Author Of Study That Found Eating Chocolate Helped People Lose Weight Faster Said He Did It To Fool People


John Bohannon, author of fake chocolate study.

There was a small (15 people) study published in the journal International Archives of Medicine in April that found eating a low-carb diet supplemented with dark chocolate resulted in slightly accelerated weight loss compared to a low-carb diet alone. Both the low-carb and low-carb-plus-chocolate dieters lost about 5 pounds in 3 weeks, however the chocolate eaters lost it faster. The 10% accelerated weight loss was statistically significant.

The study was removed from the publisher’s website after the lead author, Johannes Bohannon (his real name is John) said he conducted it intentionally to fool people. Here’s a cache of the study:

Chocolate With High Cocoa Contentas A Weight-loss Accelerator

Here’s Bohannon writing about “the con” he pulled off:
I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How., Gawker’s io9, 27 May 2015

Bohannon said he did it to draw attention to the lack of critical review from publishers and journalists. To me, that’s not enough of a reason to trick people, to set them up and then ridicule them when they fall into your trap. It’s especially unsavory when the perpetrators seek to draw attention more to themselves than to a corrupt industry, and to garner personal praise (“You can thank people like me,” Bohannon said). That would be arrogant and narcissistic.

People have been hurt by this scam, from the study participants (the study was not, apparently, approved by an institutional review board (IRB). IRBs exist to protect participants from just this kind of deception), to the publisher, the journalists who ran with the story, down to the people who may have purchased and eaten a good amount of chocolate in the hopes of losing weight. The fault for this harm lies first and formost with the prankster. And Bohannon, far from showing remorse, could not contain his giddiness (“I fooled millions”).

It would have been as effective, actually more effective, to point out examples of real disingenuous research, to expose scientists and publishers who have corrupt agendas. There are plenty of them.

There’s no getting around the fact that this study was poorly researched, poorly conducted, and poorly written. It was, in fact, a sham, e.g.:

  • There was no control on the control group, “eat at their own discretion, with unrestricted choice of food.”
  • “The low-carb group had a lower ketone reduction than in the previous period, they reduced 145 mg/dl less ketones.”
  • “The participants were healthy or had medical conditions for which a nutrition intervention represents a generally medically accepted form of therapy.”
  • “After a detailed preliminary, the participants were randomly assigned one medical group from three different batches of diet instructions. For both the study participants and for the authors of this study, the grouping of the participants was unforeseeable.”

Almost every sentence was a joke. Read it. You’ll be amazed.

The research, weak as it was, did arrive at a testable hypothesis about chocolate and weight loss, something seen in real studies. Time, money, and effort was spent on those studies. Bohannon’s hoax here belittles those researchers’ work. More harm.

I agree with this comment on Retraction Watch:

[Deceitful research] must never be praised, approved, or encouraged. If a person wants to show their anger, rage or disappointment, go ahead, but please don’t cheat the system, which is already under sufficient strain.

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