Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 3, Episode 11 - Scientific Studies - full transcript

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LAST WEEK TONIGHT
WITH JOHN OLIVER

SEASON III
EPISODE 11

Welcome to Last Week Tonight.
Thank you so much for joining us.

I'm John Oliver.
Time for a quick recap of the week.

And obviously,
the big news here in the U.S.

is that Donald Trump is the presumptive
republican nominee for president.

That's right,
this sentient circus peanut

now holds the future
of a major political party

in his tiny, raccoon-pawsized hands,
which is frankly a little surprising,

because the Internet repeatedly told me
I had destroyed and eviscerated him.

Why would they say
that if it wasn't true ?



If you are feeling depressed about
the current state of this election,

let me give you some perspective
from the Philippines.

The world's Rorschach test.

I see an upside down feather
and my father's disappointment.

Their presidential election
takes place tomorrow.

The front-runner is Rodrigo Duterte.
And he is a colorful character.

Rodrigo Duterte
is far from your average politician.

His off-the-cuff remarks
are legendary.

At this mass wedding, Duterte offers
himself as a gift to the young brides.

I don't have money to give but I could
give your wives something else.

And this is for the wives only.

Men, I'm sorry, but you don't get
anything, because I'm not a queer.

That kind of homophobia during
a wedding usually only happens

when the father of the bride
has six whiskey sours



and decides to tell what he thinks about
Cam and Mitchell on "Modern Family".

Not a fan. And that's
just the tip of the iceberg.

Duterte routinely kisses
his female supporters,

once called the pope
a son-of-a-bitch,

all of which has earned him a
reputation as the "Trump of the East",

a title previously held by a burnt
wonton covered in scarecrow pubes.

Duterte has suggested, if elected,
he would kill 5 criminals every week.

Which may not be an idle promise
since he's been mayor,

extrajudicial death squads have
reportedly killed over 1 000 people.

While he denies any involvement,
he admits he's got blood on his hands.

- So no qualms about killing killers ?
- Yes of course.

I must admit I have killed.

Three months early on,
I killed about...

Three people ?

I'm sorry, about three people ?

That's not good. Not knowing
how many people you've killed

is like not knowing
how many Vicodin you took.

If you don't know the exact number
the answer is "way too fucking many".

And yet, none of this has hurt him.

More than half of his city's residents
think the death squad is "ok",

which is a surprisingly
measured response.

"Death squads ? They're okay. Could be
deathier. Hashtag squad goals."

At times, though,
Duterte has seemed

like he's trying to test the limits
of basic human decency.

On the campaign trail, he delivered
a speech that was truly nauseating.

He was the mayor of Davao
when an Australian missionary

was murdered and gang raped
in 1989 in the jail in Davao City

where he's still the mayor today.

I was angry she was raped, yes,
that was one thing,

but she was so beautiful.

I think the mayor
should have been first.

What a fucking asshole.

If any part of you is thinking,
"was that some horrific joke ?",

please know:
he meant every word of it.

It was not a joke.
I said it in a narrative.

I was not smiling,
I was just talking plain sense.

Let this be a lesson to all of us.
When we say:

"I want a politician who'll tell me
what he really thinks,"

we should specify that that politician
should not be a total fucking monster.

And yet, incredibly, this man
is leading in the polls by 11 points,

so he's probably going
to get elected president tomorrow.

Which isn't just terrifying
for the Philippines.

In a year's time, we could be treated
to this as an official state visit.

Let's move on to some lighter news
in North Korea.

Alphabetically speaking,
the world's foremost Korea.

This week,
that country saw a major event.

Ominous developments
in North Korea right now

where the biggest political event
in decades is under way.

The first gathering of the communist
party elites in some 36 years.

The North Korean workers party
had its first gathering since 1980.

The first order of business
was therefore,

"God, how good was 'Cheers' ?
How good was Cheers, guys ?"

This event was so momentous,
North Korea actually invited

around 130 foreign journalists
to come cover it.

Where they got the chance
to meet some normal,

everyday, completely unscripted
Pyongyang citizens.

Kim Jong-un
is the best one in the world.

The most powerful country
in the world.

What should America know
about your leader ?

Comrade Kim is the best in the world,
she says. And a peacemaker.

We don't have anything
against Americans,

but we don't like
American policymakers, she said.

What do you think
of President Obama ?

