[National Association of Science Writers]

Reporting Cancer Cures, Part 1

This document is the record of a discussion that took place on the nasw-talk mailing list beginning May 4, 1998. It deals with a number of issues critical to the reporting of science and medical news. Because of the length of this discussion, I've edited it into three separate web documents. This is Part 1. Click here for Part 2 or for Part 3.

Information on joining or participating in the nasw-talk mailing list can be found here.

Bob Finn

Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin"
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 12:27:22 -0700
Subject: Cancer drugs

At the risk of starting another brouhaha (and you know just how sorry I am) I refer one and all to Gina Kolata's piece on the front page of yesterday's Sunday NYTimes on the new cancer drugs that cut off the blood supply to tumors and, when two drugs are used in tandem, absolutely eliminate almost all forms of cancer in mice.

Ms. Kolata added lots of caveats that things that work in mice don't always work in people and caution even from the drug's developer in Boston, but the story still appeared on the front page of the Times as the second lede. You can imagine the phone calls to the researcher's office now. You can imagine all the desperate people running to the phone.

Question: assuming the story is accurate (and I have absolutely no
reason to doubt same), should she have done the story? Should it have
appeared on the front of the Times? Would you have done the story?

(I am reminded of the late David Cleary of the also-late Philadelphia Bulletin, who once stood up at a Cancer Society science writers meeting and read off a list of all the advances in cancer treatment and diagnoses reported at the same meeting five years earlier and asked what ever happened to all those cures? Nothing, was the answer.)

I guess the question is: are there stories that are true, that are
potentially very important that you should still think twice about? Can
you add enough caution to not do harm?

Charge!

j - -- Joel N. Shurkin Science Writer

500 Jupiter Terrace
Santa Cruz, California
95065

joel@nasw.org
phone: 408.438.3877
fax: 408.438.4848

http://www1.oup.co.uk/bin/readcat?title=Am+I+Crazy

"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing."
Kingsley Amis.

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Message From: Mlemonick
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 15:49:06 EDT
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

>I guess the question is: are there stories that are true, that are
>potentially very important that you should still think twice about? Can
>you add enough caution to not do harm?

Excellent question. Rather than answer it, let me pose it a different way. Wouldn't it have been more honest to begin the cancer drug story with the sentence: "In a discovery that may well have no application to humans whatsoever, researchers announced...." ?

Of course, put that way it never would have made the front page, and probably not the paper at all. Placement and story structure can indeed give different weight to the same story. Are we as a group really being honest with the public? **************************************************************************

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Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin"
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 13:31:50 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

She actually has a great quote in the story from the researcher who developed
the protocal, something like: if you are a mouse with cancer, we can help you.
If you're a human, there's a problem.

j

------------------------------

Message From: Carol Hart
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 16:30:28 -0400
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

At 12:27 PM 5/4/98 -0700, Joel Shurkin wrote:

>At the risk of starting another brouhaha (and you know just how sorry I >am) I refer one and all to Gina Kolata's piece on the front page of >yesterday's Sunday NYTimes on the new cancer drugs that cut off the >blood supply to tumors and, when two drugs are used in tandem, >absolutely eliminate almost all forms of cancer 97 in mice. >

Thanks for pointing it out. I usually scan for medical/science news from the back of the paper forward and hadn't gotten that far yet. I still haven't adjusted to looking on page 1 for health news--and certainly not for basic research! The title, I think, is appropriately restrained. The majority of the quotes are astonishingly hoorah, hoorah, we've conquered cancer.

>You can imagine the phone calls to the researcher's
>office now. You can imagine all the desperate people running to the
>phone.

I can also imagine all the people writing checks to the ACS, all the legislators authorizing funding for the NCI, all the scientists looking for grants, all the investors picking biotech stocks, all the science writers pitching new stories. It makes my head spin to think how many groups have a special interest (and I don't mean a devious or dishonest interest) in hyping this news.

I think the article might have given some real specifics on why we should be cautious about thinking this is the cure. For one thing, I don't see anything in the article that tells me that researchers have licked the obstacles of delivering the dose right to the tumor. Lab mice have tumors conveniently planted right on their backs. People don't. 20

____________________
Carol Hart
Narberth, PA

http://nasw.org/users/twoharts/
610-664-1879
610-664-2319 (fax)
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Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin"
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 13:44:50 -0700
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

And yes, the stock of the two companies mentioned soared.

j

Message From: "Buist, Steve (NT)"
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 18:02:00 -0400
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

This is the first time I have replied. I have spent the past few weeks watching quietly on the sidelines but I thought I would throw my two cents in (I'm Canadian so that only works out to about one cent American because of the exchange rate).

I just recently did a six-day series on cancer for the Hamilton Spectator in Hamilton, Ont. More than a full-page every day, so this is a subject that has become a pet project for me. We also have a large and well-respected cancer centre here.

