[IWAR] SOC media coverage of scientific 'breakthroughs'

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Thu Jul 02 1998 - 09:42:07 PDT

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    Is it 'binge-and-purge' or 'whiplash'?  --MW
    ANALYSIS: Scientific reporting using 'binge and purge' method
          Copyright  1998 Nando.net
          Copyright  1998 Scripps Howard
       (July 2, 1998 01:09 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - People
       desperately seeking new treatments for cancer and other diseases may
       face dashed hopes, frustration and much worse unless they recognize a
       disturbing trend in reporting medical news appears in especially blatant
       form on television.
       Science, one of the world's top scientific journals, just coined a term
       for this woeful phenomenon. Science, the journal of the American
       Association for the Advancement of Science, terms it the
       "binge-and-purge" school of science reporting.
       Everyone has seen this strange approach as new advances in medicine and
       science assume a higher profile and become more and more entertainment
       and less and less real news.
       Binge-and-purge reporting means that an advance in science gets
       over-enthusiastic initial news coverage. A whole wave of stories hype
       the discovery, with network news shows featuring the feat and presenting
       special in-depth reports.
       Then come a second wave of stories, often conveniently ignored or
       minimized by the TV folks, expressing all kinds of reservations about
       the initial report. That's the purge. But the refocusing often gets less
       prominence in terms of air time and placement than it does in magazines
       and newspapers.
       People sometimes are left with the impression that sweeping progress
       actually has been made against cancer and other diseases, when little of
       any immediate importance in terms of everyday treatment of a disease has
       Science coined the term "binge and purge" in an article critical of
       recent news media coverage of the potential anti-cancer drugs,
       angiostatin and endostatin.
       Cancer clinics were swamped with phone calls from hopeful patients after
       a page one story in The New York Times characterized the drugs as likely
       to cure cancer within two years. Some patients wanted to stop or delay
       conventional chemotherapy and wait for angiostatin and endostatin.
       The Science article questioned why the Times displayed the report so
       prominently. The drugs had been under development for years, after all,
       and nothing really new had changed their status as promising drugs
       tested only in laboratory mice.
       Indeed, a dozen similar drugs, already being tested on people, have not
       lived up to hopes raised in lab experiments.
       The Times article, however, carefully mentioned that angiostatin and
       endostatin had not been tested in humans, and that other drugs,
       spectacularly effective against cancer in mice, proved disappointing
       when tried in people. But such key points were lost as the story
       blossomed on television, raising false hopes in millions of patients
       with cancer and their families.
       What points? For one, angiostatin and endostatin don't even exist as
       human drugs. Researchers have only enough to test on mice. It may take
       one year to produce enough for even a few patients.
       Science's report also mentions a few tidbits that may have escaped wider
       public note.
       The two most prominent scientists quoted in the Times story later denied
       making optimistic statements attributed to them. One was Nobel laureate
       James Watson, a physician quoted as stating that the drugs would cure
       cancer within two years. Another was Richard Klausner, National Cancer
       Institute chief, quoted as stating that NCI is giving the drugs top
       It also turned out that a literary agent for the Times reporter was
       negotiating a book deal for the reporter, asking for an advance on
       royalties of $2 million.
       Other medical advances have been caught in the binge-and-purge approach.
       More face that fate in the future.
       During the binge, patients and families should avoid undue optimism
       about a cure. Be aware of the entertainment factor in TV news. Read news
       accounts carefully and critically. Don't throw away your old medicine.
       Don't pepper physicians with phone calls. Wait until all the cards have
       been dealt.
       By MICHAEL WOODS, Toledo Blade. Distributed by Scripps Howard News

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