How many times a week do you hear a local news broadcast or morning talk show start a story with the phrase "a new study says..." Well, comedian John Oliver says, you might want to take what follows with a grain of salt.
On HBO's "Last Week Tonight" Sunday, Oliver highlighted the reasons scientific studies are so often misrepresented in the media. The comedian explained that to fill the demand for stories, producers often rush to report catchy-sounding papers without proper context.
“There are so many studies being thrown around, they can seem to contradict one another,” Oliver said. “In just the last few months, we’ve seen studies about coffee that claim it may reverse the effects of liver damage, help prevent colon cancer, decrease the risk of endometrial cancer and increase the risk of miscarriage.”
Oliver said that in many cases, however, the scientists are also partly to blame. The "Last Week Tonight" host detailed the many reasons why studies are reported with problematic inaccuracies, such as that researchers can use "p-hacking" to manipulate variables in a study to show correlations that may not actually be significant, that results obtained from studies on rodents are often reported without that disclaimer, and that there are few incentives for scientists to conduct replication studies to confirm their initial findings.
"There is no reward in science for second. There is no Nobel Prize for fact checking," Oliver joked. "Incidentally, 'There's no Nobel Prize for fact checking' is a motivational poster in Brian Williams' NBC dressing room."
Oliver concluded the segment with a parody of the popular "TED Talk" speaker series, called "Todd Talks." The sketch featured a few comedians, such as "Archer" star H. Jon Benjamin, touting some shaky scientific findings, such as that coffee can cure cancer and racism, as fact.
Apparently, science is not quite an exact science.