John Oliver laid into the media, including NBC’s “Today” show, for the repeated use of questionable scientific information during a segment on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight.”
Oliver showed numerous examples of various news programs that featured segments on scientific studies. But he pointed out that these studies often do not directly show what the programs claim, but rather they draw broad, sweeping conclusions in order to get a catchy headline.
The problem is in part the pressure faced by scientists to publish impressive results that will attract funding. In such a pursuit, scientists can be discouraged from doing replication studies, which attempt to replicate the results of another study to check its accuracy.
Oliver also touched on a phenomenon known as P-hacking, which involves collecting data and then manipulating the variables to come up with statistically significant data.
He pointed to a website called FiveThirtyEight, which was able to manipulate variables in data to show correlations between things like eating cabbage and having an innie belly button.
Near the end of the segment, Oliver slammed “Today” for suggesting that you should find the study that best suits your lifestyle and go with that.
“This is really dangerous,” Oliver said. “If you start thinking that science is a la carte and if you don’t like it, another study will be along soon, that is what leads people to believe manmade climate change isn’t real, or that vaccines cause autism — both of which the scientific consensus is pretty clear on.”
“In science, you don’t just get to cherry pick the parts that justify what you were going to do anyway,” he said. “That’s religion.”