Overstating the case

Submitted by Carlyn Zwarenstein on June 21, 2013 - 11:23

Andre Picard has a great piece in today's Globe and Mail. It's summed up pretty well in the headline, "Take news of cancer 'breakthrough' with a big grain of salt". He looks at the coverage of the recent research from renowned cancer researchers Tak Mak and Dennis Slamon that was described breathlessly--both in the press release from Princess Margaret Hospital and in subsequent media reports--as a "breakthrough" drug.

Mr. Picard is not putting down the research. Rather, he's pointing out the very common flaws in how science and medical news are portrayed in the media. Too often, journalists rely on media releases rather than reading the actual research papers. Or they simply resort to flashy claims as a sort of magical thinking shortcut that takes readers more quickly to the exciting possibilities suggested by the findings of a particular study or the ways in which a new drug or technique might be applied (in theory, and with further research). It's not fair to patients to make these kinds of giant claims.

Picard raps the knuckles of both the hasty journalists and the press conference organizers who, mindful of the need to attract donors, use glossy public relations lingo when announcing research findings.

The words "more research is needed" can be frustrating to hear. But most often, they are a serious scientist's best response.


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