Have you ever wondered how local news channels and certain kinds of websites manage to find the studies that connect seemingly random health data points like, say, drinking fruit juice and experiencing night terrors?
On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver addressed how the scientific community has been hamstrung by overemphasizing the importance of discovering potentially revelatory information, and not supporting (funding) nearly enough of the follow-up studies necessary to really know whether, for example, coffee can “increase the risk of miscarriage.”
The problem, according to the segment, is not necessarily the scientists, but the system, which pushes researchers to publish reports with novel findings, or risk losing funding. That pressure leads to bad practices like “P-Hacking,” where researchers without groundbreaking information “play with” their data to find a statistically noteworthy correlation.
Oliver also notes that much of the blame falls squarely on public relations firms and the media, whose hyperbole and desire for digestible news leads to stories that misconstrue the significance of individual studies.
Long story, short: The story of a scientific discovery is a long story that should not be shortened.