These data must be interpreted with the caveats that they are based on a nonrandom convenience sample, an English questionnaire, and that this is a sample collected from public places in 1998 with a refusal rate approaching half. Those not fluent in English would be underrepresented, and those who regularly frequent public places would be strongly over-represented. It is also possible that non-English-speaking Latinos may hold different levels of conspiracy beliefs from English-speaking Latinos. Nevertheless, these data do demonstrate, with the above limitations, that conspiracy beliefs are not limited to the African American population, but are almost as prevalent in the Latino sample and well represented in the non-Hispanic White sample. The Asian sample has the lowest proportion endorsing the belief that HIV/AIDS is part of a conspiracy. These data suggest that the Tuskeegee scandal may not be a full explanation of the genesis of conspiracy beliefs, and that there is a more general suspicion of the federal government as a promoter of HIV (although Tuskeegee may explain suspicion in groups other than African Americans). Exploration of factors underlying these beliefs in populations in addition to African Americans is warranted, especially as conspiracy beliefs do make a significant, though modest, independent contribution to the prediction of reported condom use.
Similar to Bogart and Thorburn’s (2005)
findings, there were no significant gender differences in conspiracy beliefs. Our African American data (29.4% agree) are close to the 26.5% “agree” finding of Klonoff and Landrine (1999)
in African Americans in California. Our data also reproduce, albeit with somewhat differently worded items, the finding of Bogart and Thorburn (2005)
on the prevalence of conspiracy-theory believers, and their findings that conspiracy beliefs in African American men are associated with lower reported condom use. However, this was not the case in the other racial/ethnic samples and may be specific to the African American population. The relatively high prevalence of HIV-related conspiracy beliefs, especially among Latinos, suggests that conspiracy beliefs are a phenomenon that is more widely distributed than just the African American community.
Conspiracy beliefs among Latinos may have their origin in several sources. Latinos in Texas have historically suffered racism: in the history of Texas, there were more Mexicans lynched than African Americans (Carrigan & Webb, 2003
) and this type of oppression becomes part of the collective consciousness of a people. Mistrust can be generalized to other institutions, including the health care system. Recent xenophobic trends in the United States have included the targeting of Latin American immigrants as the source of social and economic problems and have even led to the introduction of anti-immigrant legislation that would prohibit access to emergency rooms and limit undocumented people’s access to hospitals. In the United States, African American, Puerto Rican, Chicano, indigenous, and poor women have been more likely to be sterilized than White women from the same or higher socioeconomic classes. Women with physical disabilities whom physicians judge to be “unfit to reproduce” have also been sterilized since the eugenics movement in the 1920s. By 1968, in a 30-year period, a third of the women of childbearing age had been sterilized in Puerto Rico. Sterilization abuse was so common among African American women in the South that a woman’s having her fallopian tubes tied or uterus removed without her knowledge or consent was called the “Mississippi appendectomy” (Wilcox, 2002
). A class action suit in Los Angeles revealed that Chicano women were being sterilized immediately after giving birth. The non-English speaking women had been given sterilization consent forms in English and were told the operation was to deal with the after-affects of the pregnancy (Stern, 2005
). Suspicion of health-related motives in Latinos, while speculative, are thus not hard to account for.
Relatively widespread beliefs in HIV conspiracy appear to occur across several racial and ethnic groups, and these data also suggest that conspiracy beliefs do make a significant contribution to reported condom use. More detailed investigation into the sources of such beliefs, using qualitative approaches, are warranted, and further research into the origin of this belief is appropriate.