Curing cancer in mice is interesting but it's not new. As the head of the
cancer centre here told me, "Curing cancer in a test tube is easy. Curing it
in mice is easy. We can do that. Curing it in humans is the problem."

I confess I haven't seen the NYTimes story but it would have to do an awful lot of explaining to get across the message that this is miles away from any potential application in humans. Even the issue of anti-angiogenesis is not groundbreaking. And by the time you've watered it down that much, is there anything left? I know at our cancer centre here, they cringe every time there is some wire story about a new breakthrough.

Steve Buist
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Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 16:04:42 -0700
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

I have to wince at Joel's questions about the cancer cure story in the Times. I've done one or two of those myself, and lived to regret it. But the pressures are enormous and I don't know what I'd have done in Kolata's place. One of the things that gives this particular research a little extra credibility is that this specific approach to tumor control has been slowly working its way up the research ladder for some 20 years. It isn't something that just came out of the woodwork. I remember Folkman appearing at an ACS science confab (do they still have those?) when the arterial attractor was originally discovered.

The difficulty is that a story like this, no matter how well it's qualified (and this one was _well_ qualified, IMHO) is going to meet widespread misunderstanding. Joel's question is a good one. But, on the other hand, can ANY science story of social significance be truly well and rationally reported in a society that's as ignorant of these subjects as ours is?

- -- Jon Franklin

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Message From: "Tabitha M. Powledge"
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 18:40:24 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

I'm not completely clear on what your objection is, Joel. These results do seem quite different from the common-or-garden piece about a new Ca therapy. I thought the piece was well done when I first read it, and on a rereading just now it still seems that way. It's chock full of caveats, including in the lede. Anyone who doesn't understand that there's a long way to go with these drugs just wasn't paying attention. Even my local TV station was a little cautious with this story, which is something of a first for them; they ran TWO utterly unfounded pieces last week on how Viagra is great for women, which is pretty much their normal gung-ho approach to med pieces.

If the criterion for a story on a new therapy is Will a company's stock go up?, no therapy stories would be justified until after FDA approval, or maybe clinical trials. IF the criterion is Will terrified Ca patients barrage their doctors, ditto.

Is your objection to running the piece at all? (And if so, that seems a bit
like dropping the ball, as so many did with Viagra. No pun intended) Or do
you object simply to play--not Sunday Front, only Tuesday Science?

Or what?

Tammy

**********************************************************************
Tabitha M. Powledge 25040 Old Brick Way
tam@nasw.org Hollywood, MD 20636
301-373-5466 FAX 301-373-3788
**********************************************************************

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Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin"
Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 19:33:20 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

I'm not sure I'm objecting at all. I'm raising the issue. Everyone who has done

cancer stories knows what will happen: Kolata and the researcher will be inundated with heart-breaking telephone calls ("My child has cancer and...."). And there is a very long history of these things not panning out. I'm curious to see if anyone else out there would have second thoughts about doing the story. Don Drake, a former NASW president, once bragged that if they ever cured cancer, he'd report it last -- last because he is skeptical of every claim he has ever seen and would rather blow the big one than break the hearts of readers. Too many of those calls. By the way, those of us doing stories also know that no matter how many caveats and warnings you put into these stories, the people most directly involved will not read them or comprehend them. I used to avoid reporting about cancer like, well, cancer.

j
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Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@compuserve.com>
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 22:51:10 -0400
Subject: Cancer drugs

Joel Shurkin wrote: >>Question: assuming the story is accurate (and I have
absolutely no reason to doubt same), should she have done the story? Should
it have appeared on the front of the Times?<<

Without having had a chance to see the story, it seems to me this is a perfect example of what we were talking about a few weeks ago -- treating science stories as isolated, largely contextless news events. As Steve pointed out, anti-angiogenesis is not new. And a year ago I was writing about the less-than-brand-new technique of treating liver cancers by blocking their blood supply -- often accompanied by delivering anti-cancer drugs into the tumor as part of the same procedure. Had it been possible to present the story as just one more step in an on-going process, there would have been no problem But somehow we never quite seem to manage that. So people think a modest advance is a breakthrough.

Bill Thomasson
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Message From: Stephen Hart
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 20:58:11 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

>At the risk of starting another brouhaha (and you know just how sorry I
>am) I refer one and all to Gina Kolata's piece on the front page of
>yesterday's Sunday NYTimes on the new cancer drugs that cut off the
>blood supply to tumors and...
>Charge!
> >j

Couple of responses:
At "Breakthrough! How News Influences Health Perception and Behavior" at
Cold Spring Harbor, Bob Bazell showed a piece he did on the telomerase
story. He interviewed Woodring Wright (sp.?), the PI, a smiling, bearded
man hinting a the promise of a cure for aging--or at least fewer wrinkles.
Bazell, to his great credit, pointed out that Wright and several colleagues
had a financial interest in production of telomerase. For balance, Bazell
also interviewed Robert Weinberg, of the Whitehead. Weinberg seemed ill at
ease on camera, he scowled, and his message was that using such a product
could lead to cancer or have other untoward effects.

