Although the the latest episode of Last Week Tonight had host John Oliver focus his hilarious and righteous wrath on “science,” his criticisms were not aimed at scientists or the scientific method. They were aimed at all of the “bullshit currently masquerading as science” in popular media. In other words, all of those studies in the media that are either poorly researched in the first place, or so heavily misconstrued by reporters — who are looking to grab the viewers’ attention — that they become inaccurate, and most importantly, detrimental toward people’s trust of science.
Oliver began the segment listing off a multitude of clearly dubious scientific studies popularized in the media, including those that said hugging dogs is bad for them, a glass of red wine is equivalent to an hour at the gym for your health, and even one that was titled by Time.com as “Scientists Say Smelling Farts Might Prevent Cancer.”
Oliver focused in on two big problems at the heart of all of these weak, often times outright-false claims: scientists who are “under constant pressure to publish, with tenure and funding on the line,” and the media’s willingness to take what is originally a bland and hyper-specific study and sensationalize it. TED talks even earn the host’s ire, which he skewers with his own version of the popular outlet for academic presentations called TODD talks featuring, among other comedic talents, Bob’s Burgers’ H. Jon Benjamin.
Ultimately, Oliver’s is an argument against the idea of “a la cart science,” in reference to The Today Show’s Al Roker saying that “the way to live your life is you find the study that sounds best to you, and you go with that.” Oliver replies with about a half-dozen emphatic “no’s,” claiming that while “Science is, by its nature, imperfect… it is hugely important, and it deserves better than to be twisted out of proportion and be turned into morning show gossip.”
What do you think about John Oliver’s comments on scientific studies in the media? Let us know about all of your recent personal studies on this segment in the comments below!