The reporting of the chocolate study involved fooling the public that taking chocolate daily helps reduce weight. Johannes Bohannon, a science journalist and a molecular biology specialist, conducted faulty research to reveal how chocolate helps reduce weight. It was a hoax to show how the mainstream media disseminate bad nutrition science news, misleading millions. The researcher did an actual study, where participants were enrolled, and asked an experiment was done. Those who took chocolate daily reported weight loss faster than those who did not. However, although the study was conducted, the methodology used was faulty.
Many media outlets went ahead to report the study’s findings that chocolate helps in weight loss. Johannes intended to make people realize how the media mislead the public, especially in the medical field. He used a set-up of an actual study but carried out with a faulty method. After several media outlets published the story, he came out to explain that the research was junk and why he carried out the research.
The research was reported unethically, and there are several issues with its reporting. Firstly, the reporters did not establish if the study was credible or if it had been approved by an ethics entity such as the Institution Review Board (IRB). Journalism calls for publishing facts, and hence, reporters must evaluate a subject’s correctness (Carlson & Lewis, 2015). In this case, they ought to establish if the study was credible and followed ethical research principles by checking if an ethics body had approved it.
Secondly, an ethical issue of the source of information comes up. When reporting, the source of the information or news is crucial in achieving ethical journalism (Wulfemeyer, 1983). However, in this case, the reporters did not bother to check the source’s credibility. They did not check whether the journal that published the study was reputable or not. Also, the article states that a Google search would not yield the researcher’s name or his alleged institution (Bohannon, 2015). It could mean that the reporters did not even bother to check the credibility of the researcher or even the journal.
Lastly, obtaining informed consent is crucial in reporting someone else’s information. In journalism, publishing one’s information without the source’s consent is termed plagiarism, an ethical issue (Bonnell et al., 2012). The reporters did not obtain informed consent from the researcher before publishing the content. Since it was a set-up by the researcher, he could have prevented the reporters from publishing the false content had they sought consent before publishing.
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Nevertheless, researchers and reporters can prevent this type of event in the future by being skeptical, avoiding deliberate deception, and having the willingness to learn. One of the principles of effective journalism is being skeptical. Journalists ought to question things before believing in them. Skepticism would help them identify the credibility of information and its sources. For example, by digging deep into the chocolate research, reporters would have determined that the research design was faulty, and hence, the findings would have prevented the event. Also, researchers can avoid such circumstances by avoiding deliberate deception. They should research with credibility and deliver credible results.
Bohannon, J. (2015, May 27). I fooled millions into thinking chocolate helps weight loss. Here’s how. Gizmodo. https://gizmodo.com/i-fooled-millions-into-thinking-chocolate-helps-weight-1707251800
Bonnell, D. A., Buriak, J. M., Hafner, J. H., Hammond, P. T., Hersam, M. C., Javey, A., Kotov, N. A., Nordlander, P., Parak, W. J., Rogach, A. L., Schaak, R. E., Stevens, M. M., Wee, A. T., Willson, C. G., & Weiss, P. S. (2012). Recycling is not always good: The dangers of self-plagiarism. ACS Nano, 6(1), 1-4. https://doi.org/10.1021/nn3000912
Carlson, M., & Lewis, S. C. (Eds.). (2015). Boundaries of Journalism: Professionalism, practices, and participation. Routledge. Wulfemeyer, K. T. (1983). Use of Anonymous sources in journalism. Newspaper Research Journal, 4(2),