(Image source: iPad screenshot from Netflix)
Let me just preface this by saying that I’m not a scientist, a doctor, or a researcher— but I’m also not a fool.
Over the past few days, my boyfriend and I binge-watched Netflix’s latest attempt at educational programming, 100 Humans. At first glance, it seemed like a cool, new idea for a show; it’s different from most of the other content we watch, and who doesn’t love a good science experiment, right? Well, that’s just it: these experiments aren’t good. They’re not even decent. They’re incredibly flawed.
So, aside from the fact that the “scientists” are actually actors— and bad ones at that— let’s talk about where Netflix went wrong.
1. 100 test subjects is far too few to generate any meaningful conclusions
In the very first episode of the show, it’s explained that the 100 test subjects represent all Americans— meaning that, on average, there can be no more than 2 individuals representing each state. As if that weren’t bad enough, these participants span all different age groups, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations— you name it. In other words, there are a lot of different variables at play here that can and will impact any sociological study. Between the diversity among the participants and the fact that we’re only working with a total of 100 subjects, it’s simply scientifically impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions.
So, right off the bat, we know that none of the “findings” shared on this show are based on reliable data.
2. Participants are completely aware of which behavior is being tested
Obviously, conducting any kind of experiment on human subjects would be unethical without said subjects’ knowledge of the ongoing test and consent.
BUT any decent scientist knows that human behavior is a major factor in and of itself to account for when designing a social experiment. By that, I’m of course referring to the fact that people are generally determined to “put their best foot forward,” so to speak; it’s only natural.
Let’s say you’re conducting a study wherein you want to see if people “do the right thing” when faced with an ethical dilemma. Well, just the knowledge that they’re being observed is enough to influence your subjects’ behavior— most people don’t want to be caught deviating from the “right” side of society’s moral code.
So, rather than telling his test subjects outright the purpose of an experiment, a good scientist will instead instruct participants on the task or activity they’re expected to complete without giving any indication of what’s actually being observed. But, if you watched 100 Humans, then you know that’s not what was done.
3. The experiments do not all directly correlate to their respective hypotheses
In episode 3, for instance, the “scientists” conduct an experiment to test the hypothesis that women take longer to “get ready” than men. Now, first and foremost, they should have begun by defining what exactly they mean by “get ready,” as this phrase could refer to a myriad of activities. Generally speaking, though, I think most of us would agree that when people talk about women taking a long time to get ready, we’re referring to the amount of time spent getting dressed, applying makeup, and styling hair.
But, if “getting ready” refers to making oneself appear presentable, then the way in which this experiment was carried out doesn’t make much sense— rather than observing the participants as they primped in front of a mirror, test subjects were instead observed as they faced a number of distractions (in the form of free food and drinks) after being instructed to board a bus just a few yards away. A more appropriate hypothesis to test with in this situation would have been that men are more easily distracted than women (or vice versa).
There are a handful of other similarly flawed experiments throughout the show that simply do not correlate to their aforementioned hypotheses.
4. The “scientists” influenced their own results, thanks to a lack of controlled variables
By the time we got up to episode 5, I was practically ready to scream at the TV. I’m referring specifically to the experiment in which the “researchers” attempted to find out whether subjects could feel fake pain and/ or fake pleasure.
In this experiment, subjects were instructed to place one arm under a laser pointer (if you haven’t seen the episode, I should mention now that the beam was not strong enough for the subjects to feel any resulting physical sensation), while one of the “scientists” turned a dial that supposedly increased the power of the beam (it didn’t, but the test subjects weren’t made aware of this). As each of the subjects kept their arm under the laser at varying “strengths,” they were asked to describe how they felt on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 representing no pain or no pleasure and 10 representing significant pain or significant pleasure, depending on the version of the experiment).
Here’s where I take issue with this study: the subjects who participated in the experiment measuring fake pain were simply asked to describe how they felt, whereas the subjects in the fake pleasure experiment were asked if they felt a warm, tingling sensation. Um, hello, Netflix? Are you not familiar with the power of suggestion (or, for that matter, the placebo effect)?
This was the point in my binge-watching experience when I knew I would have to write this blog post.
My Final Thoughts and Feedback for Netflix and the Creators of 100 Humans
Like so many others, I enjoy watching shows that teach me new things. Nature documentaries, forensic shows, biographies— I love ‘em all, and I think it’s fantastic that we live in a world where filmmakers and TV producers want to create non-fiction content. But, with that said, I really don’t appreciate seeing shows that were created under the guise that viewers are uneducated and/ or easy to fool.
Knock it off.
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That’s really funny. Episode 5 is the point in my binge-watching experience when I got online and found your blog.
Their explanation of the placebo effect had me pulling my hair out.
I know what you mean! It’s like they didn’t consult with any experts during production, and it’s too bad– the premise behind the show could have made for a really cool series.
Nonsense. The participants are actors as well.