John Oliver f**king skewers media science

John Oliver skewered pop media “science” coverage on his recent show. It wasn’t all that funny but it was true. And depressing. What has our society become? So smart, we get stupid.

As an observer of the relationship between science and the public, he’s totally right for pointing out disturbing trends of morning news shows hyping one bad study, news orgs blowing a single study out of proportion, press releases jazzing up a study to get coverage, and headlines that don’t reflect at all what the study is even about. This sets us up for a whole lot more trouble than we already have when it comes to science literacy in the U.S. Take a look…

I’m shocked he didn’t mention my least favorite sexy science machine “I F**king Love Science”. People who know me online know that I F**king Hate I F**king Love Science. It makes people dumb.

Now, more than ever, we need practical skepticism, more people to point out blatant bullshit, a shift in the way we teach science in schools, and how we treat it in our culture. Man, this ain’t going to be easy. But, our future kind of depends on it. We aren’t going to do well for ourselves, our planet and future generations of Americans if we remain so ignorant about science and what news we take seriously.

Teaching ABOUT science is more important than teaching science. We so need a science appreciation requirement in schools.

Find more on Sounds Sciencey
Media Guide to Skepticism

10 thoughts on “John Oliver f**king skewers media science

  1. I’m constantly irritated by the way the media reports on science. All that seems to matter these days is a sensationalistic headline to generate page clicks, and whether the story is accurate or not doesn’t matter.

  2. Hmm… what’s the argument against IFLScience? Sure, it’s clickbaity, but it’s still much better than the rest of mainstream media. It doesn’t promote bullshit, it doesn’t misrepresent studies, and it tries to get people to appreciate the genuinely awesome bits about science. What’s the problem with it?

  3. It’s not science, it’s entirely clickbaity, using someone else’s stuff for profit. For a while, it was not even crediting artists for stealing their work and then putting it on merch that she made money from. It promotes memes and shallow ideas sort of relating to science, NOT science at all. I don’t think that’s cool. I think it stinks.

    They most certainly DO promote bullshit and misrepresent. Repeatedly. They don’t seem to care about promoting science or actual appreciation. Since they have become so popular, the quality has precipitously declined. That’s why I hate it.

    I’m not the only one:

  4. I’m equally sour on IFLS and similarly packaged “sciency” organs. The thing to appreciate about science is that it’s a plodding, methodical, and only slowly self-correcting enterprise that is more about dismal rigor and repetition than press-release results. There are so many ways to be wrong, and the “pessimistic meta-induction from the history of science” suggests that we’re probably wrong about some big ticket items right this very now.

    So Oliver’s corrective is good, as far as it goes. Just the same, I’m hard-pressed to believe that the situation has gotten worse in the Internet era. In fact, I rather suspect the opposite might be true — that there is more general awareness (if not deep appreciation) of critical thinking concepts that groove with scientific literacy. Folks may be bombarded by crappy science journalism as never before, but I bet if we could look up cross-generational survey data we would find that people today are more likely to have at least some rudimentary familiarity with concepts like placebos, RCT, statistical significance, replication, reverse causation, etc. — all important heuristics that would scarcely have crossed the minds of science news consumers a generation ago. In a way, the steady stream of shoddy “science” reporting may even encourage some measure of healthy folk skepticism (though perhaps more likely cynicism) as consumers begin to notice so many hopped up dead ends.

    Anyway, this is an empirical question. Is the present population more or less scientifically literate now than in the past? Anyone know if there is survey data on this?

  5. I think you’re right. We generally have more information so there is a net gain. But it is compensated by the proliferation of bad information. Therefore, I would emphasize not the information but how to judge good information from bad. We need to teach how the processes work and how to apply these processes to your own life and interests. Teaching critical thinking (really, not just lip service “critical thinking”) to kids as young as possible would reasonably reduce some of this acceptance of bad science. It will take a cultural shift in how we view science. I don’t know how to do that.

    “Scientific literacy” is fraught with problems. We can’t even define what it is let alone test well for it. An argument can be made that it’s better to know how to get reliable information when you need it than to hold a bunch of facts in your head. And, it’s more important to know why science is reliable (but changing) than to hang your hat on what it tells you in any given science textbook.

  6. Good point! I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I too suspect that you are right. Here are two bits of information that make me hopeful:

    1 – World literacy is constantly on the rise (first graph found on google: Of course, this may or may not correlate with “scientific literacy”, but I suspect it does.

    2 – Although there is much bulshit around and misrepresented science etc, there is one thing hopeful about it – everyone tries to sound scienc-y. Everything sounds more serious if “a scientific study says that…” All the new-age religions, alternative medicines, and occasionaly even churches refer to (flawed, but still) scientific research. Which means – people do like science and trust it. Which also implies (I think) that they should be open to ideas about how to distinguish good science from bad.

  7. No, I didn’t. Actually, I don’t know anything about you – I just got to this one article through my Facebook feed. XD I’ll check it out, thanks! 🙂

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