John Oliver Talked about Misleading Scientific Studies

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In my opinion, John Oliver is one of the most straight-forward people on television. He really doesn’t seem to care about who he gets angry, but he approaches pretty much every controversial topic in the media. And even if he does so in a somewhat ostentatious manner, he does so without outright insulting people to their face.

As you might have deduced from that last paragraph, I’m kind of a fan of “Last Week Tonight”. Add to that the fact during the last episode he talked about something I actually wrote about a few times before, and there was no way for me to not write this article. So settle in and let’s talk about studies.

In Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver talked about misleading scientific studies. This issue has been hounding us for decades, even giving birth to the “vaccines cause autism” movement that parents who want to belong to something more than they care about their children’s health have happily embraced.

But why does that happen? How can a study show something that completely contradicts a study on the same matter performed a few months prior? Well, according to John Oliver, it’s because of reasons like these.

Scientists are under constant pressure to publish, with tenure and funding on the line. And to get published, it helps to have results that seem new and striking. Scientists know nobody is publishing a study that says, ‘Nothing Up With Acai Berries.’ And to get those results, there are all sorts of ways that — consciously or not — you can tweak your study.

Oliver spent Sunday’s entire segment criticizing how these studies are made and ripping them apart in search for the reason why they are all over the place.

Regarding coffee, for example, in just the span of a few months we can witness studies claiming that it reverses the risk of liver damage, that it helps prevent colon cancer, that it increases the risk of miscarriage and that it decreases the risk of endometrial cancer. But there are other studies which claim the opposite for every single statement on that list.

And Oliver’s explanation is right on target. People can’t write about nothing happening. It’s better for an edible product to be shown to give you cancer and then to be shown that to be harmless than for no news to be written on the subject. He even took it one step further, setting up a parody of Ted Talks involving these inaccurate and misleading studies.

This is how he introduced TODD Talks, with TODD standing for Trends, Observations, and Dangerous Drivel. The description for the program is that TODD Talks is the medium where “the format of TED Talks meets the intellectual rigor of morning news shows.”

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