Conspiracy Theories and Health Beliefs in the United States

Awarded to the University of Chicago

America has always had a host of controversial theories about our health and health care swirling around on our airwaves, websites, and sidewalks.  Some of these theories defy credulity, but others have been proven true over time. Why do some persist for decades and in the minds of millions of Americans, while others are immediately dismissed unequivocally as silly, fraudulent, or impossible? How do the theories that do endure affect the state of America’s public health?

A new research project by University of Chicago political scientist Eric Oliver will survey thousands of Americans to better understand the who, how, and why of America’s relationship with so-called “health conspiracies.” In addition to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans, Oliver will also survey 1,000 Americans who believe in two or more health conspiracies to further delve into the origination and appeal of those theories.

Oliver’s project represents the largest, most comprehensive effort to date to understand the prevalence of health conspiracies in America.


University of Chicago

Chicago, IL

Eric Oliver
Professor of Political Science

Lori A. Melichar

Lori Melichar, team director  

What’s in a Health Conspiracy?

Americans have always had conspiracy theories about health and health care. It’s important to understand why and how those beliefs spread and the extent to which they affect people’s health behaviors” says Lori Melichar, RWJF director.

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How do “health conspiracies” spread and what's their effect?

For more on conspiracy theories, join Brian Quinn and Eric Oliver as they explore what belief in conspiracy theories can tell us about health and health care in episode 5 of the RWJF Pioneering Ideas podcast in the player below (1:44).

Conspiracy Theories on Pioneering Ideas

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