You may have heard about the scientific study last year that revealed "eating chocolate every day can help you lose weight": a study conducted by the Institute of Diet and Health found that volunteers maintaining a low-carb diet lost more weight if they added to their diet a 1.5-ounce chocolate bar daily.
The story has now been revealed as a hoax, perpetrated by science journalist (and molecular biologist) Dr. John Bohannon, who was trying to show how easy it is for junk science -- results of studies not conducted under strict scientific guidelines (Bohannon did in fact conduct such a "study") -- to be picked up by international news media and heralded as established scientific facts. (See the cbsnews.com article on the hoax here: "How the 'chocolate diet' hoax fooled millions".) One of Dr. Bohannon's collaborators, Dr. Gunter Frank, a medical doctor in Germany, had previously written a book about pseudoscience in the diet industry, and was eager to pitch in on behalf of the hoax.
Why am I putting this in a blog about atheism and skepticism of religion? Rather than connect the dots myself, I'll let Dr. Bohannon do it for me. Said Bohannon: "Testing bitter chocolate as a dietary supplement was [Dr. Frank's] idea. When I asked him why, Frank said it was a favorite of the 'whole food' fanatics. 'Bitter chocolate tastes bad, therefore it must be good for you,' he said. 'It's like a religion.'"
In my own book, The Book of Daniel, I've got a chapter on Belief, which establishes my thesis that people believe things because they want to believe them. To me, that is crucial in explaining why belief in God is so widespread in the world: believing in God takes care of so many needs humans have. In illustrating my point, it's very useful to find news stories such as this one, documenting the explosion of interest generated by the news that you can lose weight by eating chocolate. None of the reporters who picked up the story devoted any significant energy to checking out the details behind the story, the non-existent "Institute" that had publicized it, or the backgrounds of any of the people involved -- all of which is considered a basic part of any journalist's job. They simply ran with the story because they wanted so much to believe it was true. And their readers, even more so, wanted to believe it, so they did.
I don't even feel I need to say any more here.