Chocolate Is Diet Food! Wait, Correction: Nutrition News Is Junk
Here it is. The dietary breakthrough we've all been waiting for. Chocolate -- delicious, decadent, guilt-inducing, you-fat-making chocolate -- can in fact help you LOSE weight. Amazing! ALMOST TOO AMAZING FOR ANY HUMAN TO BELIEVE, WOULDN'T YOU SAY???
io9Why don't you trying putting down the salad and having a S'more, fatass.
A bunch of news outlets couldn't resist taking the bait. We've all been wrong about chocolate our whole lives! Too good to be true?? Uh, yeah, it obviously is. Even if you weren't catching on to the direction all these list entries were taking, you probably could've guessed that even at the time.
This wasn't your run-of-the-mill "press jumping the gun" story, though. John Bohannon, a diet scientist and writer, deliberately conducted this experiment to show how easy it is to widely disseminate bad diet science across mainstream news outlets. The experiment was completely real. Sixteen subjects were split into two groups, and the group that ate a bar of chocolate per day did demonstrate a greater rate of weight loss. He published the findings with that irresistible hook -- "SCIENCE says eating chocolate helps you LOSE WEIGHT" -- knowing that sites are so forever desperate for new diet content that they'd lap it up. And indeed, the story was all over the place as fast as sites could download stock photos of happy women holding vague unbranded chocolate bars.
The problem Bohannon exploited, however, was that while this experiment did take place in a literal sense, it didn't really "prove" anything. Only 16 subjects were involved, there were tons of outside variables that could've affected people's weight loss, and the results are almost entirely random, unrepeatable, and not based in any actual biological science other than this small random correlation. But sites are usually all too willing to read a nutrition study's press release and take the science at face value, especially when the hook (chocolate is healthy now!) is too irresistible. And if your site doesn't post this article, you lose out on clicks to ones that do, even if they eventually look stupid for having published it. First rule of internet is ABC: Always Be Click-getting, even if the story is obviously flawed as hell. (The letter C is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that abbreviation.)
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For more, check out 5 BS Science Myths Your Entire View Of The World Rests On and 6 Reasons You Can't Trust Science Anymore.
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