Eat more fish, it’s healthy for you! Wait, no! Don’t eat fish. Try some wine; it keeps you in good health. Wait, I meant, avoid wine consumption.
Health studies can admittedly be rather confusing and, at times, downright contradictory. But setting up an elaborate hoax just to show how easy if to fool people into thinking whatever you want is just shameful.
Recently, a filmmaker documented the allegedly health benefits dark chocolate has on people based on a faulty scientific study. The fake research has more dramatic consequences than its creator initially intended, as many people will lose their faith in trusting sound scientific studies that might help them otherwise.
Johannes Bohannon, author of the fake study and owner of a Ph.D. in molecular biology, set up a fictional institute to conduct a research about how dark chocolate has the ability of helping people lose weight. Next step was to get it published in a non-peer-reviewed journal, while also revealing the “miraculous” chocolate diet to about 5,000 media outlets.
Bohannon got a good laugh out seeing his fake information being published and re-posted on more than a dozen of news publications. He said his sole purpose was to prove how easily manipulated people are by “junk science” headlines, which have the power to create food fads.
He is rather proud of his accomplishment, as he uncovered yesterday to have been the author of the ruse. “I fooled millions into thinking chocolate helps weight loss.” However, he might not realize the disservice he has done to a lot of people, be they journalists, news readers and real scientists.
Reporting falsehoods is never a good idea, not even when you’re trying to prove a valid point. Health articles should indeed be taken with a grain of salt (or not, as it might be bad for you!), but encouraging people to completely distrust all types of legitimate research results is just shameful.
It is noteworthy, however, that even though more than 5,000 reporters and editors, the information did not fool “millions,” as Bohannon claims. As a matter of fact, the revealing of the hoax has received a lot more attention than his original “study,” raising the question of legitimacy in study results everywhere.
Going forward, readers should not regard all health and diet-related studies as fake. Instead, make sure you check the scientific journal publishing the study, or the organization or university conducting it. It’s easy to spot a phony research when you do your own research on it.
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