Science journalist John Bohannon has done it again – providing another example of how easy it is to get slipshod studies published, and now, how easy it is to get naive news coverage of a slipshod study.
“I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How” is Bohannon’s story of how he and co-conspirators dreamed up and executed a plot to do an actual, albeit shoddy, study….submit it to a questionable journal…get it published almost overnight…write a news release…and watch the silly news coverage roll in. I won’t repeat the “here’s how” of his article; you should read it yourself. (And don’t miss some of the hundreds of reader comments left on the ion9.com website, where his article was published.)
In 2013, Bohannon reminds us, he:
“…had run a sting operation for Science on fee-charging open access journals, a fast-growing and lucrative new sector of the academic publishing business. To find out how many of those publishers are keeping their promise of doing rigorous peer review, I submitted ridiculously flawed papers and counted how many rejected them. (Answer: fewer than half.)”
Over on the Retraction Watch blog, Ivan Oransky asked me to react to the stunt. You can read what Ivan and I wrote – “Should the chocolate-diet sting study be retracted? And why the coverage doesn’t surprise a news watchdog.”
I pulled the image of the little girl at right because it helps capture the moment. A chocolate-stained mess demonstrating how easily the health/science news food chain to the consuming public is contaminated. And how some journalists bit the bait with child-like naivete.
Addendum on May 29: NPR interview me for this piece, “Why A Journalist Scammed The Media Into Spreading Bad Chocolate Science.” More than 200 comments have been left online as I write this.