If she's given the weapon,
she wants to shoot at him.

If she's given a weapon,
she would shoot at President Obama ?

She wants to shoot at him.

Yeah, wow.

There is literally no other response
to that than "wow".

You don't often hear assassination
threats in the same wistful tone

you'd say: "If I had a bread maker,
it would be focaccia every morning".

The choreographed tour
for the journalists didn't stop there.

They were taken to a model farm
that seemed weirdly devoid of farmers,

a nursery school
with this on the wall,

and even a gun factory turned museum
with great historical significance.

We're told the founder
and President Kim Il-sung test fired

the first locally produced submachine
gun 50 meters, more than 160 feet,

hitting those two targets
with a bulls-eye every time.

This rifle apparently fired by the
founder of the DPRK Kim Il-sung,

even his wife
and then later his son Kim Jong-Il.

They all, apparently,
hit bulls eye.

Comrade Kim Jong-Il shot 3 bullets
and 3 of them got bulls-eye.

- And how old was he at the time ?
- He was 7-year-old.

A 7-year-old got three bulls-eyes ?
That's pretty impressive.

That is a very professional
translator !

A 7-year-old got 3 bulls-eyes ?"

- "A 7 year old ?"
- "I said mmm-hm".

The whole point of the trip
was to attend Kim Jong-un's speech.

The journalists
were not allowed into the building,

were instead taken back
to their hotel,

where they couldn't watch
the speech on state TV,

because as one of them
showed on Vine

it was airing an old black-and-white
Korean military drama.

Her readers
were reduced to watching

someone watching
North Korean television.

And now you're watching
this show

watch someone
watching North Korean television.

It's like a Russian nesting doll
if every piece was less entertaining

than a plain wooden doll
that does nothing.

But thankfully, 13 hours later,

the state TV did give some inkling of
what was going on inside the meeting.

The state television channel
broke in to regular programming,

announcing that Kim Jong-un
will be elected this weekend

to a new even more grandiose title
than the one he currently holds.

Kim Jong-un is getting a title bump.

I guess the only question
is what is the title going to be ?

Will it be "supreme leader" ?
"Triple supreme leader" ?

I happen to think
the most fitting would be,

"Kim-leesi, mother of dragons"
because think about it:

given his unpredictable violence
and fantastical family history,

he's perhaps the only person on earth
who could win the Game of Thrones.

And now this !

And now, the next
President of the United States.

The next President
of the United States, John Edwards.

The next President
of the United States, John McCain.

The next President
of the United States, Newt Gingrich.

Our next President
of the United States, Al Gore.

The next President
of the United States, Michele Bachman.

Gary Johnson, then next President
of the United States.

The next President
of the United States, Dick Gephardt.

You are looking at the next President
of United States of America !

Ralph Nader, the next President !

The next President
of the United States, Ted Cruz !

Moving on. Our main story tonight
concerns science.

The thing we love and respect so much,
we allow scientists to be portrayed

by Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Nicolas Cage, and Al Pacino.

That is how much we respect them and
the complexity of the work they do.

Science is constantly producing
new studies,

as you would know,
if you ever watched TV.

A new study shows how sugar
might fuel the growth of cancer.

Late-night snacking
could damage the part of your brain

that creates and stores memories.

A new study finds pizza is the
most addictive food in America.

A new study suggests hugging
your dog is bad for your dog.

A new study showing
that drinking a glass of red wine

is just as good as spending
an hour at the gym.

What ? That last one... No !

Look, that last one doesn't
even sound like science.

It's more like something your
sassy aunt would wear on a t-shirt.

And when studies aren't blanketing TV,
they're all over your Facebook feed:

"study finds liberals are better
than conservatives at smizing",

"your cat might be thinking
about killing you",

and "scientific study shows
that bears engage in fellatio".

Let me know when bears start engaging
in some mutually pleasurable 69ing.

#bear pleasure. #feminism.

"scientists say smelling farts
might prevent cancer",

which I would say was the most
unfortunate thing Time ever published,

but this is a magazine
that once did a cover story

on "Those Asian-American
Whiz Kids".

There are now so many
studies being thrown around,

they can seem
to contradict one another.

In the last few months,
we've seen studies about coffee

that claim it may reverse
the effects of liver damage,

help prevent colon cancer, decrease
the risk of endometrial cancer,

and increase
the risk of miscarriage.

