by Jeffrey Dach MD
Left Image courtesy of Roger Spark Bench.com
if you happen to be a professor at the University of Chicago sitting around wondering what to do next to generate interest in your work, why not do a piece about Crazy Lunatic Medical Conspiracy theories? This sounds like a good idea.
This is exactly what Dr. Eric Oliver did. He has a PhD and is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He created a phone questionnaire with some weirdo medical conspiracy questions. and then published the results.(26-34) Amazingly, many people believe in Way-Out Bizarre medical conspiracy theories. Go figure.
Rather than dwell on Dr. Oliver’s weirdo conspiracy theories concocted at the University of Chicago for the enjoyment of the tabloid news media, lets look at something else: Let’s take a look at medical conspiracy theories that actually came true as recorded fact in the medical literature.
Examples of Medical Conspiracy Theories that Came True According to the Mainstream Medical Literature
1) Medical Conspiracy Theory:
Do You believe that Synthetic Hormones Handed out by the Medical System are unsafe and in fact cause Cancer and Heart Disease. Yes, or No ?
Yes, Synthetic hormones cause cancer and heart disease.(4) It seems incredible, but true. The mainstream medical system has been using synthetic “monster” hormones for years. The 2002 WHI (Women’s Health Initiative) study finally convinced millions of women to switch to safer and more effective bioidentical human hormones. My previous articles on the safety and importance of bioidentical hormones discusses this at length. (5)(6)
2) Medical Conspiracy Theory:
Do You Believe that Knee Arthroscopy for Arthritis is a Fraud and a Scam ? Yes or No.?
Yes. The second example of a medical conspiracy theory is the discredited practice of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis. Millions of these useless procedures were performed in the late 1990’s until it was abandoned after randomized trials showed no benefit.(7) My previous article on the power of the placebo discussed this.(8)
Do you believe that SSRI antidepressant drugs have the same benefit as a placebo ? Yes or No ?
Yes, the latest study shows that the benefits of SSRI drugs are equivalent to placebo pills.(9) In cases of mild depression, the known adverse effects of SSRI antidepressants clearly outweigh the benefits. My previous article on SSRI antidepressants discussed this.(10)
4) Medical Conspiracy Theory:
Do you believe that there is no mortality benefit for screening mammography and the adverse effects may overwhelm the benefit.(11) Yes or No ?
The answer is, Yes, as discussed in my previous article on screening mammography, national data on mortality from breast cancer shows no significant reduction in mortality after the introduction of screening mammography. This was discussed in JAMA by Dr Laura Esserman.(12)
5) Medical Conspiracy Theory: Do you believe that PPI proton pump inhibitor antacid drugs are overused and misused ? Yes or No ?
The answer is yes. Antacid Drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) have serious adverse effects of increased rates of fractures, Clostridium difficile infection, and increased risk of pneumonia. (13-18) I discussed the harms and benefits of acid blocker drugs in a previous article . (19)
These first five examples can be found in an editorial in the May 10 Archives of Internal Medicine by Deborah Grady MD.
6) Bone Marrow Transplantation for Breast Cancer
Medical Conspiracy Theory:
Do you believe that bone marrow transplant for breast cancer is a fraud and a scam ? Yes or No ?
The answer is Yes. Starting in the 1980’s, thousands of these procedures were done costing up to 400,000 dollars each. After a couple of decades of harming thousands of severely ill women, medical studies were done showing the procedure had no merit and it was abandoned. This incredible story can be found in an article by Nicholas Gonzalez MD, and also in a book which documents the story called False Hope. (20-22)
Could an FDA approved pain pill called Vioxx cause heart attacks ? Yes or No ?
Yes. Vioxx, a new type of painkiller launched in 1999, was one of the most heavily promoted drugs in history, with sales in 80 countries and a global market of 80 million patients. The drug Vioxx was withdrawn after it was found to cause 140,000 heart attacks and over 50,000 deaths.(34)
Medical Conspiracy Theory: Does Premarin, a commonly used Estrogen Pill Cause Endometrial Cancer ? Yes or No ?
Yes, Premarin is a horse estrogen isolated from the urine of pregnant horses. Available since FDA approval in 1942, Premarin has caused an estimated 15,000 cases of endometrial cancer, representing the largest epidemic of serious iatrogenic disease ever reported.
Medical Conspiracy Theory: Does the Hormone Pill DES (Di-ethyl Stilbestrol) cause cervical cancer in the daughters of women taking this pill ? Yes or No?
Yes. Many people have forgotten about the disaster of DES, Diethylstilbestrol, the first synthetic hormone invented in 1938. This carcinogenic, monster hormone was approved by the FDA and given to millions of women from 1940 until it was banned in 1975 when it was shown carcinogenic. The first report of cervical cancer in the daughters of DES treated women was published in April 1971 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Medical Conspiracy Theory: Do you believe FDA Approved Drugs are Harmful and Ineffective? Yes or No ?
