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Doctor who participated in fake chocolate study fined for violating code of conduct

with 52 comments

Source: AKA

Source: AKA

A German district attorney has fined a doctor who participated in a bogus study showing chocolate helps weight loss, designed to illustrate how shady science can make the news, arguing it was unethical to ask people to participate unknowingly in such a scam.

As soon as the study was published, critics raised questions over whether it was appropriate to include volunteers in a bogus clinical trial, which included giving blood. Recently, a German district attorney for professional conduct of physicians ruled that it was not.

In an anonymized version of a decision from the district attorney – who investigates on possible violations of the physicians’ professional law – he fined the doctor who participated in a bogus study about the health benefits of chocolate 500 Euros for not obtaining proper consent from the people who volunteered to participate, and for not involving an ethics committee.

In 2015, German journalists Diana Löbl and Peter Onneken, along with science journalist John Bohannon and physician Gunter Frank, decided to conduct a deliberately false scientific study including 16 subjects who – for three weeks – either followed their standard diet, a low-carb diet, or a low-carb diet with an additional 1.5 oz of dark chocolate. For the TV documentary, for which the journalists wore a doctor’s coat and recorded a controversial trailer, all subjects weighed themselves and had their blood drawn by Frank at the beginning and end of the study.

However, neither were the subjects informed about the real purpose of the study, nor was it submitted to an ethics committee.

Last year, the president of the German Working Group of Medical Ethics Committees, Joerg Hasford, told “Meta” magazine that he doubted whether real subjects needed to be included in the study, given also the unnecessary risk by drawing the blood. Since Hasford saw possible violations of the professional law by the involved doctor, he contacted the bodies that conduct such investigations. The district attorney of the “Bezirksberufsgericht Nordbaden” (“Court of Professional Conduct in the District of Nordbaden”) in the city of Karlsruhe, the professional court for physicians, started an investigation on suspicion that no ethics approval was obtained and that blood was drawn without adequate informed consent.

The case against Gunter Frank was filed as under reference number KA 50/15; later the prosecutor sent us the decision on case KA 50/15, in an anonymized version.

It in detail describes the concept of the fake study and the following media coup, cites the Facebook post used for recruiting the subjects, and describes the explanations of the doctor.

The district attorney has similar power as a public prosecutor of a public court. According to the document (which we translated using One Hour Translation), the physician indicated that he took the blood samples not primarily for data analysis, but to exclude pre-existing diseases:

While typical care was provided, this process was carried out – with patients in his practice – with no written information about the possible risks of blood collection.

According to the decision, the consent was ineffective since the physician wasn’t totally truthful with participants:

…the point of the “study” was not about the possible suitability of chocolate as a diet enhancement, but about the gullibility of certain media and the public with regards to supposedly scientific study results. The accused concealed this fact [from] the participants of the study, which is why the consent is to be regarded as ineffective.

Moreover:

…the project should not be recognized as a research project within the meaning of the provision, because no serious quest was intended for scientific (medical) knowledge. However… the study participants were deliberately uninformed that the project was not about using scientific methods for determining if dark chocolate had a slimming effect.

According to the decision, if such a project were related to actual research it would need to be approved by an ethics committee. Since the subjects and the public were made to believe it was a research project to a certain degree, and the patients gave blood, an ethics committee would have to approve it, the district attorney concluded. Hence, the doctor violated the professional code.

According to his verdict, the defendant acknowledged the external facts. He clarified that he had very benevolent intentions:

This entire situation has sensitized him in a profound way. In the future, he will seek approval from the chamber when [asked by] third parties for participation. Investigative journalism should never go so far that the self-determination rights of patients are affected. He fully acknowledges that every patient has a right to self-determination and that they must know what kind of treatment they are subjecting themselves to.

According to the order, the physician – who was under legal counselling – agreed with the verdict and fine.

Frank declined to comment on the verdict.

We asked Löbl and Onneken for their reaction to the verdict; they wrote in a joint statement that they do not share the impression that Frank conceded violations of the professional code, but did not elaborate further.

John Bohannon told us:

It’s great to see that the German bureaucracy is working, and even better that the process did not result in an overreaction.

