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John Oliver Exposes ‘Scientific Studies’ as ‘Bullshit Masquerading As Science’

Oliver Exposes 'Bullshit Masquerading As Science'

You’ve likely watched enough morning television to know that just as frequently as an animal expert or a DIY House Winterizing pro is going to be featured, so too will a segment on the newest and flashiest scientific study. The problem with many of these efforts is that they liberally use the word “scientific” in their execution, often relying on manipulative tricks in order to convey a grabby takeaway that TV producers love.

That’s the main point in the newest comedic deep dive from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, who slammed these studies by pointing out one of their largest flaws: “The point is there are now so many studies being thrown around that can seem to contradict one another.”

The comedian continued in his assessment, “At after certain point, all that ridiculous information can make you wonder: Is science bullshit? The answer is clearly no, but there is a lot of bullshit currently masquerading as science.”

There exist very real pressures of the scientific community to publish engaging and revolutionary information as it relates to the research field. With tenure and funding on the line, publishing the next ground-breaking study is a part of the regular rigor of being a scientific researcher. “Nobody is publishing a study called ‘Nothing Up With Acai Berries’,” joked Oliver. As the Last Week Tonight host further pointed out, many of these tricks — tweaking your study or making the sample size too small to discern a reliable outcome — are realities of what goes on behind the scenes of many of these studies that work their way to mainstream media.

As an example, Oliver highlighted a 2016 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology — “and because most TV producers just read press releases, this happens.” He then proceeded to show a news broadcast that badly distorted the facts behind the study into a sexy, television-approved headline grab. While the study in question was subtitled, “High-flavanol chocolate to improve placental function and to decrease the risk of preeclampsia: a double blind randomized clinical trial,” the “much sexier” version by Oliver’s description that made its way to TV was changed to, “The Benefits of Chocolate During Pregnancy.”

Oliver also bashed another study whose sample size was the shockingly small group of only 20 woman. “You can not presume that 20 women can speak for all women,” Oliver noted. “This is science, not the United States Senate.”

At one point in the segment, Oliver full-on screams at the TODAY Show‘s Al Roker after rolling a clip of the morning show host casually saying, “You find the study that sounds best to you, and you go with that.”

“In science, you don’t just get to cherry-pick that parts that justify what you were going to do anyway. That’s religion, you’re thinking of religion,” jokes Oliver to a huge applause from his crowd.

And in wonderfully predictable Last Week Tonight fashion, the show’s staff produced a full-on comedic rendition sketch for the end of the show called TODD Talks, a takeoff of the scientific study-heavy TED Talks.

“TODD Talks: where the format of TED Talks meets the intellectual rigor of morning news shows,” the bit opened. It features appeared from comedians like H. Jon Benjamin, Peter Grosz, and Michael Torpey. Law & Order SVU‘s B.D. Wong also makes a cameo as the poor scientist actually trying to — gasp! — present accurate and engaging information.

“If you love the idea of science, you’ll love TODD Talks!”

Check out the above segment from HBO’s Last Week Tonight.


J.D. Durkin (@jiveDurkey) is an editorial producer and columnist at Mediaite.
[image via screengrab]

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