John Bohannon reveals the truth about the research claiming that chocolate can help lose weight by exposing it as a farce to find the truth of the fitness industry online.
It was a research that took a lot of sites and magazines with a bang. All of them claiming one underlying fact that had been proven by research, eating chocolate makes you lose weight. German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day.
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German television reporter named Peter Onneken and his collaborator Diana Löbl along with and journalist John Bohannon who had run a sting operation forScience on fee-charging open access journals, a fast-growing and lucrative new sector of the academic publishing business, worked together with the intention of revealing the truth about the junk-science diet industry. Originally proposed by Onneken and Lobl, who were making a documentary on the subject; the trio plotted a fake research.
They had a capital to recruit research sample, a statistician and a doctor to participate in the study. The subjects were hired for the study through Facebook advertising and checked for blood pressure, diabetes and other dietary disorders. The cleared subjects were then screened with questionnaires and then divided into three groups.
The experimental groups who had agreed to go on a low carb diet were given instructions. Whilst one group was to be on a simple diet, the other went on a diet eating bitter chocolate as a part of the diet. The control group was instructed to remain on their normal diet. After monitoring their weight for 21 days, the numbers were crunched by the statistician and they got their results.
John admitted that they were hoping for any kind of significant results. They had ran multiple kinds of variables hoping they would get a significant relationship involving bllod pressure or decreased cholesterol levels or anything.
He said when you run so many odds against a small number of subjects, your hopes of winning are increased. That’s what happened to them and they got lucky when it came out to be weight with a little bit of number pushing.
Their goal now was to get the research published without much peer review or rigorous checking and verifying. “Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator” paper was then sent to 20 journals.
Within 24 hours, it was accepted for publication. They chose the International Archives of Medicine which used to be run by the giant publisher BioMedCentral, but it had recently changed hands.
The new publisher’s CEO, Carlos Vasquez emailed Johannes that they had an “outstanding manuscript,” and they would publish it for just 600 Euros in their premier journal. The research had skipped peer review.
The next step was to put the bait out. Knowing the journalist’s nature, Johannes first line of action was to make a colleague publish a simple review of their research. They then lured in various journalists with a cooked down version of their research which conveniently ignored the numbers and concentrated more on the results.
That’s when his partners got creative; Onneken wrote a German press release and reached out directly to German media outlets. Onneken and Löbl shot some promotional video clips and commissioned freelance artists to write an acoustic ballad and even a rap about chocolate and weight loss. They then blasted the German press release out on wire service based in Austria, and the English one went out on NewsWire.
Sooner than they knew, Bild rushed their story out—”Those who eat chocolate stay slim!”—without contacting the ‘researchers’ at all. Soon it was in the Daily Star, the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian site of the Huffington Post, and even television news in Texas and an Australian morning talk show.
The journalists and reporters running the stories didn’t bother to contact Johannes at all and those who did asked the non-significant questions about how and the reasons. No one seemed to be concerned about the authenticity of the results or the sample numbers.
The readers were actually the ones who had actual sense to ask those questions but they were outglared by the media claims. Johannes has explained why they have gone to such extents to conduct this research.
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They wanted to reveal the truth behind the fitness and science tabloids and the truth about their authenticity. Johannes called what they had done ‘dirty work’ but he claimed someone had to do it to open the eyes of the general public about the truth that they ‘read’ in magazines and blogs.