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Written by Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup

September 22nd, 2016 at 8:00 am

Comments
  • Paul Costea September 22, 2016 at 8:46 am

    “because no serious quest was intended for scientific (medical) knowledge”, really? This study made a very important, scientifically relevant and sound point. It is more valuable than dozens of other studies set up in exactly the same way, but in which the investigators were not aware of the “joke” they were participating in.
    This ethics nonsense is getting seriously out of hand. While we all agree that there are areas in which oversight is needed and ethic committees are sometimes relevant, for the most part this is just a waste of time. “possible risks of blood collection” is risible as a potential harm to the patient.

    • anon September 22, 2016 at 11:02 am

      I can understand the motivations, but I’d be furious if I were one of these patients. Having blood drawn is not as trivial from the patient’s point of view as it is from a doctor’s. I don’t care if it isn’t “serious harm” – its seriously uncomfortable and inconvenient, I often end up with large bruise-like marks from it that take days to dissipate, and it had damn well better be recommended for an honest reason. Lying to patients to demonstrate that doctors can’t always be trusted kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?

    • Paul Thompson September 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      This study is absolutely and totally unethical. If I were on the IRB, I would never authorize such a study. This is why IRBs exist. While I agree that there is some degree of overreach on ethics, unnecessary blood draws are not acceptable.

      • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

        The blood draws were absolutely necessary. This important project could not have been done without them.

        It is fortunate that you were not in a position, on an IRB or otherwise, to block this project. I do not doubt that this project is one of the reasons that there is currently so much attention being given to the challenges of reforming peer-reviewed science, which is long overdue.

    • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 4:09 am

      Paul Costea wrote, “This study made a very important, scientifically relevant and sound point. It is more valuable than dozens of other studies set up in exactly the same way, but in which the investigators were not aware of the ‘joke’ they were participating in.”

      Exactly right, Paul!

      This investigation taught many thousands (perhaps millions!) of people to have a healthy skepticism for silly, outlier “peer-reviewed science,” at least w/r/t spurious health claims, and it helped spur the current drive to fix the broken scientific peer-review and publishing process.

      Those other sham studies did nothing worthwhile at all. Just the opposite, in fact: those other sham studies are worse than useless, because they mislead people into believing that there is real scientific support for what is, in reality, nonsense.

      Paul Costea wrote, “‘possible risks of blood collection’ is risible as a potential harm to the patient.”

      Very true. The critics of Mr. Bohannon & Dr. Frank are grasping at preposterous straws to try to find something, anything!, to pin on them.

      Try to imagine any other physician being charged with professional misconduct for drawing a blood samples from patients without disclosing the “possible risks of blood collection.” If that were misconduct, then nearly every physician and phlebotomist in the world must be a miscreant!

      • anon September 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

        So lying to patients is OK if you’ve determined that your own intentions are noble? That’s a really slippery slope.

        • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm

          Anon asked, “So lying to patients is OK if you’ve determined that your own intentions are noble? That’s a really slippery slope.”

          Are you implying that you believe the paid volunteer participants in this journalistic project were lied to?

          That does not appear to have been the case. They weren’t given full information about the project, for obvious reasons, but it does not appear that they were lied to. They were told that it was a journalism project, and they were told the topic of the study, but not its purpose. They were not harmed in any way, and I if I had been one of them I’d have been gratified to have been part of the project.

          The purpose of that project is very important. People die because they follow bad health advice, because they relied on peer-reviewed junk science. Doesn’t that bother you? Do you think that nothing should be done about that massive problem?

          Or, if you think that something should be done about it, but you object to the method used by Mr. Bohannon & Dr. Frank, then what alternative do you propose, which would have been as effective as their exposé?

          • Marco September 25, 2016 at 2:35 am

            This fake science has been, purposely, spread around the world. The ethical thing to do, following your own claims about the supposed dangers of bad science, is to contact *all* people who might have read the original reports, but not the reports that it actually was fake. That is, all those people who may well believe this fake science and thus are possibly at danger if they follow what would be the ‘logical’ conclusion: eat more chocolate. Bohannon proudly claims millions of people were fooled. How many of those millions have been “un-fooled”?

