …

  28. howardhershey says

    Just to remind people, LW people are not immune from belief in conspiracy theories about either politics or medicine. A lot of the “natural cures” folk are LW. A lot of the anti-vaccine people are LW, although it appears that may be changing over time. Not to mention the muslim anti-vaxers (with a grain of truth in claiming that *some* vaccination programs were CIA plants).

  29. cthulhusminion says

    I think we should spread the theory that the anti-vaxx movement is a sinister plot to reduce population by bringing back childhood diseases

  30. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Most conspiracies are the products of conspiracy theories: Nazis really did believe there was a judaeo-bolshevist plot to take over the world and formed a conspiracy to stop it. Not all marxists believed in capitalist conspiracies, but many did, even if only as an “unconscious conspiracy”.

  31. says

    howardhershey “(with a grain of truth in claiming that *some* vaccination programs were CIA plants).”
    Now that you mention it, that ficus was acting pretty suspicious.*

     
    * Site note: Suspicious Ficus & The CIA Plants was my klezmer band.

  32. Alverant says

    “Did a U.S. spy agency infect African Americans with HIV?”
    I can see why some people believe this. The US Government infected African Americans with syphilis without their knowledge to study the disease and test cures in the dark days of the last century. It’s not that big of a step to think a racist spy infected some people with HIV based on how likely they were to infect others.

  33. erichoug says

    Despite all of these things being quack bullshit, and believe me, they are quack bullshit, I can completely understand where the believers are coming from.

    My dad spent the last 3 years of his life in and out of the hospital. This is a man that ran 6-10 marathons a year right up until he got sick.

    What did he have? Funny you should ask, I still have no idea. The general consensus is Vasculitis but we also heard that is was a bacterial infection or a rare tropical virus from his years living abroad, or a along with many, many other items that I really don’t want to think about.

    Dad had many, many doctors. His PCP didn’t have privileges at the hospital that he was at so he had to see another doctor, and then there was another one when he started having problems with his kidneys, and then there was another one when he developed the rash, and then they sent him to 2-3 specialists and then they sent him to a whole other hospital in another state.And, every time he checked back into the hospital, rather than just letting the doctors who already knew him take care of him, he always got a whole new set of doctors.

    You would think that at least all his local doctors would get together to discuss his case. NOPE!. None of them ever talked to each other about Dad. If my Step mom hadn’t been there all the time to tell any doctor who happened to randomly walk in his room what was going on, they would have had no clue. If you don’t have a spouse or other person to do this for you, then you are basically at the mercy of random chance as to what sort treatment you get. Picture that if you are an elderly, slightly confused person who is sick and in pain and alone.

    There is absolutely NO patient advocate or anyone who wants to spend more than 5 minutes with you while you are in the hospital. I would say that it is a lack of funding, but every hospital dad was in was brand new and gleaming, and usually sitting on a prime real estate location

    My favorite anecdote is this one: Dad says he can’t stop shivering. So, doctor A prescribes him a new medication, Well, that makes him constipated so Doctor B prescribes him ANOTHER medication, well that gives him Insomnia, So the nurse gives him ANOTHER medication, well that makes him Paranoid, so doctor C gives him YET ANOTHER medication, and at NO FUCKING POINT does anyone think to just bring him another blanket!

    So, I do agree that all of these medical scams are total bullshit. But, I completely understand why people distrust the medical establishment.

  34. neXus says

    @33 Alverant-
    The Tuskegee experiments were what came to mind when I read the question. Given that ugly part of US history, the conspiracy doesn’t seem so far fetched. The Tuskegee experiments could be the origin of this conspiracy.

  35. D. C. Sessions says

    The US Government infected African Americans with syphilis without their knowledge to study the disease and test cures in the dark days of the last century.

    Please don’t overstate this. They were not deliberately infected. They managed that all on their own, the usual way. The monstrous part was that they were led to believe that they were being treated. Given that syphilis is one of the earliest antibiotic-treatable diseases and even back in the 40s should have been a one-two-three over and done, they had no reason to suspect that when, as happens with syphilis when it goes from primary to secondary stage, they had not been cured.

  36. Trebuchet says

    I tend to believe there’s a conspiracy by the Roman Catholic Church to deny Americans their reproductive and end-of-life rights. Am I wrong?

  37. Shatterface says

    Many of those rightly dismissive of medical conspiracy claims will be all too happy to believe ADHD and about half the conditions in DSM were invented by pharmaceutical companies.

  38. lofgren says

    Please don’t overstate this. They were not deliberately infected.

    It’s true, in that particular case, the subjects were not deliberately infected, although arguably their wives, girlfriends, and children were in the sense that the doctors obviously knew what was going to happen and did nothing to stop it.

    However, had they been deliberately infected, it would not have been the first time US doctors had done so, nor the last. Some other germs we’ve experimented with by deliberately infecting people without their consent include:

    Gonorrhea
    Bubonic Plague
    Beriberi
    Tuberculosis
    Malaria
    Herpes
    Whooping Cough
    Flu
    Hepatitis
    And of course cancer

    Honestly, I’d be kinda impressed if the US government hasn’t injected anybody with AIDS. It would show remarkable restraint, considering our track record.

  39. says

    I don’t really know if there is a medical conspiracy, I am sure scientists generally speaking are sincere about their work. But I also cannot avoid the strange circumstantial evidence that every three or four years drugs are found to have serious side effects that were once advertised relentlessly. I am not sure if this is due to less testing or thorough testing before the drug is available. The other problem I find is that the cost of medications is sometime outright highway robbery. $9 aspirin, but the worst I have come from AZ where it cost nearly $40,000 a dose and the venom is sold for $100 in Mexico and even the company that distributed the medicine to the hospital only charges about $3900 per dose.

    http://lasvegas.cbslocal.com/2012/09/05/arizona-hospital-charges-woman-83000-to-treat-scorpion-sting/

    A conspiracy no that is not what I see, but an unregulated cash cow, hell ya.

  40. says

    Years ago, I went to see Dr Dean Edell when he came to town. He was a radio talk show doctor who had no time for alternative medicine of any kind. He was taking part in an event where the local radio station that carried his show had invited various hosts to town where they could field questions from the audience.

    Unfortunately Edell was scheduled after George Noory (Coast to Coast AM) so there was a bunch of idiots in the audience and when he started taking questions, they were about one conspiracy theory after another. He actually had to stop the questions at one point and make a speech about how silly the conspiracy theories were, explaining point by point why they made no sense. I believe it all went in one ear and out the other, but at least he tried, and I was quite impressed.

  41. says

    “A conspiracy no that is not what I see, but an unregulated cash cow, hell ya.”

    Sounds like a scam to prey on those who are willing to spend whatever it takes to help themselves or their loved ones. If there’s two people involved it IS a conspiracy, medical or otherwise.

  42. Armored Scrum Object says

    @Wes Aaron #40:

    But I also cannot avoid the strange circumstantial evidence that every three or four years drugs are found to have serious side effects that were once advertised relentlessly. I am not sure if this is due to less testing or thorough testing before the drug is available.

    My guess is that it’s because the studies kind of suck, sometimes deliberately. It is frequently (routinely?) the case that clinical studies are done on a population that isn’t representative of the actual patient population, e.g. by excluding common comorbidities. Sometimes the study design is such that reporting of side effects is somehow minimized compared to realistic use of the drug (e.g. giving the dose at bedtime, meaning that most subjects will sleep through peak concentration). For more on this general line of thought, read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma. Fair warning, though: it won’t make you feel better.

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