Talking about chocolate does not make up for faulty science

The Telegraph reports that eating chocolate can make you better at math. At first glance, this seems like a fabulous idea. My mental arithmetic skills are pretty abysmal – though I do calculate a mean derivative – so here’s another excuse to eat chocolate!

Except for the fact that, based on the description in the article, the experiment seems flawed. They gave groups of volunteers a chocolatey drink containing flavanols (magical mathematical compound), and then asked groups of volunteers to “count backwards in groups of three from a random number between 800 and 999 generated by a computer. The findings show that they could do the calculations more quickly and more accurately after they had been given the drink.”

Um, wait a second. You introduced a group of people to an experiment, then changed a variable, and then got the same group of people to do the exact same experiment? Did you correct for the fact that most people aren’t morons and actually learn from their experiences? 

Also, consider that “the researchers gave the volunteers a total of 500mg of flavanol. Although the amount was too great to be found naturally in the diet, researchers said that people should ensure that they have lots of flavanols, also found in fruit and vegetables, on a regular basis.” (Emphasis above is mine.)

Let me get this straight. You dose people with a drink that contains far more of an active ingredient than anyone could get under normal circumstances, even in a super-bar of chocolate. Further, this active ingredient is present in things other than chocolate – for instance, fruits and vegetables – that people probably eat anyway. And then you conclude, of all the possible interpretations of all the possible variables, that eating chocolate (not fruits, nor vegetables) makes you better at math.

Sigh.

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3 responses to “Talking about chocolate does not make up for faulty science

  1. You simply must send this to the Telegraph. Maybe they’ll publish you!

  2. I suspect that the actual study is less flawed than the Telegraph’s reporting of it. In any case, I’m still suspicious.

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