  • John Bohannon September 22, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Hinnerk, professional journalism pro-tip: If you want to overhype a story, be subtle. The word “scam” in your lede reveals your editorial slant a bit too strongly. Better to use weasel words in quotes from biased sources, or work your views in more subtly.

  • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva September 22, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Of direct relevance:

    Al-Khatib, A., Teixeira da Silva, J.A. (2016) Stings, hoaxes and irony breach the trust inherent in scientific publishing. Publishing Research Quarterly 32(3): 208-219. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12109-016-9473-4
    DOI: 10.1007/s12109-016-9473-4

    Teixeira da Silva, J.A., Al-Khatib, A. (2016) Questioning the ethics of John Bohannon’s hoaxes and stings in the context of science publishing. KOME 4(1): 84-88.
    http://komejournal.com/files/KOME_TdaSAceil.pdf
    DOI: 10.17646/KOME.2016.16
    Erratum: http://komejournal.com/files/Erratum_TdaSAceil.pdf

  • Thomas C Gerber September 22, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Love seeing my hometown Karlsruhe mentioned in news on scientific misconduct.

    There’s already plenty of precedent for nonsensical content being published and for irresponsible science reporting. This project, while genuinely funny, did not add meaningful knowledge, and I’ll have to agree with the findings of the “court.”

    No institutional ethics committee would ever have allowed this study to proceed.

  • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva September 22, 2016 at 10:11 am

    “A German district attorney … arguing it was unethical to ask people to participate unknowingly in such a scam.” Will Diana Löbl, Peter Onneken, and John Bohannon also receive a fine, or face any consequence for their fake study?

  • Gunter Frank September 22, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Dear Mr. Feldbusch,
    this fake-study was part in a TV-documentary in which I accused Prof. Hans Hauner, who is responsible for the german adipositas guideline and who recommends there weight watchers as a scientific proofed method for weight control, to be paid by weight watchers. In front of the camera he had to confirm this – very embarrassing. I fight in my books and media against corruption in medicine. My books are bestsellers and this hurts the right people.
    You started the campaign against me at the Ärztekammer. Your main witness is Prof. Hasford. You forgot to mention that Prof. Hasford works together with Prof. Hauner in Munich. And why did you get the complete final report? The whole trail has to be confidential.
    No patient was harmed, the Ärztekammer stopped the investigation without any assessment of guilt. You try to give the impression of the opposite. What part are you playing in this game? Where is your ethic as a journalist?
    Gunter Frank

    • Dave Burton September 22, 2016 at 11:07 am

      FYI, Google Translate says that “adipositas” means “obesity” in English.

    • Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup September 22, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Dear Mr. Frank.

      Thank you for your comment. As we have talked last year, you know that I am interested in this case because I commonly report on the ethics of clinical trials. Thus I reported on this fake study. I would like to correct some of the other points you are making:
      I spoke to Mr. Hasford because he is president of the German Working Group of Medical Ethics Committees, I wanted an evaluation of the case from him. He then completely independently decided to contact the relevant bodies.
      I don’t see any questionable link to Mr. Hauner. They both work on different fields and different universities in Munich – I couldn’t find any shared publications or so. Moreover, the assumption of Mr. Hasford was confirmed both by other experts – and the district attorney.

      I would have preferred to talk about the outcome of the trial with you, but you yourself declined.
      You’re welcome to send me the decision of the “Ärztekammer”, of course.

      Best,
      Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup

  • Hilda Bastian September 22, 2016 at 10:17 am

    I wrote about this at the time, and as a former resident of Germany, I am delighted to see that the community’s standards were taken seriously. (My post about the case and the general issue of ethics of hoaxes: http://blogs.plos.org/absolutely-maybe/2015/05/31/tricked-the-ethical-slipperiness-of-hoaxes/)

    It’s not up to journalists or scientists or doctors alone to determine a community’s standards for professional conduct of doctors or people engaging in clinical research, or using the trappings of clinical research. People’s dignity and autonomy matter. There was no reasonable expectation of public interest benefit here: nothing that wasn’t already known was learned. Does anyone have any evidence that something improved substantially as a result? (Other than the public profile of individuals who benefited personally.)

