The Guardian has withdrawn a blog post about a Japanese craze for eye-ball licking after the tale was debunked in a specialist journal.
But the story remains live on several other UK national newspaper websites.
The story was widely reported on both mainstream and more fringe news websites last June prompting the Guardian to publish a blog post (still live on the Raw Story website) noting that the bizarre practice, also known as ‘worming’, has “taken off spectacularly” and led to increased cases of conjunctivitis
Schreiber notes the way the story swept around the world and tracked the source of it to Bucchi News, which he describes as “a site for subculture enthusiasts”.
The sole source is apparently an anonymous teacher at a primary school in Tokyo.
Debunking an anonymous, unattributed story may be impossible, but it was not especially difficult to at least cast doubts on the sweeping claim that large numbers of Japanese adolescents were suffering from an epidemic of tongue-induced pink eye, as the blogs were now claiming.
I contacted three Japanese professional organizations, including two opthamological associations and an organization of school clinicians. Queries were also sent to a professor of nursing at a national university and a Yokohama-based ophthalmologist. None of them had the faintest idea of what I was talking about. None knew anything about the rampant spread of disease."
Schreiber has tracked down the editor of Core Magazine which posted the original story on the Bucchi website.
Expressing astonishment at how the story had gone viral in the foreign media, he evaded my questions about the identity of the writer. “The story never claimed the problem was widespread,” he said defensively, implying that readers of his site are looking for thrills, not facts, and anyone who read the story in Japanese would clearly recognize the story’s main purpose, which was to titillate.
Schreiber says he has written to various editors asking them why they ran the story. A few responded, but none have removed the story from their sites.
The Guardian has responded and taken the story down, with Elliott saying: “Complaints of this nature are rare but on this occasion we fell into the trap.”