Coffee today is like God
in the Old Testament:

it will either save you
or kill you

depending on how much
you believe in its magic powers.

And after a point, all that ridiculous
information can make you wonder...

Is science bullshit ?
To which the answer is clearly "no".

But there is a lot of bullshit
currently masquerading as science.

So tonight, we thought we'd talk
about a few of the reasons why.

And first:
not all scientific studies are equal.

Some appear in less-than-legitimate
scientific journals.

Others may be subtly biased
because of scientists

feeling pressured to come up
with eye-catching results.

My success as a scientist depends
on me publishing my findings

I need to publish frequently
in the most prestigious outlets.

Scientists are under constant
pressure to publish,

with tenure and funding
on the line.

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".

To get those results, there are all
sorts of ways that consciously or not,

you can tweak your study,
you could alter how long it lasts,

or make your random sample
too small to be reliable,

or engage in something
scientists call p-hacking.

That's phacking with a hyphen,
not to be confused with "phacking",

which is a euphemism
for fucking the Philly Phanatic.

P-hacking is very complicated.
It means collecting lots of variables

and then playing with your data
until you find something that counts

as "statistically significant",
but is probably meaningless.

The web site FiveThirtyEight
surveyed 54 people

and collected over 1 000 variables,
and through p-hacking the results,

was able to find statistically
significant correlations

between eating cabbage
and having an innie bellybutton,

drinking iced tea - believing "Crash"
didn't deserve to win "Best Picture",

and eating raw tomatoes
and Judaism.

And the only thing tomatoes
have in common with Judaism

is that neither of them really feel
quite at home in the Upper Midwest.

But you don't even need to engage
in these kinds of manipulations

to get results that don't hold up.

Even the best designed studies
can get flukish results.

The best process science has to guard
against that is the replication study,

where other scientists re-do your study
and see if they get similar results.

Unfortunately, that happens
way less than it should.

Replication studies are rarely funded
and they're so underappreciated.

They never get published.
No one wants to do them.

There's no reward system
that enables it to happen.

So you just have all of these
exploratory studies out there

that are taken as fact.

That this is a scientific fact
that's never been confirmed.

No reward for being the second
to discover something in science.

There's no Nobel Prize
for fact-checking.

"There's no Nobel Prize
for fact-checking"

is a poster in Brian Williams'
MSNBC dressing room.

For all those reasons,

scientists know not to attach
too much significance

to individual studies
until placed in the larger context

of all the work
taking place in that field.

But too often, a small study with
nuanced, tentative findings

gets blown out of proportion
when it's presented to the lay public.

That happens when a scientific
body puts out a press release

summarizing the study
for a wider audience.

A medical society hosted a conference
at which a paper was presented,

comparing the effects of flavanol
chocolate during pregnancy.

If that sounds narrow, and
technical, it was supposed to be,

there wasn't a control group
of women who didn't eat chocolate.

The study found "no difference
in preeclampsia"

"or high blood-pressure, between
women who ate the chocolates."

No way a study that boring can
make it to television, right ?

That medical society issued a press
release with the much sexier,

but a misleading title: "Benefits
of Chocolate During Pregnancy".

Because most TV producers just
read press releases, this happens:

If you're pregnant,
eating 30 grams a day of chocolate,

two-thirds of a chocolate bar,
not the whole chocolate bar,

could benefit the growth and
development of your baby,

especially in women at risk for
preeclampsia or high blood pressure.

Except that's not
what the study said.

Like a game of telephone: substance
gets distorted at every step.

And I can only imagine how someone
must have described it the next day.

The news said our baby
is made of chocolate !

And it's okay if I eat it,
but only two-thirds.

And it is not like the media needs
help blowing things out of proportion.

Remember that Time story
about farts and cancer ?

The study never mentioned
either of those things.

It just pointed out that
certain sulfide compounds

"are useful pharmacological tools to
study mitochondrial dysfunction."

While that Time story was
later heavily corrected,

the scientists told us:
"we still get phone calls and emails"

"from 'strange' radio and TV shows
wanting us to talk about farts".

Which is a waste of their time.
They're doing valuable work.

They shouldn't be spending time
fielding calls from drive-time DJs

"Gas-Man and the Beef."

Some of this is on us,
the viewing audience.