    • Thomas C Gerber September 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Really like the post you linked there. Well done!

  • Dave Burton September 22, 2016 at 10:31 am

    This study was not a “scam” or hoax, it was a documentary journalism project — as the study participants were correctly told. It achieved an important result.

    Exposing shoddy research and publishing standards might not advance the knowledge of experts in the field, but it surely helped to educate many other people, which is the purpose of journalism. Plus, it just might result in some small improvement in the low aggregate quality of published papers and articles about health. That’s very worthwhile scientific purpose, as well.

    Bohannon’s exposé certainly made some people uncomfortable, but that is the nature of exposés. He and his team performed a valuable public service.

    Hasford and the Bezirksberufsgericht Nordbaden decided to shoot the messenger because the knowledge he brought made people uncomfortable. Dr. Frank should not have been fined, even such a small amount. He should have been praised.

    • Marco September 22, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      According to the story as narrated here, the participants were _not_ informed about the real goal of the study. Thus, also the participants were deceived to believe they participated in a valid trial to find out about the benefits of eating chocolate.

      It’s hard enough to get participants for clinical trials. Making up fake clinical trials and fooling the participants doesn’t help.

      • Dave Burton September 22, 2016 at 1:05 pm

        It is not true that “the participants were deceived to believe they participated in a valid trial to find out about the benefits of eating chocolate.” That would be a medical study. They were told that it was investigative journalism.

    • Hilda Bastian September 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      I have 2 questions for you: What improvement can you – soundly – attribute to this hoax? What was discovered that was not already well known or could not have been shown in ways with greater respect for German law and standards and the dignity and autonomy of community members?

      • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 4:40 am

        One of my favorite “science artists” asked, “Does anyone have any evidence that something improved substantially as a result?” and now asks me the same question: “What improvement can you – soundly – attribute to this hoax?”

        I believe that I already answered that.

        In the first place, this was not a scientific study about dieting. It obviously did not contribute to the the scientific knowledge about diet and nutrition, nor was it intended to. Rather, it was an investigative journalism exposé of sham science.

        Nor was this a mere “hoax,” of the sort perpetrated by The Onion and a thousand nauseating imitators. Rather, it was a serious investigative journalism project, with a serious, important purpose, at which it brilliantly succeeded.

        It had two important benefits, typical of the most successful investigative journalism projects.

        The first benefit is educational. It taught the public something important. It taught many people to be more skeptical of silly, outlier “peer-reviewed science,” at least w/r/t spurious health claims.

        The second benefit is that it helped spur the current, critically important, drive for reform, to fix the broken scientific peer-review and publishing process.

        Mr. Bohannon & Dr. Frank are certainly not the first people to try to expose and reform the sorry state of modern science. You’ve worked on that yourself! But they were far more successful at drawing attention to the problem, and thereby increasing the pressure for reform, than, for example, Dr. Stan Young’s wonderful Cereal-induced gender selection? and your own marvelous cartoons.

  • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva September 22, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Gunter Frank: “Where is your ethic as a journalist?” Why was this question not asked to Diana Löbl, Peter Onneken, and John Bohannon?

  • Gunter Frank September 22, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Dear Mr. Feldwisch,
    are you serious? You are saying, you didn´t know about the connection between Prof. Hasford and Prof. Hauner? Just try the two names in Google, folic acid promotion etc.. So hmm, investigative journalism? I what say either naive or part of a complote. What do you like better?

    • Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup September 22, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Dear Mr. Frank,

      In case you have evidence that there was undue influence in this case because both advise the same organisation on one state-supported program, this would be very welcome, of course.

      Best,
      hfd

  • Gunter Frank September 22, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Dear Dave Burton,
    thank you 😉
    But please don´t follow the obvious strategy of Mr. Feldwisch. The aim was to blame me guilty so it can be used later against my public presence. But it did not work. I´m not fined by the Ärztekammer. The 500 Euro are a fee for stopping the investigation. Just because I wished to stopp the hilarious thing, I accepted this. So the investigation was stopped with no assessement of guilt at all. But this article tries still to reach this aim, misrepresenting the facts.

    So no fine at all.

