Everyone knows that the news media is always looking for a story with a catchy headline. But reporters always check out the story first right? Wrong.
Reporter John Bohannon found that out when he circulated to reporters a fake "study" claiming chocolate could help people lose weight. He felt sure that his fellow journalists would ask around to see if the study's findings were legitimate.
Bohannon, who circulated the bogus study under the name Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., said his press release was published almost word for word in many articles online and even featured on national news outlets in many countries. Not a single reporter who received it bothered to even question the findings or methodology of the study.
“These publications, though many command large audiences, are not exactly paragons of journalistic virtue. So it’s not surprising that they would simply grab a bit of digital chum for the headline, harvest the pageviews, and move on. But even the supposedly rigorous outlets that picked the study up failed to spot the holes,” said Bohannon.
Bohannon and some colleagues did conduct a study on people’s diets over three weeks. However they had designed the study to artificially generate the results that they wanted and knew the media would find newsworthy.
“Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result…That study design is a recipe for false positives,” explained Bohannon.
The study was based on clearly unsound science and its data showed no association between chocolate and weight loss. They sent it to media outlets worldwide anticipating questions into the methodology of the study and the results. None came.
No one even Googled Johannes Bohannon to see if he was a legitimate scientist.
We at Sip & Savor know that it can be hard for both journalists and the general public to figure out the truth behind all the science out there on nutrition these days, both real and fake. Many of the studies we see about beverages are often highly misleading.
But in a time where nutrition and food have an enormous influence on our daily lives and many governments are looking for ways to combat many public health issues, it’s crucial that we take a deeper look into such studies before jumping to conclusions.
If you’re interested in the science behind the beverages that our member companies produce check out LetsClearItUp.org.