In order for the field of science to progress, there is an unavoidable need to keep conducting a wide array of studies. In many cases, these studies are necessary for an academic to conduct in order to progress their career. Although the public inevitably benefits from a plethora of studies being conducted, the unfortunate reality is that occasionally these studies are highly misrepresentative or unreliable.
As John Oliver addresses in his show on scientific studies, the science in these studies may be very far from reliable. The primary cause for this could be an ineffective study. Due to the series of variables which are required for conducting a study, there is the possibility of probability hacking (p-hacking). This process comprises of manipulating certain statistical variables, such as samples size, population, and format of the question, to end up with an inaccurate answer. This inaccuracy is only compounded by the fact that many studies are never peer reviewed since there is very little incentive to do so.
Another serious concern in regards to the accuracy of a study is the influence of funding. Although a majority of funding comes from government grants, product development, or non-profit foundations, there are those studies which are funded by an industry for the explicit purpose of changing public perception on an issue. Although these studies are said to be independent of the industry, they have a shockingly high rate of supporting the industries position in their conclusion.
In addition to the possibility that the study is fundamentally wrong, the media outlets which present these studies may also manipulate the results of even more. As Oliver addressed, there is an incentive for these media outlets to keep their audiences interested. Consequently, outlets may word or interpret a study in a hyperbolized format in order to garner more views (or another method of viewership). The reason this practice benefits the media outlets is that it allows for more advertising revenue to be generated, yet it comes at the cost of the accuracy of the information.
The primary source of contradictory studies in the media appears to be information regarding nutrition and health. In my personal experience I have heard a slew of contradicting information in regards to what is healthy and what is not. This is likely the result of people being interested in the topic and is additionally more interested if the study supports a surprising finding. In my particular situation, I have always been skeptical of the result of any study that sounds too good to be true. In regards to the health ones I have hear I have proceeded to research up on a few, such as the actual health benefits of chocolate. I found ample information supporting the opposite position which I heard and as a result discredited the more outlandish-sounding “study”.
In order to avoid being deceived by a scientific study which may be deceptive, the onus falls upon the consumer of the media to investigate further. The media sources provide the most simplified analysis of the study, processing it for their audience. To avoid any assumptions, or to notice any blatant inaccuracies, researching the particular study may be necessary to ensure that the study is being presented correctly.
Although the common colloquialisms suggest never looking a gift horse in the mouth, this does not apply for scientific studies. Due to the combination of manipulated variables, private interest, and media spin, scientific studies may not always be accurate. To mitigate the effects of these faulty studies have upon the public, there should be a certain degree of skepticism which they are viewed under.