Beliefs about cancer among anti-vaxxers and flat earthers: a call to combat misinformation

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Some scientists have carried out a survey on what people think they know about cancer and have found striking differences between the group of those who believe in things like that vaccines are useless or that the Earth is flat, and the group of those who do not. they believe in those things.

The academic journal The British Medical Journal has published in a special Christmas edition a compilation of scientific studies with a satirical component, but maintaining rigor. Among them, the results of a survey carried out by the aforementioned team, which includes Sonia Paytubi and Laura Costas, have been presented, and where it is shown that the groups of anti-vaxxers, flat earthers or reptilians (aliens infiltrating humanity) are less aware of the agents that can actually cause cancer and the ones that are just myths.

To collect the data, the study authors circulated a survey among various internet discussion forums such as ForoCoches, Reddit, 4Chan or HispaChan. The survey included validated questions about the perception of cancer and the substances that could cause it. There were also more general questions such as if they had been vaccinated against COVID-19, if they thought the Earth is flat, or if they believed in the existence of reptilians. In total, almost 1,500 responses were obtained, of which 284 came from people who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, who preferred alternative medicine or who believed in some conspiracy theory.

The results show that the followers of some conspiracy theory, particularly flat earthers and defenders of the existence of reptilians, have greater ignorance about the real causes of cancer and, on the other hand, believe more in the myths about false carcinogenic factors such as microwaves, mobile phones or transgenics. The same pattern was observed in those who had not wanted to receive any dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or who preferred alternative medicine to conventional medicine.

Among all the answers, 673 participants, almost half, maintained that “everything can cause cancer”, which highlights the difficulty of society in differentiating the real causes and the myths as far as carcinogens are concerned.

This is especially relevant considering the topic, since misinformation can have negative consequences for health. “These results, although they are made from humor, are important since knowing the causes of cancer is the first step to prevent it” -says Dr. Laura Costas, principal investigator of IDIBELL and the Catalan Institute of Oncology, and co-author of the study . “Being misinformed can lead to adopting preventive measures that are not effective, following risky lifestyles or rejecting effective prevention actions such as the HPV vaccine or screening, even in the most extreme cases, misinformation can lead to reject effective oncological treatments with fatal consequences”.

Research team members. (Photo: IDIBELL)

The existence of this type of pseudoscientific beliefs is partly the result of the increasing bombardment of information in the media and social networks, and of not being effective enough in combating misinformation. This case, despite being a preliminary study, is a call to continue investigating how this can affect health and find the best strategies to end medical falsehoods.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has a classification of all agents suspected of being carcinogenic based on the available scientific evidence.

Established causes of cancer are considered to be those agents for which the scientific evidence in humans is clear and their causality can be defined. Examples are tobacco, frequent consumption of processed meat or excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

There are agents that are not in that group, but even so they are popularly considered to be carcinogenic, such as magnetic fields or deodorants, among others. This is a heterogeneous group where there are factors that make little biological sense or that have been widely demonstrated not to be carcinogenic, and others that could be, but for which there are currently insufficient data to confirm this. Although in the future some of these factors may be reclassified as an established cause of cancer, the truth is that for now there is nothing to indicate this.

For a cause of cancer to be considered established, it must meet different causality criteria and multiple studies of different types must consistently demonstrate this.

The study is titled “Everything causes cancer? Beliefs and attitudes towards cancer prevention among anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, and reptilian conspiracists: online cross sectional survey”. (Source: IDIBELL)

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Written by Editor TLN

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