Who Funds The Chocolate Consensus?
In case you were hiding under a rock, there was the scientific equivalent of an earth-shattering thunderclap that emanated from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meetings held February 15th-19th in San Francisco - to be honest, they pretend everything they say is big news, you can see 20 articles from it on Scientific Blogging - but I mean this was legitimately big news.
Was it that they took their own vote and decided that there is global warming after all? No, someone jumping on the climate change bandwagon is nothing new.
Was it that your astrological sign can tell you what medical problems you will have? That one was a lot of fun but still not it.
No, the most surprising news was that chocolate makes you smarter.
Now, if you're anything like me - an outrageously sexy scientist outside but inside an irascible prick who likes to puncture junk science - this probably set off some alarms. America has, I am told, a terrific obesity problem but a scientific group says eating more chocolate is smart.
So I looked into this and found that a segment of researchers claim that not only does chocolate make you smarter, it might protect against cancer and diabetes(!) plus keep your arteries flowing smoothly. Heck, one scientist even went so far as to write an article on 10 scientific reasons to love chocolate. That's a whole lot of reasons to eat chocolate.
Yeah, I smell corporate porkbarrelling. Except for that last article. At least 7 of those 10 were really good reasons. And chocolate is yummy.
Anyway, I did some research and here is what I found:
Mars,Inc. has spent the last 18 years funding chocolate studies. So what, you say, they're in the chocolate business so they need to research it. Well, Philip Morris is in the cigarette business and Exxon-Mobil is in the oil business but if they said smoking cigarettes and burning more oil actually improved our health, you would be a little skeptical.
Right here in California, at UC Davis, Mars,Inc. funds 20 investigators and created a chair in the nutrition department. That's right, the nutrition department. Mars states they have spent $10 million on research just at UC Davis since 1997.
In fact, on the entire "Neurobiology Of Chocolate" panel at the AAAS meeting, only one of the researchers was not funded by Mars. One of the panel's organizers is Harold Schmitz, who just happens to be a visiting professor at UC Davis and the Chief Science Officer of ... Mars, Inc.
Wow, what a coincidence.
Carl Keen, chairman of the UC Davis nutrition department which gets all that money, said, "If I have a choice between a company paying for something or my tax dollars paying for it, I'd prefer the company pay." No kidding. Very Republican of you. Do you think they would give you all that money if you weren't producing research they like?
Merrill Goozner, director of the integrity in science project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, isn't buying it. "This is the nutrition department, for crying out loud. I think taxpayers would be pretty upset about that." Goozner co-authored a paper called Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles so this is a topic of interest to him. The conclusion in that paper? Studies funded by industry were four to eight times as likely to reach conclusions in the financial interests of sponsors.
Virtually unmentioned during the panel discussion was the fact that most of the chocolate people actually eat is low in flavanols and high in sugar. Instead they described how Kuna Indians in Panama have almost no diabetes yet consume chocolate every day. As if the chocolate and not the exercise involved in being a native is what kept them in shape.
What's next, a study showing that coffee plus chocolate cures Alzheimers? We'll see. For now, Ian MacDonald, professor at the University of Nottingham Medical School and member of the Mars Nutrition Research Council ( he is also funded by Mars ) says consumers should only eat moderate amounts of chocolate. When asked how much "moderate" was, he cited half a "Snickers" bar.
Who makes "Snickers"? You guessed it.
Now I have to get to work making this a full-length article. The Hershey's people think I make some really good points here.