Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The evolution of an online hoax?

What better way to study the evolution of an online hoax than to create one?

I can't help but wonder if that's what the new Shangri-La Diet is all about.

It has all the earmarks of a harmless hoax with Bay Area techno roots:

a lone-ranger Berkeley psych professor with a hip, geeky appearance
a harmless diet regimen that won't get the experimenters sued
• "seeding" of diet endorsements by high-traffic bloggers such as Creating Passionate Users
a book about the diet on Amazon

By following reader comments on the various blogsites where the diet is being discussed, and traffic to various blog pages about it, hoax researchers could easily track the rise (and eventual wane) of interest in it. It would also be possible for them to follow the effects when the glacial print media finally get the idea and the diet (or a debunking of it) hits the mainstream.

Of course, the first major report on the diet was in the print media, specifically an article by the Freakonomics folks in the New York Times in September, 2005. But that focused more on the researcher's highly personalized approach to self-improvement (including diet) than on the diet itself.

I think the Calorie Lab website puts it all perspective:

On the face if it, if you had to cook up the ultimate stereotype of a wacky fad diet for use in a comedic novel or film, the Shangri-La Diet would fill the bill. While we’re not necessarily saying it won’t work, the one-man lab rat nature of its development is far from proof of its effectiveness. And it suffers from the key flaw of most fad diets, in requiring a lifetime of somewhat unnatural behavior (e.g., calorie restriction) that, even if you yourself can maintain, will eventually drive the people around you crazy. On the other hand, if you are on the verge of deciding to undergo bariatric surgery, it might be worth a try before permanently modifying your body.

What do you think?


  1. Well, it works for me, when nothing else has, so if it is a hoax, it is a strange one.

    It has worked for my friends and family as well.

    Drop by my blog, read the diet posts.

  2. Anonymous3:06 AM

    It's not a study of internet folklore diffusion. After all, this is a psychology professor, not an anthropology professor. It's a mass study of the placebo effect.