John Oliver segment highlights need for accessible research
- In a segment on Sunday's episode of "Last Week Tonight," host John Oliver spotlighted the tendency for the media to present scientific studies in a way that actually misinforms the public.
- Examples of such misrepresentation include exaggerated findings about chocolate milk's benefits for concussions from the University of Maryland, and numerous studies about coffee that say it "will either save you or kill you depending on how much you believe in its magic powers," according to Oliver.
- As Vox reports, the result of reporting on studies in this manner is a less-informed public with less trust in science overall.
Exaggerating a study's findings is not all on the media: Institutions must also avoid things like p-hacking (trying to find something statistically significant despite a lack of strong correlation) and exaggerating results in the interest of boosting their appeal. Vox notes that the latter issue came up with the aforementioned UMD study on chocolate milk and concussion recovery. Despite its entertainment value, the segment highlights a crucial need for researchers to ensure the studies they conduct are written up in a way that is accessible for the public at large. The more accessible research is, the more likely it will be used to inform policy and the more widely-cited it could become.
There are a number of areas in which Oliver suggests this can be improved. Among them: Replication studies, which are reportedly seldom funded, despite their value in confirming findings; increasing sample sizes to boost validity of a study's findings; and better clarifying that studies done on animals aren't necessarily applicable to humans.
Ultimately, if presenting research to the public in a more accessible manner results in a better-informed populace with greater interest, institutions could see funding boosts that would improve further research. It's worth considering in the current environment of tight finances — and even moreso with hosts like the Today Show's Al Roker suggesting that cherry-picking studies for what "sounds the best" is the best approach for viewers.
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