Yes. Many drugs developed over the last few decades that are in fact, Bad Drugs, and are eventually banned. These FDA approved drugs are expensive, yet have marginal effectiveness, and horrendous adverse side effects. An excellent book on this topic entitled, Drugs that Don’t Work, Natural Therapies that Do, is available from Dr. David Brownstein.(25) Read about the Ten worst drug recalls in FDA History.
Medical Conspiracy Theory: Hepatitis B vaccination campaign in France caused Multiple Sclerosis.
Yes this is true according to Le Houézec, Dominique. “Evolution of Multiple Sclerosis in France since the Beginning of Hepatitis B Vaccination.” Immunologic Research 60 (2014): 219–225.
Medical Conspiracy Theory: Polio Vaccination Campaign in India Caused 47,000 cases of Polio.
Yes, this is true according to the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, Vashisht, Neetu, and Jacob Puliyel. “Polio programme: let us declare victory and move on.” Indian J Med Ethics 9.2 (2012): 114-117.
There are many more examples of medical conspiracy theories which have come true. We have merely scratched the surface.
Books on Medical Conspiracy Theories on Amazon.
Articles with related interest:
Links and References
Less Is More, How Less Health Care Can Result in Better Health
Deborah Grady, MD, MPH; Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, Editor
Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):749-750.
Fisher ES, Wennberg DE, Stukel TA, Gottlieb DJ, Lucas FL, Pinder EL. The implications of regional variations in Medicare spending, part 2: health outcomes and satisfaction with care. Ann Intern Med. 2003;138(4):288-298.
Fisher ES, Wennberg DE, Stukel TA, Gottlieb DJ, Lucas FL, Pinder EL. The implications of regional variations in Medicare spending, part 1: the content, quality, and accessibility of care. Ann Intern Med. 2003;138(4):273-287.
Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL; et al, Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results from the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002;288(3):321-333.
(5) The safety of bioidentical Hormones by Jeffrey Dach MD
The Importance of bio-identical Hormones by Jeffrey Dach MD
Moseley JB, O’Malley K, Petersen NJ; et al. A controlled trial of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee. N Engl J Med. 2002;347(2):81-88.
(8) The Power of the Placebo by Jeffrey Dach MD
Fournier JC, DeRubeis RJ, Hollon SD; et al. Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: a patient-level meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303(1):47-53.
Woloshin S, Schwartz LM. The benefits and harms of mammography screening: understanding the trade-offs. JAMA. 2010;303(2):164-165.
(12) Mammogram Psychological Toll by Jeffrey Dach MD
9. Gray SL, LaCroix AZ, Larson J; et al. Proton pump inhibitor use, hip fracture, and change in bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: results from the Women’s Health Initiative. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):765-771. FREE FULL TEXT
10. Howell MD, Novack V, Grgurich P; et al. Iatrogenic gastric acid suppression and the risk of nosocomial Clostridium difficile infection. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):784-790. FREE FULL TEXT
11. Linsky A, Gupta K, Lawler EV, Fonda JR, Hermos JA. Proton pump inhibitors and risk for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):772-778. FREE FULL TEXT
12. Sarkar M, Hennessy S, Yang Y-X. Proton-pump inhibitor use and the risk for community-acquired pneumonia. Ann Intern Med. 2008;149(6):391-398.
13. Herzig SJ, Howell MD, Ngo LH, Marcantonio ER. Acid suppressive medication use and the risk for hospital acquired pneumonia. JAMA. 2009;301(20):2120-2128.
14. Katz MH. Failing the acid test: benefits of proton pump inhibitors may not justify the risks for many users. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):747-748.
(19) http://jeffreydach.com/2009/09/14/heartburn-and-acid-blockers-by-jeffrey-dach-md.aspx Heartburn and Acid Blockers by Jeffrey Dach MD
Bone Marrow Transplant for Breast Cancer
Academic Bias and Fraud: The cases of bone marrow transplantation for breast cancer, and HIV-nevirapine By Nicholas J. Gonzalez, M.D.
False Hope: Bone Marrow Transplantation for Breast Cancer [Hardcover]
Richard A. Rettig (Author), Peter D. Jacobson (Author), Cynthia M. Farquhar M.D. (Author), Wade M. Aubry M.D. (Author)
(22) Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 26, No 1 (January 1), 2008: pp. 11-12
EDITORIAL A Dramatic Story of Hope and Reality Edward A. Stadtmauer Stadtmauer Edward A dramatic story of hope and reality JCO 2008
Neil A Kurtzman MD is the Grover E Murray Professor and University Distinguished Professor, Department of Internal Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. He has combined careers in clinical medicine, education, basic research, and administration for more than 30 years. Dr Kurtzman was my research advisor in medical school.