We like fun, poppy science that
we can share like gossip,

and TV news producers
know it.

That is why you
constantly hear stuff like this:

Men, listen up !
A brand new study says

a woman is more open to romance
when full, opposed to being hungry.

Okay. First of all, no shit.

Anyone is more open to anything
when they aren't hungry.

That study involved only 20 women.

You cannot presume that twenty
women can speak for all women.

This is science,
not the United States Senate.

Then, there was this eye-catching
report from just last year:

A university in England says
drinking champagne weekly

may help delay dementia
and Alzheimer's.

1 to 3 glasses a week
can be effective for your health.

Fantastic news.

No, it isn't. Because
there's a big issue with that study,

if you are celebrating with
champagne three times a week,

your standards for celebration
need to be much higher.

Champagne is acceptable
on New Years', Valentine's,

birthdays, and if and when
Henry Kissinger dies, and that's it.

That is the full list.
That study was performed on rats.

And how do you
not tell people that ?

And how do you not also show
them photos of the experiments ?

You'd think they would have
paired it with some cheese,

but they went with cocaine.

God, that's chic.
Those are chic rats !

It's not the drugs that make
them cool. It's their confidence.

While studies performed on rats and
mice are undeniably useful,

their applicability to humans
can be limited.

The majority of treatments
that work on lab mice

do not wind up
succeeding in humans.

Which means: A) we shouldn't rush
out to report rodent results,

and B) during lab mouse funerals,

when they say: "he didn't die in vain",
most of the time, they are lying.

I know it hurts to hear that,
but them's the breaks, mouse.

Now to be fair,
it's not always the news media.

Sometimes, researchers
will oversimplify the science.

Even TED Talks, which have
had some amazing speakers,

have also featured some
morning-showstyle science in the past.

Like Paul Zak's 2011 talk

on a hormone produced
in the brain called oxytocin,

which he even gave
a catchy name to.

This little syringe contains
the moral molecule.

It's so easy to cause people's
brains to release oxytocin.

I know how to do it, and my favorite
way to do it is the easiest.

Here, give me a hug.
There you go.

Here's your prescription from
Dr. Love. Eight hugs a day.

We have found that people who
release more oxytocin are happier.

Because they have better
relationships of all types.

Dr. Love says eight hugs a day.

First of all, don't call yourself
"Dr. Love", that's the nickname

a tabloid gives a dentist who
ejaculated on his sedated patients.

Second: there is no way that I would
be happier giving eight hugs a day.

I'm English. That is four
lifetimes worth of hugs !

By now, you won't be
surprised to learn,

the real science on oxytocin

is more complicated than the term
"moral molecule" suggests.

While it has been found
to enhance positive emotions,

researchers have also found

that it can enhance negative emotions
like envy and bias.

The science on this is still very
much in progress.

Which explains why a survey
of oxytocin research warned,

the reports about it influencing
a large number of social behaviors

should be viewed with skepticism.

Which is really a long, technical
way of saying what you knew,

which is: when a strange man
calling himself Dr. Love

offers to hug you eight times
a day, say no.

You can see just about all of
the problems that I've described

plus one more, in a study that
made the rounds last year.

Driving while dehydrated is just as
dangerous as driving drunk.

Researchers say drivers who drank
one ounce of water per hour

made the same mistakes as those
over the legal limit with alcohol.

Doctor, when I heard this,
I thought, this cannot be true.

Yeah, obviously it couldn't,
because it wasn't true.

Britain's National Health Service
pointed out,

that study was riddled
with red flags,

including that it was based
on just twelve men,

of whom data
was only reported for eleven,

and it got funding from
the European Hydration Institute,

a foundation that has received over
seven million dollars from Coca Cola,

a company that just
happens to sell re-hydration,

in the form of fizzy brown sugar
water, carbonated urine,

flat urine, diet urine, and grapefruit
flavored embalming fluid.

Because a study is industry-funded,
or it was done on mice,

doesn't mean it's flawed.

But it is something the media
reporting on it should tell you about.

And you may think:
"Where's the harm here ?"

So long as I don't try to fart cancer
away, or fellate a bear,

no one's getting hurt.

But I'm not so sure about that.
'Cause think of it this way:

this is a chart of studies
of things like coffee, eggs, and wine.

All of them have been linked

to raising or lowering your risk of
cancer, depending on the study.

