July 9, 2015
‘How much chocolate does it take to fool a journalist?’
Turns out not much. Earlier this month, Peter Onneken and Diana Löbl, a pair of documentary filmmakers from Germany, and John Bohannon, a biologist and science journalist based at Harvard, revealed that they had tricked millions of people—including their peers at The Daily Star, Cosmopolitan’s German site, and the German and Indian sites of The Huffington Post—into believing chocolate could help them lose weight.
The hoax exposed how easy it can be to turn shoddy research into headline-making news. They pulled it off with little more than a mock clinical trial, some cooked statistics, and one fake website—plus a small army of journalists who were either too stressed or too lazy to check the facts, and a diet industry that profits off concerns about obesity, obsessions with slimming down, and scientific illiteracy.