Ever wonder why some studies say chocolate and wine can prevent cancer while others say that candy bars and alcohol of all types can cause cancer? Those contradictions led John Oliver to put together a segment on "Last Week Tonight" that tries to answer the question, "Is science bullshit?"
No, Oliver said, but "there is a lot of bullshit currently masquerading as science." One reason is that scientists trying to get funding and tenure are under constant pressure to publish findings that seem compelling. That can lead to researchers playing with data until they find something that looks statistically significant but is actually meaningless. Like a correlation between drinking ice tea and believing that "Crash" (2004) didn't deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Yes, that's an actual stat that Oliver dug up.
Another side to this problem involves fluffy news shows featuring dubious research, like a 2015 study claiming that driving dehydrated was as bad as driving drunk. The report was featured on channels like FOX News, which didn't mention that the sample size was a dozen people, and that the study was funded by a company backed by Coca Cola.
The third side to the problem involves cherry-picking results, which Oliver spotlighted with a cringeworthy quote from Al Roker of NBC's Today. "I think the way you live your life is that you find the study that works best for you and you go with that," the TV personality said.
But that mindset can lead to huge problems when it comes to legislating things like marijuana because people often cling to studies that confirm their beliefs, such as one study suggesting that adolescent use lowers IQ, which has been challenged by more recent studies.
"There's no clear evidence that there are damages," Dr. Zach Walsh - who leads the University of British Columbia's lab studying the use of cannabis for therapeutic and recreational purposes - told Civilized. "We put too much emphasis on a few pieces of evidence."
For the record, Walsh isn't saying that cannabis use among adolescents is safe or desirable, but that the public needs to avoid making up their minds until more studies are conducted.
For more on how researchers, news shows and corporations distort science, check out Oliver's full segment.
h/t The Cannabist