A 20-year-old hoax suggesting that staring at female breasts has the effect of promoting longevity in men has been circulated by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, the government-controlled news wire service.
Other media houses also fell for the age-long hoax. Crediting NAN, news platforms including Premium Times and TheCable reported the “study” on Tuesday. Vanguard Newspaper, DailyPost, and many other web platforms have likewise shared the report in the same period.
The study is said to have been conducted over a five year period by “a German scientist, Karen Weatherby, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine”. The year it was published was not stated. After the scientist instructed 250 men to stare at breasts lustfully at least 10 minutes in a day and another group of 250 men to abstain from this, the report said, he concluded that the health of the first group of men improved significantly.
The study said men should stare at breasts for 10 minutes a day to improve the wellness of their hearts and to live longer.
“Sexual excitement gets the heart pumping and improves blood circulation. Gazing at breasts makes men healthier and engaging in this activity a few minutes daily cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack by half,” Weatherby was quoted to have said.
“We believe that by doing so consistently, the average man can extend his life for four to five years.”
However, the report has been debunked as far back as in May 2000, by Snope, a prominent fact-checking website launched in 1994.
“This has to be one of the ultimate male fantasies, second only to the notion that drinking beer and watching football makes one more intelligent. (Or maybe second only to the thought of being instructed by doctors to look at buxom women for five years straight, all in the name of science.),” the website wrote sarcastically.
“Watching busty females may indeed be good for a man’s health and add years to his life (by giving him something to look forward to, if nothing else), but men who want to make the case for engaging in this behaviour to their wives or girlfriends will have to do so without relying on the imprimatur of the medical community.”
Snopes further established that the study was never printed in the New England Journal of Medicine “or any other major medical journal” as claimed. It is, rather, a rephrased version of an article that has appeared at least twice (May 13, 1997, and March 21, 2000) on the Weekly World News, a popular tabloid that broke mostly fictional news in the United States between 1979 and 2007.
According to the Washington Post, “The Weekly World News was not one of those sleazy tabloids that cover tawdry celebrity scandals. It was a sleazy tabloid that covered events that seemed to occur in a parallel universe, a fevered dream world where pop culture mixed with urban legends, conspiracy theories and hallucinations. Maybe WWN played fast and loose with the facts, but somehow it captured the spirit of the age — and did it in headlines as perfect as haiku: ‘DEAD ROCKSTARS RETURN ON GHOST PLANE!’ ‘BLIND MAN REGAINS SIGHT AND DUMPS UGLY WIFE!'”
“The most creative newspaper in American history, the Weekly World News broke the story that Elvis faked his death and was living in Kalamazoo, Mich,” Peter Carlson, the Post’s staff writer, added.
“It also broke the story that the lost continent of Atlantis was found near Buffalo. And the story that Hillary Clinton was having a love affair with P’lod, an alien with a foot-long tongue. And countless other incredible scoops.”
Snopes said though the tabloid “occasionally slips up and prints a true story”, it suspects the report on the positive effects of breast-staring belongs in the category of similar articles titled “‘HOW TO TELL IF YOUR DOG WORSHIPS SATAN!’ and ‘NEW REMOTE-CONTROL DEVICE GIVES WOMEN ORGASMS — AT UP TO 80 YARDS AWAY!'”
Another fact-check of the claim published in 2009 (and updated in May 2019) by LiveAbout described it as an “email hoax circulating since March/April 2000” and concluded that it is false.
“No such study was ever published in the New England Journal of Medicine,” wrote David Emery, an internet folklore expert and debunker of urban legends, hoaxes, and popular misconceptions.
“A search of the thousands of peer-reviewed articles contained in the National Institutes of Health medical journal database turns up zero items documenting the health benefits of staring at women’s breasts, and, for that matter, zero items authored by ‘Dr. Karen Weatherby’ (who does not exist, so far as I can tell).”
'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.