It's pretty darned easy to pull off a nutritional "science" hoax

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Rob beat you by an hour, bro!

You owe us a blog post. :wink:


Why even bother with a bogus study? It seems like the press didn’t even do the most basic of verification anyway.

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The fitness & health industry is riddled with these “get something fast” schemes. If it took you a life-time to get un-healthy [no short-cuts exist], it just may take some time to get fit & healthy, as common sense would tell you.

There were two parts - the first part was getting into a “prestigious” medical journal that published without any peer review in exchange for some cash - that, in turn, meant that any journalists who might have been tempted to check facts didn’t, because they assumed it had been peer reviewed, given where it had appeared.
The problem is that the end result is that they did nothing but contribute more noise (i.e. they were part of the problem, not the solution). They convinced a large number of the public that chocolate helps you lose weight/is good for you; those people will never see a retraction because none of the many, many news outlets that reported the story will do any follow-up stories. And we didn’t learn anything new. Medical journals are accepting bullshit papers? We knew that was the case - which is why they knew they’d be able to do it in the first place. Journalists don’t check facts on stories from “credible” sources? We certainly knew that before. Anyone who didn’t know it before won’t know it now because, again, the news outlets that originally reported this are unlikely to embarrass themselves by returning to the story and admitting this.

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Has anybody fact checked this io9 article? Do we know that John Bohannon is who he claims to be? WHAT IF THIS IS JUST A HOAX DEBUNKING TO SHOW HOW EASY IT IS TO CONVINCE SKEPTICS THAT A SCIENTIFIC STUDY HAS BEEN DEBUNKED?

I’m tellin’ you, man, it’s turtles all the way down.


The awful part is they fooled millions of people, and then displayed their results to thousands of people. That’s like a 1000:1 evil ratio.


No. That’s not how BioMedCentral (a legitimate publisher) works. If you actually read the linked article, the journal (The International Archives of Medicine) used to be run by BioMedCentral but they dropped it and it now seems to be run by a scammer who accepts articles directly in exchange for a fee.


Thanks for that!


At least. And it’s not even like they revealed something that hadn’t been known before. They could have proved the same thing by simply looking at previously published papers that had the same bad methodology and were widely reported. They didn’t need to actively contribute to public misinformation and certainly not with something actively harmful like encouraging more consumption of fat and sugar - surely there was a potential “unexpectedly X causes you to lose weight” story where X was more benign, if they really felt the need to do this. I know diabetics who started regularly eating chocolate because of this. Even now, I’m thinking, “I read a number of different articles about the health benefits of cocoa solids over a number of years - didn’t I? Or were they all garbled retellings of this hoax and I’m mis-remembering the dates? I don’t know, now.” I have literally been rendered more ignorant as a result of this.

This. And the fact that they sent it to a scam journal that didn’t even peer review it kind of makes the point that they structured the article to make various common statistical errors kind of moot. Bad statistics do get through peer review, because most people reviewing a scientific paper are not statisticians but experts in whatever field the paper is about, and this is a real problem. It might have been interesting (although still evil) to see if any peer reviewers caught the bad statistics, but I don’t much worth in what they did without it.

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You think so? To me it feels like a more nuanced ethical conundrum.

Seems like the whole point of the hoax was to cleverly frame the exposé in the same ‘clickbait-viral-send-to-a-friend’ format that DOES get widespread popular attention in a way no ‘serious’ article could hope for.

It is on boingboing, isn’t it? Would you have heard about the documentary otherwise? I’m pretty sure I care more than the average person about how broken the nutrition-health-science-reporting issue is, and I doubt I’d heard about it if it wasn’t for this prank/hoax.

Suppose, as a mental diversion, that the serious message behind the hoax had to reach X people to stir them into action and make a real change for the better (good!), but at the same time fooled Y people into wasting time, money and hope into a useless placebo for a real issue or maybe even making it worse (bad!). What ratio of X to Y would be acceptable to you, if any at all?

Alternatively, what if this one BS and possibly harmful study, by being published/reposted/read, ended up preventing the publication/reposting/reading of a number of other equally BS and possibly harmful studies that we know are out there every day? How many would it have to stop to justify its existence, if any?

Yeah, you can tell I’m no social scientist. But I’m sure you get my uncertainty of that 1000:1 number, ethics-wise. And I’m sick of that damn trolley problem, so there’s that.


What if all the comments on this thread were paid shills?

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Good, and more of this, please.

Such methods are used en masse, behind the scenes, by corporate PR. A good book about the abuse of experts and such cooked and sneaked-through articles and publication is this one:
“Trust Us, We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future”, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.

Such fooling tactics are used daily. See above.

This team displayed the results to thousands of people, instead of to zero people (corporate staff does not count). That’s like an infinity:1 good ratio.

Edit: okay, ERR_DIV_BY_ZERO:1 ratio but anyway.

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One day, hopefully we can see Dr. Oz and his cohorts in jail.

I dare to dream.

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