Ever get the sense that popular media churn out discovery after miraculous health discovery in rapid succession, many of them seemingly-contradictory? Chocolate is a super-food that will help you fight off heart disease! Chocolate is terrible and will give you diabetes! Avoid it! Eat more beef to reduce your risk of cancer! Regular beef consumption will increase your risk of cancer by up to 15%!
In recent years, much of the mainsteam media went crazy over some German researchers' claims that chocolate could help you lose weight. And millions and millions of people lapped it up.
The catch? The research "study" in question was set up, ab initio, to "prove" that chocolate would lead to weight loss. The design of the study was generally (deliberately) terrible, with a sample size of just 16. And the study was run by a journalist at Harvard, not a German scientist. It was essentially an exercise to demonstrate how the media would lap up anything that would make for good headlines (especially concerning nutrition and diets), without caring a hoot about whether there is any truth in the research “findings”, let alone whether the research has been published or subjected to rigorous peer review.
Conclusion: take all the latest dietary fads trumpeted in the mainstream media with a pinch of salt! (Or not, depending on what the latest sensational headline says about the benefits or detriments of salt…)
If a study doesn’t even list how many people took part in it, or makes a bold diet claim that’s “statistically significant” but doesn’t say how big the effect size is, you should wonder why. But for the most part, we don’t. Which is a pity, because journalists are becoming the de facto peer review system. And when we fail, the world is awash in junk science.