Claim: A study has shown that a third of vegetarians regularly eat meat while drunk.

UNPROVEN

Example:[Collected via e-mail, October 2010]

Origins: In October 2015, a number of news sites published articles about a “study” purportedly documenting that one out of three vegetarians regularly ate meat after consuming alcohol (i.e., while “drunk”). As the breadth of its coverage suggested, the claim was perfectly primed to gain traction on social media: Like an earlier (and similarly misleading) rumor that a study has proved kale is bad for you, its content was a well-calibrated blend of mockery of vegetarians, food-based sanctimony, and, ostensibly, science.

As with the kale claim, the inclusion of the word “study” (in headlines such as “Study Claims Vegetarians Secretly Eat Meat While Drunk,” and “Study Claims Drunk Vegetarians Secretly Eat Meat”) led many readers to infer that the findings were the result of solid research; they were in fact merely gleaned from an informal poll. Readers weren’t the only folks misled by the phrasing, as a significant number of URLs used for online articles about the claim included the word “study” (even while headlines employed the more accurate “survey” or “poll”).

Where the story began its foray around the clickbaitosphere wasn’t apparent, but a 7 October 2015 Telegraph article titled “A third of ‘vegetarians’ eat meat when drunk on a night out” was one of the first. That piece used the word “survey” instead of “study”:

A third of so-called vegetarians eat meat when they are under the influence of alcohol, a survey has found.

One in three have also said they eat meat every time they were drunk on a night out with kebab meat and beef burgers being the most common.

On 8 October 2015, the web site behind the claim (VoucherCodesPro) published a post to their blog titled “Over One Third of Vegetarians Admit to Eating Meat When Drunk.” The site described the research as a “study” (as well as a “poll”):

New research by a money saving website in the UK has revealed that over a third of vegetarians eat meat whilst under the influence of alcohol. Furthermore, 1 in 3 of these ‘vegetarians’ revealed that they did so every time they were drunk on a night out.

The team there surveyed 1,789 people in the UK, all of whom were vegetarians, as part of the study. Initially, respondents were asked ‘When drunk, do you ever eat meat?’

The post concluded with a not-very-authoritative quote attributed to George Charles, VoucherCodesPro‘s purported founder:

I really couldn’t believe the stats from this research! I know a few vegetarians who sometimes crave meat, but it seems that a few are giving into their cravings when drunk! I think it’s important for friends of these vegetarians to support them when drunk and urge them not to eat meat as I’m sure they regret it the next day!

Interestingly, a blogger skeptical of the “eating meat while drunk” claim maintained that George Charles was somewhat of a ghost. As that writer indicated, media mentions of Charles appeared to consist solely of similar questionable “studies” conducted by VoucherCodesPro. We located a Twitter account (created in 2013) that appeared to belong to Charles; but its avatar was a stock photograph described a “young businessman.” If Charles has accomplished anything aside from getting quoted in (primarily British tabloid) coverage of dubious studies in connection with VoucherCodesPro, we were unable to locate evidence of it.

Whether or not Charles is an actual person, or any actual polling was done to suggest a third of vegetarians regularly eat meat, the description of that survey as a “study” was misleading. Research properly termed a “study” is understood to be methodologically rigorousideally replicable, and subject to peer review. A small phone survey conducted by a coupon company, fronted by a man whose existence is questionable, fits none of those criteria.

The word “study” is frequently misapplied in the media, sometimes in an effort to pass off opinion as research, but other times as an (irritating, increasingly commonplace) PR strategy. Examples of the latter include studies that “proved” a day in January was the most depressing of the year, that supporters of Donald Trump were grammatically challenged, and that a new strain of super lice had appeared in the United States. The claim of vegetarians eating meat while drunk appears to fall into that category; it bears mentioning that a business connected with that research has been involved in vetting “surveys” yielding “shocking statistics” to the media with unusual frequency (reaping significant free exposure for their brand).

Last updated: 21 October 2015

Originally published: 21 October 2015