You may have seen headlines in the news a couple months ago proclaiming things such as “Dieting? Don’t forget the Chocolate,” or “Chocolate Accelerates Weight Loss: Research Claims it Lowers Cholesterol and Aids Sleep.” These articles referenced a study which supposedly showed that chocolate can help you lose weight. What you may not have seen is the recent article by John Bohannon, the real author of the study. In the article, Bohannon explains exactly how he ran the study and how he was able to fool millions of people around the world into actually believing that chocolate is a healthy food that can help reduce weight and increase quality of life.
"It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded."
While it would be nice if something as delicious as chocolate was also healthy, it is simply not true. This is yet another reason to be skeptical of any product or health claim until it has been thoroughly tested in a double-blind study done by competent researchers and published in a reputable journal. Even then, we see retractions of published research due to research fraud.
In accounting research, one of our top journals, The Journal of Accounting Research, recently retracted three articles by a former Professor from Bentley University, Jim Hunton, who is accused of fabricating data for his research. Professor Hunton was ranked as the top accounting academic by some rankings before he began having articles retracted. This brings the total number of retracted articles published by him to six but the bulk of his research is in journals published by the American Accounting Association. Rumor has it that many of those articles (over 20) will soon be retracted together.
In the end, healthy skepticism needs to be practiced whenever we're dealing with human beings who might lack integrity. The scientific method is one of the best ways to separate truth from fiction but it is neither instantaneous nor perfect at doing so...