Deborah Grady, MD, MPH is Professor of Medicine, Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research and Director of the UCSF Women’s Health Clinical Research Center. Dr. Grady is an international expert on menopause and the risks and benefits of postmenopausal hormone therapy. Dr. Grady has trained and mentored over 40 young researchers interested in women’s health and received the Chancellor’s Award for the Advancement of Women and the UCSF Mentor of the Year award.
(25) Drugs that Don’t Work, Natural Therapies that Do,
is available from Dr David Brownstein.
Medical Conspiracy Theories
Do you believe in “medical conspiracy theories”? Daisy Luther
Research Letter | March 17, 2014 Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States ONLINE FIRST J. Eric Oliver, PhD1; Thomas Wood, MA1 Author Affiliations 1Department of Political Science, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois JAMA Intern Med. Published online March 17, 2014′
Nearly half of Americans believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory, survey finds BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.
Half Of Americans Believe In Medical Conspiracy Theories by Nancy Shute March 19, 2014 3:25 PM
Half of Americans subscribe to medical conspiracy theories, with more than one-third of people thinking that the Food and Drug Administration is deliberately keeping natural cures for cancer off the market because of pressure from drug companies, a survey finds.
Twenty percent of people said that cellphones cause cancer — and that large corporations are keeping health officials from doing anything about it. And another 20 percent think doctors and the government want to vaccinate children despite knowing that vaccines cause autism.
“One of the things that struck us is that people who embrace these beliefs are not less health conscious,” says , a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who led the study. “They’re just less likely to embrace traditional medicine.”
Oliver was studying political conspiracy theories when he realized that quite a few of them involved medical care, including and a vote in Portland, Ore.
So he asked people what they thought about six common medical conspiracy theories, including the ones about vaccines, cellphones and natural cancer cures. They were the theories most widely supported.
The map shows outbreaks of whooping cough (green), measles (red), rubella (blue) and mumps (brown) since 2008.
Three other theories were each supported by 12 percent of people surveyed. They were that the CIA deliberately infected African-Americans with HIV, that genetically modified foods are a conspiracy to reduce population worldwide and that companies use water fluoridation to cover up pollution.
And though the people who said they believed the conspiracy theories tended to be less educated, poorer and members of minority groups, they aren’t conspiracy nuts, Oliver says. And they aren’t ignoring their health. Instead, they are normal people trying to make sense of complex issues.
Corporations and government institutions are complicated organizations with a lot of different motivations. “Public mistrust is understandable,” he says.
People who backed the conspiracy theories were less likely to rely on a family doctor. Instead they looked to family and friends, the Internet and celebrity doctors for their health information. And people who relied on celebrity doctors. such as Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Andrew Weil, were most likely to favor conspiracy, with more than 80 percent agreeing with at least one of the theories.
“They think they are accessing a more reliable source of health information than what traditional medicine is providing,” Oliver told Shots.
The polled 1,351 people online in August and September. The findings were published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
People who are firm believers in medical conspiracies are less likely to get regular physicals, at 37 percent compared with 48 percent of participants overall. And they were more likely to buy organic or farm-stand foods, shun flu shots and sunscreen, and use vitamins and herbal supplements.
That was true even after the researchers adjusted the results to remove any influence caused by people’s socioeconomic status or their level of trust overall.
Interestingly, the pro-conspiracy people came from across the political spectrum, with 35 percent saying they were liberal, compared with 41 percent saying they were conservative.
“The world is a complicated place,” Oliver says. “It’s difficult to make sense of it. A lot of these conspiracy theories are intuitively compelling.”
Nearly half of Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories Written by David McNamee Wednesday 19 March 2014 – 11pm PST
The theories all had a mistrust of government and large organizations as central themes. Some of the theories the participants were asked if they believed included:
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?
More than half of the study participants did not believe the conspiracy theory that a US spy agency had infected black Americans with HIV.
Overall, 49% of participants agreed with at least one of the theories.
Some of the theories were more well known than others. For instance, 69% of participants had heard of the idea that childhood vaccines cause psychological disorders, such as autism.
This is a theory that has received a lot of media attention and is in the news again at the moment due to controversial Twitter comments from TV presenter Jenny McCarthy. Of the study participants, 20% agreed with this theory and 44% disagreed.
More popular was the theory that US regulators are stopping people from accessing natural cures – 37% of people agreed with this idea, with less than a third disagreeing.
The least popular conspiracy theory – which more than half of the participants disagreed with – was the suggestion that a US spy agency had infected a large number of black Americans with HIV.
