But, what about when a prominent user supported website publishs a fake story, especially when the site's main objective is to inform public of scams & hoaxes?
Recently on May 4, 2007, Ben Popken of Consumerist.com posted a story about counterfeit eggs from China.
Yes, that is correct, counterfeit eggs.
I know China is making many of world's counterfeit goods, from DVDs to luxury hand bags, but this story is a hoax.
This is one of those stories that a group of friends thought it would be fun to post a fake story on the internet and see how many people it would fool, then forgot about it (similar to the John Seigenthaler Sr. vs. Wikipedia story).
Matter of fact, Xeni Jardin and I have already talked about it when she posted the story in April of 2006 on Boingboing.net. It attracted so much attention, Xeni had to later write in red "And if you believe all of this, please visit this eBay auction I'm hosting for a live unicorn" to inform readers that the story was fake.
The objective of counterfeit is to make something at very low price and sell it at a higher price. However, in the counterfeit eggs' story, it went through great detail about how these supposedly fake eggs are made. I would be surprised if the counterfeiters could break even after the time & money cost invested to make such kind of eggs.
To further prove my point this story is fake, I contacted my friend John Pasden of Sinosplice.com, who is currently working/studying in China, about grocery prices in Shanghai. He happily scanned a copy of current newspaper ad from Carrefour:
A carton of 15 eggs is 9.90 Chinese Yuan, at the exchange rate of 7.706 Yuan per 1 US Dollar, it is only $1.285. Each egg is about 8.6 cents.
For anyone actually went through and read the original finding from The Internet Journal of Toxicology, "bullshit alarm bell" should sound off when the study is sponsored by one "Queers Network Research" in Hong Kong. Of course, no such organization exists and phone numbers listed are bogus as well. Five of 14 references in the article are from author listed as "unknown".
I understand things in China are cheap, but I highly doubt counterfeiters would go through the tedious process just to make fake eggs. After all, luxury hand bags and DVDs could turn a much faster buck.
After reading all this, I should once again remind everyone that:
Just because something is posted on the internet, it does not mean it is actually true.
I don't have a problem with the story Consumerist.com linked if it was indeed true and reported by a credible scientific organization, ie. CDC or JAMA, with reliable references.
However I do have a problem with people post stories without verifying its legitimacy, especially internet hoaxes and urban legends.
I have been a long time reader of Consumerist.com and truly value the information it provides. However, by posting this story without adding comments like "smells fishy, but anything is possible", or "those clever Chinese people, what will they think up next", it gives this hoax more strength to be passed on.
To certain point, this is almost like Consumerist.com is jumping onto a major news bandwagon after the pet food recall.
Update: May 4, 2007 - Reader Robert J. writes:
Thanks for calling BS on the "counterfeit eggs" article. It smelled fishy, but I couldn't find any reputable sources that specifically debunked it. There are a few additional pieces of information that you might want to highlight:
1. The "journal" it was published in, "The Internet Journal of Toxicology," is itself rather sketchy. It's not a serious peer-reviewed, academic, printed journal. Instead, it's just an "internet journal" that a veterinary doctor from Mosul, Iraq (!) put up on the web a few years ago. Some of the articles might be legitimate, but this doesn't speak well for the article's veracity. It appears they'll publish just about anything.
2. The author of the "counterfeit eggs" story, Alexander Tse-Yan Lee, wrote a total of four separate articles for the same journal, including the "soy sauce from human hair" article. They were all published in the same edition of that journal. All of these articles are variations on the same "scary/fake foods from China" meme.
3. All four articles, including the "counterfeit eggs" story, were later deleted from the journal's website. It is only available through the Internet Archives (which Consumerist linked to). However, I counldn't find any explanation from the journal about why they were deleted. Compare the above link (from the archives) to the below link (the current website):
Update: May 5, 2007 - Ben Popken posted an update on Consumerist.com calling the story about Chinese counterfeit eggs a possible hoax.
Update: May 8, 2007 - Robert J. and I are both very curious about why there are two similar articles about food related tampering from China are written by one "Alexander Tse-Yan Lee". One article is about the fake eggs and other was about soy sauce made from human hair.
Both articles were originally published on the Internet Journal of Toxicology, and then later removed from the site without any explanation. Matter of fact, the only places these two articles still existing are on various bloggers' sites and Archive.org.
To get to the bottom of this, Robert J. contacted the Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Fouad Kasim Mohammad, of the Internet Journal of Toxicology for some answers. (42.7 KB pdf)
Dr. Mohammad replies:
"The articles I supervised the review process upon them were not acceptable for publication. They were briefly published online by mistake by the publication staff; thereafter withdrawn."So there you have it, everyone.
On a personal note, I don't want to sound like an ass or anything, but personally I would trust publications that have editors who are based in Western Europe or US than let's say a country that is currently torn in civil war.
Robert J. also agrees:
"I'm just astonished that so many people reported these stories on their blogs, etc., as 'fact' without using any critical thinking. It makes me very depressed about the state of the Internet, when otherwise good websites like Consumerist will write articles along the line of 'OMG! Fake Eggs! Fake Soy Sauce!' without considering the source."