    If Mr. Feldwisch would have been interested in a fair discussion about ethics, I would have been happy to talk with him, especially about how to improve things and make it better. But this was never the case.

    • Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup September 22, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      According to the decision, you said that you did not see the necessity to involve an ethics committee, but would do so in the future. In case there’s an error in the decision, any correction is welcome, of course.
      In the decision it is concluded that the project violated the relevant professional code, since no ethics committee was involved from your side. It closed the proceedings after you accepted a monetary fine (“Geldauflage”) of 500 Euro, it says.

      Best,
      hfd

    • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 3:25 am

      Thank you, Dr. Frank, for clarifying that. I am very pleased by what you have told me.

  • Paul Brookes September 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    This would not be the first time Bohannon has come under fire regarding whether the work comprises human subjects research. There was an argument previously about whether his journal sting operations (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full) were in-fact research, and should have been reviewed by an IRB.

    Unfortunately, it’s a gray area when researchers are not affiliated with a research institution. A classic example used in ethics classes, is the case of the high-school science fair where a student presents research on alcohol addiction performed on mice purchased at a pet store. No doubt the research would not have been approved by an IACUC (animal research committee), if the student had been at a University. But, they had no affiliation so there’s no oversight. This sets up an interesting paradox that some animal rights activists prefer not to acknowledge – animal research at Universities is often more ethical than the treatment of animals outside.

    In the case of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) that oversee human subjects research at most institutions, there do exist independent/private IRBs (e.g. http://www.wirb.com) who will review a research proposal from anyone, and either issue a waiver, or deem necessary a full review. In-fact, some smaller Universities cannot afford their own IRB panel and will out-source their protocol review to such commercial IRBs. The problem is it costs money, which is in short supply for journalists.

    In my own study on whether internet publicity changes how problematic scientific papers are handled (https://peerj.com/articles/313/), there was an argument to be made that this might be non-consented human subjects research (with the subjects being the editors of the journals concerned). So, I went through a lengthy review process with the journal to discuss this before publication. Even though the work was done outside of my official University apppintment, and so was not actually within the purview of the IRB, I ended up running it by a colleague who sits on the IRB, who was able to draft a coherent set of arguments that this was IRB-exempt research, and this formed part of the responses during peer review.

    In the current case I would argue the work probably was human subjects research, but due to the lack of affiliation with an IRB-containing entity such as a University, this falls outside of IRB purview. Probably the only person who acted unethically here was the physician, who would have been bound by the rules of their institution and probably under the purview of the IRB. For the journalists, if they were “doing the right thing” they should have used a private IRB just to be sure, but the costs are not small (about $600 for an initial review), so it’s understandable they didn’t want to do this.

    One final point… the paper itself (available here https://www.scribd.com/doc/266969860/Chocolate-causes-weight-loss) contains no information whatsoever about IRB or other ethical approval. This is bad, because it means the journal (International Archives of Medicine) didn’t ask about it during peer review. However, in some ways it’s good because it means at least the authors didn’t add “lying about having ethical approval” to their list of transgressions.

  • John Bohannon September 22, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Paul, Hilda, keep fighting the good fight. Your energies and outrage are definitely focused on the right things.

  • imohacsi September 22, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I wonder why some people are so upset about such an epic trolling? I mean its hilarious how the media fell for such an obvious lie. Especially in such a field as obesity and weight loss, that is anyways filled with quacks…
    Also why aren’t these ethical committees so protective when they decide on medical experiments?

  • Hilda Bastian September 23, 2016 at 7:44 am

    One of the characteristics of this comment string has been the extraordinary assumption that specific American practices are somehow universal. That is baffling. Why on earth would they be?

    Germany’s legal and ethical framework for doctors is very different than the US situation. Doctors are governed differently, and there regional ethics committees for medical practitioners: the system is not solely based on institutions as it is in the USA.

    In the case of John Bohannon, the disregard for the law and ethical frameworks of the country in which he became involved, is more serious than that of uninvolved commentators. Anyone becoming involved in research in another country has an obligation to understand the framework they are now entering. Anything less is not just culturally arrogant, I believe it is itself an ethical concern.

    • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 8:24 am

      Laws are local, but ethics are universal. I defer to your knowledge of German law, but here in America we have a saying: “The law is an ass.”

