It’s one thing for an Iranian news agency to mistakenly cite as fact a piece in The Onion, a satirical humor publication, as actually happened in 2012 when the Fars News Agency referred in all seriousness to an Onion story about a Gallup poll that supposedly showed more rural white voters in America would rather spend time with then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than with President Obama.
And it’s pretty much the same thing when the official Chinese newspaper, the People’s Daily, reported in all seriousness about an Onion story that declared North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the 2012 Sexiest Man Alive , succeeding The Onion’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who himself succeeded Bernie Madoff as The Onion’s 2010 Sexist Man Alive.
But, as the Gawker reported here, it’s another thing when a respected publication, in this case Science News, falls victim to The Onion. That happened in this story, “Schadenfreude Starts Early,” which was about a new study showing that children as young as 2 can enjoy others’ pain. The story also linked to a Dec. 7, 2009, Onion story titled “New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths,” that started this way:
MINNEAPOLIS—A study published Monday in The Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry has concluded that an estimated 98 percent of children under the age of 10 are remorseless sociopaths with little regard for anything other than their own egocentric interests and pleasures.
The Journal of Child Psychology And Psychiatry exists, as does the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, but neither the study not its supposed author exists. John Rosemond, a family psychologist, recognized it was a parody when it was published and had some fun with it a 2009 Washington Times column, in which he wrote:
“Of special interest to me was the ‘study’s’ finding that although any adult is capable of falling for a child’s pathological scheming, grandparents are especially susceptible. Much to our chagrin, my wife and I immediately recognized ourselves and resolve to never again enable our seven grandkids’ anti-social tendencies. To quote the inimitable Pete Townshend, we ‘won’t get fooled again!’
The new Science News story about schadenfreude in children now carries this note:
Editor’s Note: As noted in the comments and elsewhere, this article was amended on July 24, 2014, to delete a sentence that unintentionally linked to a parody article. Science News regrets the error but does think the parody article is pretty funny.
The Onion parody is pretty funny; the Science News link, not so much.