Nearly half of Americans subscribe to a medical conspiracy theory
By Melissa Healy This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
March 19, 2014, 4:54 p.m.
Given that medical conspiracy theories are so widely known and embraced, said Oliver and Wood, it would be unwise to dismiss all those who believe them as a “delusional fringe of paranoid cranks.” Instead, they suggested, “we can recognize that most individuals who endorse these narratives are otherwise normal” but use a sort of cognitive shortcut to explain complex and confusing events. Physicians can also glean a bit more about their patients — and their readiness to accept medical counsel — when they know that a conspiracy adherent has come for the occasional doctor visit.
Half of Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories. That’s dangerous. By Matthew Fleischer, guest blogger . March 21, 2014, 2:07 p.m
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate. That … really shouldn’t be the question. But for some reason it is in America.
Deadly diseases such as measles and polio are no longer a threat to the majority of vaccinated Americans. (As The Times’ editorial board recently wrote: “Vaccination doesn’t immunize every person who gets the shots; some of the recent California cases were among people who had been vaccinated.”)
Despite widespread fears, scientific consensus has shown no correlation between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. A 1998 report in Lancet that started the controversy has since been widely debunked. And yet a University of Chicago survey published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reveals that half of Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories. A full 20% believe the government and the medical world are pushing vaccinations on children that cause autism.
That number is both startling and extremely dangerous.
It’s worth going back in history a little here. A similar paranoia to the one we’re seeing gripped Britain over the pertussis vaccine in the 1970s. During that time, after seeing virtually no cases of the disease, 100,000 incidents of pertussis and 36 deaths from the disease were reported. In Japan several years later, after pertussis vaccination levels dropped from 80% to 20%, an outbreak of the disease spread to 13,000 people, causing 41 deaths.
In infants, pertussis can cause pneumonia, seizures and mental retardation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease killed upward of 9,000 Americans a year before widespread vaccination began.
Before the polio vaccine, 13,000 to 20,000 Americans were left paralyzed from the disease each year.
Then there’s the inexplicably controversial MMR vaccine. Anti-vaccination activists such as actress Jenny McCarthy and former MTV reality star Kristin Cavallari claim that, in addition to the disproved autism link, vaccination can cause asthma and ear infections.
Even if that were true, it’s important to remember that vaccinations aren’t given for fun. They prevent deadly and crippling diseases.
Mumps causes women to miscarry; rubella often leads to blindness, deafness or mental impairment in infants; and even with modern medical care, as many as 3 out of every 1,000 people who contract measles die from the disease.
In that context, who in their right minds would be worried about ear infections and asthma?
It’s also worth noting that just because Americans largely don’t get these diseases anymore, it doesn’t mean the threat has somehow mysteriously vanished. A 2011 outbreak of measles in Ethiopia, a country without a robust vaccination regime, infected at least 17,584 people, killing 114.
Incidentally, despite reporting challenges in a poor and rugged country, estimates show that autism rates in Ethiopia are around 1 in 100 — comparable to the 1 in 88 we see in America. Despite the lack of widespread vaccinations, the disease is still epidemic.
2013 was a banner year for measles in the United States. A disease that had all but vanished within our borders suddenly infected 189 people. A recent outbreak in New York infected 20 people.
We in America have the ability to prevent diseases that kill millions around the world. And yet our ignorance is allowing these diseases to make a comeback. So if you’re worried about vaccines giving your children ear infections or asthma, try taking a look at what measles does to a child. It isn’t pretty.
Vioxx Linked to 140,000 Heart Attacks and Over 50,000 Deaths Tuesday, 25 January 2005 Painkiller Linked to 140,000 Heart Attacks in Patients By Jeremy Laurance The Independent U.K. Tuesday 25 January 2005
A blockbuster drug launched five years ago as a revolutionary treatment for arthritis may have caused up to 140,000 heart attacks in US patients of whom 44 per cent died, scientists said yesterday, making it the world’s worst drug disaster. Vioxx, a new type of painkiller launched in 1999, was one of the most heavily promoted drugs in history, with sales in 80 countries and a global market of 80 million patients.
More than 400,000 patients were taking it in Britain, where it could have caused up to 1,000 heart attacks and deaths.
An Open Letter to Eric Oliver, PhD by gabby on Mar 20, 2014 • 2:50 pm
Eric Oliver is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His interests include contemporary American politics, suburban and racial politics, political psychology, and the politics of science. His books include Democracy in Suburbia (Princeton University Press, 2001), Fat Politics: the Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic (Oxford University Press 2005), The Paradoxes of Integration: Race, Neighborhood, and Civic Life in Multi-ethnic America (University of Chicago Press, 2010), and Local Elections and the Politics of Small Scale Democracy (Princeton University Press 2012).
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