      The ethical imperative is to expose and reform sham science (as Mr. Bohannon & Dr. Frank did). If German laws (or IRBs) are an impediment to that universal ethical imperative, then the law is an ass there, too.

      • Thomas C Gerber September 23, 2016 at 9:30 am

        Don’t you think UNC, Duke or Wake Forest would fire in a heartbeat any investigator who drew blood from patients for purposes other than their medical care without IRB approval?

        • Dave Burton September 23, 2016 at 1:29 pm

          It is quite odd that so many people seem to have forgotten the purpose of IRBs. They are not an end of themselves, they are a means which is intended to achieve an end.

          IRBs represent a strategy by which institutions (the “I” in “IRB”) seek to ensure that when their employees do certain types of investigations, especially research involving human subjects, they do so ethically. The theory behind IRBs is simply that one researcher is more likely to have ethical lapses than would be a panel of his peers, so ethical lapses are presumably less likely if the researcher is required to obtain prior approval for his research from such a panel.

          But IRB approval of research does not guarantee that research will be ethical, and it certainly does not make research ethical. Nor is IRB approval necessary for research to be ethical, because that’s not what makes research ethical.

          Around here, if a journalist, physician or other scientist is employed by UNC, Duke or Wake Forest University, he is obligated to follow whatever procedures his employer requires, which presumably includes obtaining IRB approval for investigations involving human subjects, at least for work conducted under the auspices of his employer, and perhaps even for other work, as well. However, a physician in private practice is under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to obtain any sort of IRB approval, for any scientific or journalistic investigation which he chooses to conduct or support.

          Things may be different in Germany, but around here the obligation to obtain institutional review board approval before performing studies involving human participants derives entirely from the researcher’s contractual obligation to the institution with which he is affiliated. There’s nothing unethical about performing studies without IRB approval, if there is no such contractual obligation, and no such board.

          We’ve not yet come to the sorry state of affairs in which independent investigators, unaffiliated with any institution, or affiliated only with their own private companies and organizations, are prohibited from performing research. Unfortunately, many institutions have become so insular and bureaucratized that some people within them can’t imagine investigations in other contexts.

          • Paul Thompson September 23, 2016 at 6:00 pm

            Honestly, you have no idea what the f you are talking about. The purpose of the IRB is to protect subjects.

            Do you have CITI training? What kind of ethics training, in the medical area, do you have?

            If I was interested in the statistics about, say, sea-level information, I would go to experts. I wouldn’t pretend to know things, which I did not know. I would learn stuff and ensure that my comments were sound. But that’s just me.

      • Paul Thompson September 23, 2016 at 5:46 pm

        You appear to be purporting to be an expert on ethics. Are you? What is your qualification to make statements about research ethics?

        The law may be an ass, but if we ran a fake study like this, the NIH would close us down toot sweet, and we wouldn’t be doing anything for a period of time. This study was totally unethical.

  • Paul Thompson September 23, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Dave Burton is not a medical scientist, folks. I have no idea why he is telling us about medical ethics. He is a journalist, and doesn’t know anything about medical ethics. I suggest that his comments be simply ignored. Here is his website:

    http://www.sealevel.info/contact.html

    “David A. Burton is the owner of Burton Systems Software, 109 Black Bear Ct, Cary, NC 27513 USA.

    He has a BS in Systems Science from Michigan State University, and an MA in Computer Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin.

    He is a Board Member of NC-20, and one of the organization’s Science Advisors. In 2011 he wrote a comprehensive critique of the Coastal Resource Commission’s 2010 North Carolina Sea-Level Rise Assessment Report, identifying numerous serious errors in that document. He is or was also a member of the NC Sea Level Rise Impact Study Advisory Committee, a member of the NC Portal Project Review Committee, a U.N. IPCC AR5 WG1 Expert Reviewer, and webmaster of the sealevel.info web site.”

  • oliver September 24, 2016 at 5:45 am

    The whole overeach is that there even was any investigation! period.

