10 Widely Believed U.S. Government Conspiracy Theories

The CIA Created AIDS to Wipe Out Gays and Blacks
About 100 researchers, public officials, activists and community leaders participated in a town hall meeting focused on HIV/AIDS infection among African-Americans in Washington, D.C. in 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

We now know that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the source of the deadly disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), is contracted most often by sexual contact or intravenous drug use. But in the 1980s, there were fears that you could get HIV simply by touching an infected patient or even sharing a toilet seat [source: AIDS.gov]. Since the virus appeared to affect certain groups more than others – gay men and minority groups, such as African-Americans – conspiracy theorists began to ponder the possibility that AIDS was engineered by the CIA in an effort to reduce these populations [sources: AIDS.gov, Media AIDS].

Although both of those groups have certainly suffered significant injustices over the years, being a government-issued target for this currently incurable disease does not appear to be one of them. HIV is very similar in nature to simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which was probably transmitted decades ago to humans by eating infected monkeys or apes, or by contaminating wounds with their infected blood [source: Media AIDS].

Higher levels of unprotected sex with infected individuals, as well as various other social and economic concerns, are blamed for the disproportionately high infection rates suffered by these groups [source: AIDS.gov]. But the disease knows no boundaries, and has affected people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and races, to the incredibly sad tune of 39 million deaths worldwide since the epidemic's onset. A further 35 million are currently living with HIV [source: CDC].