The truth is out there
March 20, 2014

If you believe that "doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders," you're wrong — but you're not alone. A new study by a pair of University of Chicago political scientists indicates that a discouraging 20 percent of American adults believe that conspiracy theory about vaccinations, and another 36 percent are unwilling to take sides. In all, the researchers found that about half of respondents believed in at least one of the six conspiracy theories the study asked about.

The most popular bit of "medical conspiricism" — with 37 percent agreeing and another 31 percent on the fence — is that the FDA "is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies." The only other conspiracy to hit the 20 percent agreement mark is that "health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won't let them."

The researchers warn against dismissing the people who believe these notions as "a delusional fringe of paranoid cranks," noting that most of them (us?) are normal people trying to cope with a crazy world that includes lots of real stacked decks and official monkey business. These conspiracy theories can actually harm our health, says Chris Hendel at Consumer Reports, but "over the years industry, our government, and some medical researchers have given us more than a few reasons to doubt that they always have our best interest in mind."

Artist license?
11:28 a.m. ET

Monica Lewinsky's shadow will forever haunt Bill Clinton. Or at least, it will forever loom over his likeness in the National Portrait Gallery.

Nelson Shanks, the artist who painted the portrait, told the Philadelphia Daily News he snuck a shadow into the picture to both literally and metaphorically depict the Lewinsky scandal.

If you look at the left-hand side of it there's a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things. It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him. [Philadelphia Daily News]

Shanks also claimed the Clinton's "hate" the portrait and pressured the gallery to yank it, though the National Portrait Gallery denied the latter allegation.

The painting caused a stir upon its unveiling in 2006 because it did not depict Clinton's wedding ring. Shanks explained the omission at the time by saying Clinton's ring finger "was folded over" in the image, adding, "his back isn't showing either."

casting call
11:19 a.m. ET

The Sharknado universe just keeps getting bigger. With the series' upcoming third installment set in Washington, D.C., the SyFy original movie has elected its top politicians: President Mark Cuban and Vice President Ann Coulter.

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of the duo's unlikely rise to the top of American politics, though it's unclear if Cuban and Coulter will be playing themselves and not just thinly-veiled caricatures of themselves. Sharknado 3's bevy of D-list guest stars also include Jerry Springer, Bo Derek, and N*SYNC alum Chris Kirkpatrick.

10:54 a.m. ET

A new survey published in the journal Pediatrics found that a majority of doctors will agree to parents' requests to delay their children's vaccinations.

Ninety-three percent of the 534 primary care doctors surveyed said that they were asked to postpone vaccinations by at least one parent a month. One-third of doctors said they "often" or "always" agreed to the delays, and another third said they "sometimes" agreed to delay vaccinations, even though the delay would increase children's risk of developing measles and other illnesses.

"It is sad that we are willing to let children walk out of our offices vulnerable to potentially fatal infections," Dr. Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told The New York Times. "There's a fatigue here, and there's a kind of learned helplessness."

This just in
10:40 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said the relationship between the United States and Israel was stronger than ever despite tensions over Washington's ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.

"Reports of the demise of U.S.-Israeli relations are not just premature, they are wrong," Netanyahu said in an address to an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, adding that his looming speech to Congress is "not intended to show any disrespect" to President Obama. Last week, the Obama administration called Netanyahu's scheduled speech to Congress "destructive" to the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and warned that it could scuttle the multilateral talks aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In his remarks Monday, Netanyahu also said he was compelled to speak out against the nuclear talks because of his duty to protect Israel.

"The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us — those days are over," he said.

10:05 a.m. ET

Archaeologists from Leicester University have finally revealed the contents of a lead coffin found near the grave of King Richard III. Richard III was found buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England. The coffin, discovered within a sarcophagus in 2013, contained the remains of an elderly woman, archaeologists announced Sunday.

The coffin held a crucifix, along with the woman's skeleton. Scientists believe the woman was likely buried during the second half of the 13th century, before Richard III died. The find marks the first intact medieval stone coffin found in the area, Discovery News reports.

The site is also home to several other graves, discovered beneath the parking lot. Matthew Morris, who led the dig, told Discovery News that there is "potential for hundreds more burials" at the site, which was once home to a medieval Franciscan church.

Morris told Discovery News that the archaeologists thought the person buried inside the coffin would be male. He believes the discovery will provide "important insights into the interaction of women and the religious orders in the medieval period."

This just in
9:51 a.m. ET

A federal judge on Monday nixed Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriage, though the ruling will not take hold until March 9 so the state can file an appeal.

The delay could mean that the fate of Nebraska's ban remains in limbo until this summer, when the Supreme Court is expected to issue a landmark ruling on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. Seven same-sex couples in Nebraska filed suit last year over a voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

TV talk
9:49 a.m. ET

The Dowager Countess' days of quipping are nearing their end. In a recent interview with the Sunday Times , Maggie Smith — who plays the legendarily caustic character on the popular period drama Downton Abbey — has revealed that she will leave the series after its sixth season.

"They say this is the last [season], and I can't see how it could go on," said Smith. "I mean, I certainly can’t keep going. To my knowledge, I must be 110 by now. We're into the late 1920s."

Though there are persistent rumors about Downton Abbey ending after its upcoming sixth season, the show's creative team has refused to confirm their long-term plans. "We'll call time when we think the time is right," said executive producer Gareth Neame in a recent interview.

This just in
9:32 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the longest-serving woman in the history of the Senate, will not seek re-election once her term expires at the end of next year, according to The Washington Post, Associated Press, and others.

The 78-year-old Mikulski has served in the upper chamber since 1987, and served in the House for 10 years before that. Known affectionately as the "dean" of Senate women, Mikulski is scheduled to hold a news conference Monday morning to discuss her future plans.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em
9:19 a.m. ET

Millennials are the driving factor behind the rapid rise in support for legal marijuana in the U.S. And in the latest sign of the changing times, even a significant majority of young Republicans — 63 percent to be precise — now favor legalization, according to Pew.

By comparison, only 31 percent of all Republicans support marijuana legalization.

9:04 a.m. ET

Archaeologists discovered the remains of 700 people at the graveyard of England's Hereford Cathedral between 2009 and 2011. But recent osteological research has revealed that one of the bodies is particularly noteworthy: The skeleton's broken bones suggest that the man may have been a medieval knight who sustained jousting injuries throughout his life.

The skeletons are from the Norman Conquest, which ran from 1066 C.E. through the 19th century, Ancient Origins reports. The bones of the man who may have been a knight have fractures on his right side, at the man's ribs and shoulders. Archaeologists believe the man was hit in the right side of his upper body during jousting events. The man also had a break in his left leg that researchers believe may be due to a stirrup injury.

"Obviously, we can never be sure how people came about their wounds, but in this case there is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting this man was involved in some form of violent activity, and the locations of his injuries do match quite closely what might be expected from taking part in mock battles," Andy Boucher, the Headland Archaeology researcher in charge of the osteological study, said in a statement. "The fact that he was still doing this after he was 45 suggests he must have been very tough."

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