Food & Nutrition

The chocolate study that fooled the world


As this week’s note falls on Easter Monday, and you might have consumed an 85% cocoa egg yesterday, I thought it might be fun to look at chocolate. More specifically – a study about chocolate, which fooled the world a few years ago.

Dr Johannes Bohannon is a journalist. His PhD is in the molecular biology of bacteria, not diet. In October 2013, Bohannon wrote an article called "Who's afraid of peer review?" It was published in Science. He had written a fake academic paper, about a fake biologist, at a fake institute. Bohannon expected the article to be rejected, but it wasn't. In the Science article he confessed that he had submitted 304 versions of the paper to open access journals. More than half of the journals accepted the paper. With open access journals, the authors pay the publication fee, but the readers don't have to (Ref 1). The fees can be very lucrative, which encourages these journals to accept as many papers as possible.

This article brought Bohannon to the attention of German TV reporter, Peter Onneken, and his collaborator Diana Löbl. Onneken and Löbl were working on a documentary film about the junk-science diet industry. In December 2014, Bohannon was approached by Onneken and Löbl to help demonstrate just how easy it is to turn bad science into the diet headlines that we see daily.

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