The people who put stock in conspiracy theories — like believing that the U.S. simply staged the 1969 trip to the moon, or suspecting that the September 11th terrorist attacks were actually orchestrated by the Pentagon to give the U.S. an excuse to go to war in Iraq — aren’t just distrustful of the government. According to a new study, they also tend to distrust scientists.
Researchers from the University of Bristol sought to investigate the potential reasons why the “U.S. public has become increasingly polarized in their attitudes towards science.” They suspected there might be a particular type of worldview that encourages some Americans to reject the science that informs widely-accepted positions on climate change, genetically modified foods, and vaccinations. And it turned out that believing in non-scientific conspiracy theories did have a correlation.
Mother Jones notes that the association between believing in conspiracy theories and distrusting vaccines was the strongest of the three:
The medical and scientific communities agree that vaccines are safe. Federal health officials repeatedly reassure parents that there aren’t any risks associated with following the recommended vaccination schedule for kids, even though some people wonder if they shouldn’t give their children so many shots in such a short amount of time. Nonetheless, myths about vaccines — ranging from more common ones, like the false assumption that the flu shot will give you the flu, all the way to the widely-debunked assertion that vaccines can cause autism — remain persistent.
There’s significant evidence that this type of distrust toward vaccines represents a serious threat to public health. Measles, a disease that health officials thought had been practically eradicated in the United States, is now making a comeback thanks to anti-vaccine beliefs that have contributed to pockets of unvaccinated people sprinkled throughout the country. And the record-breaking outbreaks of whooping cough over the past several years have also been linked to vaccine deniers.
Some states are now working to strengthen their laws to make it harder for parents to opt out of immunizing their children.