And "everything causes cancer" is
not the conclusion you want to draw.

You should draw it from logging on
to Web MD, that is their motto.

If I were to tell you about each
of those studies in isolation,

at some point, you might think:

"No one knows anything
about what causes cancer."

And that is a problem,

because that's the sort of thing that
enabled tobacco companies,

to insist
"the science isn't in yet".

And if you think I'm exaggerating
about the impact this misreporting

can have on our faith in science,
look at an example

from some of the people
most guilty of it.

Because the Today Show,
which lives for scientific studies,

recently concluded one segment
like this:

Like a lot of studies
that we love around here,

especially related to women,
about the benefits on whole milk.

There is a lot of research,
that says having whole milk

or having whole fat dairy products
can help you lose weight.

You find the study that sounds
best to you and go with that.

No !

In science, you don't just
get to cherry-pick the parts

that justify what you were
going to do anyway: that's religion.

That is what you're thinking of there.
And look, this is dangerous.

If we start
thinking science is a la carte,

and that if you don't like one
study, another will be along soon,

that is what leads people to think
man-made climate change isn't real,

or that vaccines cause autism

both of which the scientific
consensus is pretty clear on.

Science is by its nature imperfect.
But it is hugely important.

And it deserves better than to
be twisted out of proportion

and turned into gossip.

If they are going to keep
saying a study says,

they should have to provide sources
or context or not mention it at all.

I know what you're thinking:
"if that happens,"

"where am I going to get
all my interesting bull shit from ?"

Don't worry,
we have you covered !

Do you love science
in all its complexity,

but wish it could be a little less
complex and a lot less scientific ?

TODD Talks,
where the format of TED Talks

meets the intellectual rigor
of morning news shows.

Chocolate. It will kill you.

What if I were to tell you all that
the cure to racism is coffee ?

And in my research I found out
red wine makes babies

twenty percent more sociable,
that's a baby we can work with !

At TODD Talks, we've raised
the bar on entertainment

by lowering the bar
on what constitutes science.

Scientists at the Skittles Foundation
for Rainbow Tasting

have done some pioneering work.

We placed 37 volunteers
from Tulsa, Oklahoma

on an all Skittle diet for six weeks,

and guess how many
were killed by baboons ?

One ! Thirty-four people lived.

Two were killed in a non-baboon
related murder-suicide.

Why do we do this ?
Because you love science,

but you don't want to hear its process
depicted on a stage.

I conducted a trial on the effects
of coffee on cancer of the esophagus.

While there was significant decreases
in incidences of cancer in the mice,

any conclusions will
have to await human trials,

peer review and replication.

I think what he's trying
to say is coffee cures cancer ! Yes !

We finally did it !
Coffee cures cancer !

You won't find our
speakers at TED Talks,

because they're not afraid
to ask the hard questions.

Are eggs good for you ?
Or are they bad for you ?

What if I were to tell you
they were both ?

What if I were to tell you
they were neither ?

What if I were to tell you they
were both and neither !? Yes !

TODD Talks feature the scientific
insights that are incredible.

Stand butt-to-butt with me.

By standing butt-to-butt, we can
increase our serotonin levels.

- How do you feel ?
- Weird ?

That's the serotonin working.
I'm gonna give you a boost.

How does that feel ?
She's speechless !

If you like the idea of science,
you'll absolutely love TODD Talks.

None of what you're hearing
here is science.

Science is a rigorous process
that does not lend itself easily

to sweeping conclusions.

Take it easy, pal.
Somebody needs a serotonin boost.

Come on, bring it in !

TODD Talks have been called
insightful, inspiring

and a clear trademark infringement.

I'm not even a scientist.
But my study shows

that you seem 70% more authoritative
if you're wearing a lab coat.

And I am !
Thank you so much !

Not a scientist ! There you go !

Thank you so much. It's been fun !
I'm not a scientist !

TODD Talks. Because science doesn't
have to be an exact science.

That's our show !
We'll be back next week. Good night !

What if I told you that
the cure to racism was coffee ?

Not tea. Don't drink tea.
That'll make it worse.

One out of thirty seven. What are
the odds ? We'll never know.

Good, bad, neither, both !
Science !

Science is an egg !

LAST WEEK TONIGHT
WITH JOHN OLIVER

END OF EPISODE 11,
SEASON III