Earlier this week, the Korean website Imgur posted photos of mutant vegetables which were supposedly popping up in farms around Japan's earthquake-damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor due to radiation leaks. I've posted one of the photos here and you can find the whole gallery at the Xinhua news site from China.
I first saw the photos posted at Grist and I spent some time trying to decide if I was really looking at a mutation or a tomato sculpture made with toothpicks. Grist reporter Holly Richmond, though, seemed to have no such doubts and the website's initial story began with this lead:
Maaaybe it’s not a good idea to set up your vegetable garden outside a nuclear power plant. Certainly it’s not a good idea to set it up outside the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which melted down in 2011 in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami. At least that’s the implication of these creepy photos, which look as if they were ripped from a dystopian sci-fi novel.
Today, she posted an update, acknowledging that the photos were a hoax. Sort of: A post on a website in Japan reports that these images aren’t related to the Fukushima disaster.” Which doesn’t necessarily mean the photos are fake…." The update links to a far more direct retraction from MSN, which also swallowed (sorry, couldn't resist) the mutant tomato story. The original MSN piece, titled "2 Years After Nuclear Disaster, Japan Spawns Mutant Vegetables" now includes this update: "We regret passing along the misinformation." The Daily Mail, which originally posted this as "Have Japan's Gardeners Come a Cropper?" now has a story which focuses on the way the images have flashed across the internet and concludes: "But Is it All a Hoax?" And I'm sorry to tell you that ABC News didn't update or correct its initial report at all.
Just a little research might have flagged the fact that many of these images aren't all that new. That hand-shaped radish you'll see in the Mail story, for instance. Check out this 2005 photo. That hairy looking tomato? Think 2007. Those enormous cabbages? You'll also find them here in a 2012 story. And so on. Of course, most news media thankfully ignored this whole demonstration in ignoring scientific information and in fundamental fact-checking.
Of course, perhaps they're just waiting for the even more exciting images of Godzilla rising from the sea.
— Deborah Blum