  • Michael September 24, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Judging by the type of reception this bogus study received, it did little to educate the general public, but simply polarized the debate further. Worse, science skeptics feel vindicated which cannot be a good thing. It’s somewhat ironic (and sad) that the authors, in their valid quest to describe the culture of scientific reporting, unknowingly or knowingly aimed to get as much superficial attention as possible, the very thing they seem to criticize. Science and the public dissemination of science certainly have issues but this study sent us backwards in bridging the divide between science and the general public.

    • Jtom September 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Michael, when scientists cease being skeptics they cease being scientists. Most research turns out to be wrong in one form or another, or at least incomplete, leading to erroneous conclusions. A hundred years from now, scientists will be laughing about some of the science we are teaching, just as we laugh at some of the conclusions drawn by scientists a hundred years ago.

  • Mary Kuhner September 24, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Is there an explanation for why a blood draw (a procedure with known risks) was used in this fake study? It seems that the goal of exposing sham science could have been equally well accomplished by simply weighing participants, which is essentially risk-free. I am left with an unpleasant sense that it was done because it was good theater.

    Putting aside the question of whether this was correct under one or another country’s laws, I would have been angry if I were one of the patients. Blood draws are painful, and I would have volunteered because I thought I was participating in medical research which might genuinely benefit people. I would not have volunteered if I had known that the only purpose was to make a public service announcement (after all, that goal could have been accomplished by faking the blood draws!) My willingness to participate in further studies would probably have been reduced. I therefore think this was a bad idea.

    What did the fake study with real patients accomplish that a fake study *with fake patients* could not have accomplished?

  • Gunter Frank September 26, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Ok, stopp now and read this:
    Don´t build up your opinion about rumours or intensions or interests. You are journalists. Check facts and background first.
    The first person who said that this blood sample was unethical was Prof Hasford, cited in this way in the first article of Mr. Feldwisch. Prof. Hasford has a clear conflict of interest (see my comment above). Neither he nor Mr. Feldbusch mentioned this important information. But the blood sample was not done because of the TV-documentary it was done because of the treatment. I´am very experienced in treating patients wanting a diet. I told Mr. Onneken and Mrs. Löbl that I will not supervise the patients without a blood sample. The Ärztekammer accepted this in their intense investigation. No patient was fooled by my treatment and they see it exactly this way. The Ärztekammer even found a participant by internet research. My treatment was professional. And this participant clearly confirmed this.
    Also it was clearly no real study, the asked participant said, that she never thougt so. I asked a leading Jurist, and it is clear that no ethic study commission had to be asked. The Ärztekammer may see this different, but in a trail that would have been the likely outcome. But the next time I will ask my Ärztekammer before just to avoid this kind of missunderstanding and uncertain situations.

    There was no trial or verdict of gulity there was only a very deep ! investigation by the Ärztekammer that has been stopped because there was no evidence of a relevant failure. That is the fact. The whole prozess is confidential. Mr. Feldwisch cited confidential information in a wrong context only to blame me in public . This is malicious falshood and no journalism.
    Gunter Frank

    • Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup September 26, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Dear Mr. Frank,

      Thanks for your statement again.

      As written in the article, many experts criticized ethical aspects of the study before – see the linked article at http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/05/28/410313446/why-a-journalist-scammed-the-media-into-spreading-bad-chocolate-science, for example.
      Unlike the impression you give in your post, in the article above I write that you stated that drawing the blood was for medical purposes. Was it the case also for drawing the blood after the diet?
      According to the decision, the investigation was stopped because there was no concrete harm to subjects or the public, because you were sensibilized sufficiently, and because you agreed to pay the fine. However, the decision clearly states that an ethics committee would have to be involved, and that the subjects did not consent in a properly informed manner.

      Concerning its confidentiality, you would have to contact the district attorney who shared the anonymized decision with me.
      In case anything should not be correct in the article, it will of course be corrected accordingly if you provide the relevant evidence.

      Best,
      Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup

  • Janos Toth October 4, 2016 at 2:37 am

    What is the reason behind mentioning One Hour Translation and linking to their website? Does not seem to add any value to the post and feels like advertising.

    • Ivan Oransky October 4, 2016 at 7:24 am

      Thanks for the question. We add it for transparency, the same way a researcher might give details of where a reagent is from, or might use an acknowledgement.

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