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Trickster Journalist Explains Why He Duped The Media On Chocolate Study

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Why did a deliberately bad study showing the weight-loss benefits of chocolate get picked up by many news outlets? Science journalist John Bohannon — the man behind the study — says reporting on junk nutrition studies happens all the time.

On Thursday we told you about an elaborate hoax carried out by a science journalist who wanted to teach the media a lesson about being more responsible in reporting on nutrition science.

As we reported, John Bohannon conducted a real — but deeply and deliberately flawed — study on how chocolate affects weight loss. He wrote press releases to alert the media, then sat back and watched who bit. Many news organizations around the world took the bait.

On Friday's All Things Considered, Bohannon talks with NPR's Robert Siegel about how and why he carried out this scheme, which he revealed this week in a post on i09.

"My goal was to show that scientists who do a bad job and get their work published can end up making headlines because it's us — journalists like you and me — who are failing," Bohannon tells Siegel. Because the media often fail to do due diligence, "the world is awash with junk science," he says.

Now while lots of news outlets — including Shape magazine in the U.S. — picked up the study, many other well-respected organizations, including The New York Times, the Associated Press and major broadcast networks, did not. (For the record, NPR did not report on it.) So shouldn't that be heartening?

"I wish it were that easy," Bohannon says. As he notes, the tabloids and other news outlets that ran with the bad science probably got millions of eyeballs. And this kind of junk nutrition information gets promulgated every day, he says.

"The entire nutrition beat is one of the most corrupt," Bohannon says. "The science is completely disrespected, even though what you eat affects your health, and is every bit as important as cancer and astrophysics."

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