ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Meet the Reporter Behind That Bogus Chocolate Study

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Siona Karen/Flickr

Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., made headlines earlier this year with a "study" showing that chocolate helps people lose weight. Then, last month, John Bohannon, Ph.D., made even bigger headlines when he revealed that Johannes and his Institute of Diet and Health were merely constructs of a sting operation to show how bad science enters the mainstream.

Today, he joins ProPublica Reporter Charles Ornstein to talk about his “study” and the journalists who fell for it.

Highlights include discussion of:

  • How he put the study together and got coverage for it. (1:00)
  • The ethical concerns some have voiced about Bohannon’s establishment of a fake name and institute: “I think those concerns are adorable,” Bohannon says. “I think when, you know, investigative journalists spend a lot of time doing something important and reveal something really bad, people want to take part in the conversation.” (3:18)
  • P-hacking, or manipulating one’s study to make it seem statistically significant. “It makes you think you’ve got a cool result,” Bohannon says, “but if you were to repeat the experiment, I guarantee you would not get the same significant results. (3:47)
  • The criticism of journalists who disagree with Bohannon’s methods, including investigative reporter Seth Mnookin. Bohannon says many people are upset because the study was called “clinical.” “It almost seems as if some different rules apply because the word clinical appeared in the story,” he says. “And they’re also just really embarrassed.” (7:54)
  • His testing of open access journals in academic publishing, to see which were actually using peer review, as they claimed. (8:46)

Hear their conversation on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher, and read Bohannon’s story, “I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here's How,” on io9.

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