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Problems behind chocolate study “fooling millions” run much deeper than just a prank/spoof/sting

Joker & sign w:writing“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me…..”

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 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.”

little girl face (7 years old) covered in chocolate and having funI 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.

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