Anyone publicly writing about issues of science and medicine from a pro-science perspective likely gets many e-mails similar to the ones I see every week. Here’s just one recent example:
Im sorry the medical community has become decadent and lazy as most that follow your stance could care less to study the real truth. I have also seen it much more deviant as many professionals know the risks and harm vaccination cause but continue to push it through there practices because of pure greed. Many are also scared of loosing there practices for not following the corrupt industry. Im sorry but the medical industry has become drug pushing decadent slobs that only care about there bottom line.
The e-mailer clearly has a particular narrative that he is following (in addition to the amusingly common poor grammar and spelling). He even writes at one point in our exchange, “the details really don’t matter at this point what matters is what the bigger picture…” He is certain of his big picture conspiracy narrative. The details are unimportant.
Being on the receiving end of an almost constant barrage of such medical conspiracy theories it might seem that such beliefs are extremely common. Of course, such e-mails are self-selective and therefore not representative of the general population. I was therefore interested to see a published survey polling the general population about such beliefs. The survey is published in JAMA Internal Medicine, authored by Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood.
Here are the six survey questions and the percentage who agree or disagree (the rest indicating that they do not know).
The Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies. (37% agree, 32% disagree)
Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them. (20% agree, 40% disagree)
The CIA deliberately infected large numbers of African Americans with HIV under the guise of a hepatitis inoculation program. (12% agree, 51% disagree)
The global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto Inc is part of a secret program, called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to shrink the world’s population. (12% agree, 42% disagree)
Doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders. (20% agree, 44% disagree)
Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump the dangerous byproducts of phosphate mines into the environment. (12% agree, 46% disagree)
The numbers are not surprising, in fact I would have guessed they were a bit higher, but again that perception is likely distorted by my e-mail inbox. They found that 49% of Americans agreed with at least one conspiracy, and 18% agreed with three or more. This is in line with the level of belief in non-medical conspiracies. They did not publish, but I would be interested, in the percentage of people who said they disagreed with all of the conspiracies. Many of the respondents indicated that they did not know if a particular conspiracy were true, likely because they had not heard of it before, but were unwilling to disagree on plausibility grounds alone.