Things that eating chocolate is supposed to affect: heart health, blood pressure, mental health, and on and on. This week, says Franz Messerli in the New England Journal of Medicine, chocolate consumption is supposed to affect the chances of winning a Nobel prize. The connection is not a personal one: that extra chocolate bar probably won’t tip you over the bar to finally being recognized for your true genius. Rather, says the Associated Press, the “study ties chocolate consumption to the number of Nobel Prize winners a country has and suggests it’s a sign that the sweet treat can boost brain power.”
In the study, Messerli explains:
It seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates. Obviously, these findings are hypothesis-generating only and will have to be tested in a prospective, randomized trial.
The good doctor lays out an elaborate mechanism of how this delicious connection could play out. In Time:
ocoa contains flavanols, plant-based compounds that previous studies have linked to the slowing or reversing of age-related cognitive decline.
Hence, the idea goes, eating more chocolate means less cognitive decline, means more Nobel laureates. There is only one hitch. If it wasn’t clear yet, Messerli is just joking around. Says Frederick Joelving for Reuters, “Messerli said the whole idea is absurd, although the data are legitimate and contain a few lessons about the fallibility of science.”
The reason Messerli published his choco-Nobel connection, says Popular Science, was to make a bigger point about medical research in general.
The correlation here is false, of course, and that’s precisely why the study was published. New York physician Franz Messerli noticed the correlation and published the study to show how p-values–a statistical tool that nearly all medical studies employ to prove the veracity of the causal relationships they describe–can be seriously flawed.