John Oliver promotes real science – a comedian gets it right

John Oliver promotes real science

On Sunday evening (8 May 2016), John Oliver, the English comedian and political satirist, talked about science and how we should embrace it during his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The upshot is that John Oliver promotes real science – and critical thinking about bad science. And states that vaccines don’t cause autism.

Oliver is one of the best satirists on TV. His attacks on stupidity in politics and culture are classics. He’s been doing his shtick for many years on American TV, being one of featured correspondents for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I always looked forward to his reports, though always funny, they were generally pointed and quite intelligent.

His recent segment on science on his HBO show was a classic. And let’s take a look at how John Oliver promotes real science – and why it’s kind of sad that a comedian has to hit it out of the park.

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Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought

Editor’s note: This article combines elements of several articles about pseudoscience published in 2012 and 2013. It’s been revised to include some newer information and split into two parts to improve readability. Over time, more topics will be covered. 

Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:

Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.

Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.

It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit

Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.

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