by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This spring, Dr. Johannes Bohannon and a team of German scientists discovered that people on low-carbohydrate diets could lose weight faster if they used one weird trick: Eat a bar of chocolate every day.
Newsrooms around the world responded eagerly to Bohannon’s findings.
“Excellent News: Chocolate Can Help You Lose Weight!” Huffington Post India declared in a report.
The U.K.’s Daily Mail blared in a headline, “Pass the Easter Egg! New study reveals that eating chocolate doesn’t affect your Body Mass Index…and can even help you LOSE weight!”
In the United States, Modern Healthcare wrote, “Dieting? Don’t forget the chocolate.”
The story continued to grow, with news of the sweet discovery spreading from the Internet to print and television. Even Europe’s highest-circulation newspaper, Bild, got in on the action, publishing a report titled “Slim by Chocolate!”
Journalists and readers looked past the too-good-to-be-true nature of the findings and devoured the story wholesale.
But Bohannon’s research was a hoax.
The health study was deliberately faked to test the hypothesis that scientists and reporters rarely detect junk science. No one caught on to this ruse.
“Our point was not that journalists could be tricked by fakers, but rather that scientists themselves in this field and other fields are making the kinds of mistakes that we made on purpose,” said Bohannon, a journalist whose real first name is John and who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology. “This whole area of science has become kind of corrupted by really poor standards between scientists and journalists.”