A concocted bogus study saying chocolate can ‘accelerate’ weight loss was orchestrated by The Institute of Diet and Health, a website created by John Bohannon Ph.D, a science journalist working for a German documentary on dietary junk-science. An experiment was conducted to reveal how the public can be fooled by media publicizing junk science.
Dubbed ‘Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight loss accelerator,’ the study was published in the journal International Archives of Medicine, known for disreputable practices. But despite the journal’s bad repute, reporters worldwide still picked up the story and published it with a little to no background fact check up.
Media outlets which plucked the story includes Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan’s German site, The Huffington Post, The Times of India and the earned a spot on the front page of Bild. Nutrition articles, especially related to weight loss, are sensational science journalism to most readers, so the study was predictably accepted as true.
Though, the study was indeed piloted by a German scientist, nevertheless it was seriously flawed in the weight loss research that would have been obvious to any scientist.
The sample sizes were less than thirty individuals, which makes it unreliable. Furthermore, an improbable amount of biological data such as cholesterol, weight, blood protein and sodium followed that was bound to sway in a small number of individuals.
Bohannon enlisted the assistance of an economic statistician who made-up statistical implication by altering his calculations P-values. The fabricated data were then bundled as a research paper, given a phony press release, and became readily acceptable to reporters.
Bohannon uncovered issues in scientific publications before. During an assignment for the Science journal, he emphasized half of his flawed study paper were accepted by purportedly peer-reviewed journals. Because scientific publications cannot be trusted at all times, journalists need to be alert to the threat of junk science.