Although I think Bazell tried to produce a balanced story, I worried that
the net effect was a story starring Father Christmas telling a good-news
story, and the Grinch on counterpoint. Who are you going to remember?


Today I got this by e-mail:
David Van Echo, MD, head of new drug development at the University of
Maryland Cancer Center, thinks the hype over anti-angiogenesis drugs is
out of control. He points out that they've been researching them for 30
years, that the Cancer Center has already used versions of them for
treatment and have found certain chemo therapies work better, and says
that there are more significant therapeutics that are closer to market.
If you want to talk to him, give me a call or drop me a line and I'll
try to set something up.

Mela Kucera
Science and Technology Media Relations
University of Maryland
Baltimore

Basically, I think hyping a proposed therapy with caveats amounts to hyping
a proposed therapy.

Steve

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Message From: Norman Bauman
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 00:40:21
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

The one thing I couldn't find in that story was, where has this work been
reported before? How much was published, how much presented at meetings,
and how much reported in the NYT for the first time? Kolata mentioned that
the "drug's discoverer" delivered a "lecture". Where was the lecture?
Kolata said they've been working on this for 4 years. How could anybody
resist presenting this at a meeting for 4 years?

If they can eliminate *all tumors* as Kolata said, then it certainly is a
breakthrough. That means mouse and human cell lines, tumors of virus,
chemical and somatic mutation origin. If they don't cure clinical cancer,
they will at least have ruined the validity of the mouse model in cancer
research.

At 12:27 PM 5/4/98 -0700, Joel N. Shurkin wrote:
> >At the risk of starting another brouhaha (and you know just how sorry I
>am) I refer one and all to Gina Kolata's piece on the front page of
>yesterday's Sunday NYTimes on the new cancer drugs that cut off the
>blood supply to tumors and, when two drugs are used in tandem,
>absolutely eliminate almost all forms of cancer 97 in mice.
>

- ---------------------------
| Norman Bauman |
| 411 W. 54 St. Apt. 2D |
| New York, NY 10019 |
| (212) 977-3223 |
- ---------------------------
1A
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Message From: Chris Curran
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 09:22:49 -0500
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs -Reply

>> Mlemonick 05/04/98 02:49pm >>>
... Placement and story structure can indeed give different weight to the
same story. Are we as a group really being honest with the public?
**************************************************************************

These days, I think it's even more than placement and structure. On my
office floor (out of file space!), there are three magazine covers:

U.S. News: "The New Truth About Fat: Relax, you can live with some fat,
and your craving for it is perfectly natural."

Time: "Sex, Drugs, Drinking, Smoking. How We Get Addicted ...and how
we might get cured."

Newsweek: New Brain Science: Are We All a Little Crazy?"

On average, I add about one major newsweekly a month to my stack
(used to prompt discussions in the biology classes I teach). Each is
splashy, enticing, and each one makes me awfully queasy. Science
writers are clearly doing a good job selling science and medicine to their
editors and earning important inside space to explain the details and
caveats. However, the impression is made before the reader makes it to

the details (and how many really do get that far?).

Rather than pick on one story and one "breakthrough," I think you ought to
be discussing the more general trend which frightens the hell out of me.
There are just too many trips through the grocery checkout where I can't
tell the difference between the tabloid headlines and the mainstream
media.

chris curran/u.cincinnati
chris.curran@uc.edu

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Message From: Leslie Mertz
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 09:27:20 -0400
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

I heard about the story first on a major Detroit rock-and-roll radio
station during its three-minute-long hourly news broadcast. The story
ran something like this: "This cancer treatment apparently cuts off the
blood supply to the big tumor. Hey, guys (to the morning announcers),
did you know that the big tumor controls all the little tumors? Well, it
appears these drugs kill the big tumor and all the little tumors go
nutsy without their leader. Anyway, this has only been tested in mice,
so pretty much, all they can do is kill cancer in mice."

- -----------------
Leslie Mertz
LMERTZ@nasw.org
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Message From: Jeff Hecht
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 09:08:32 -0400
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

The Boston Globe reported this morning that the company's stock price
multiplied by 5, effectively increasing the company's capitalization by
$500 million. I have not seen the story, but it sounds like the Times
_said_ the right things and the market ran with it. Stop and think about
the implications for stock fraud if you're a promoter who can zing one past
the time or some other major paper. We all know that's possible.
- -- Jeff Hecht

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Message From: Ari Handel
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 09:40:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

As a piece of writing, I liked the Times article for being informative and
cautionary. The text itself did not make outrageous or premature
claims for the work; however, the placement of the article on the
front page was in essence such a claim, and that I thought was
inappropriate and inflammatory.

ari

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Message From: "David Baron"
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 09:41:26 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: NYT Cancer Story

I thought Gina Kolata did a great job with the anti-angiogenesis drug
story. She started the piece with lots of caveats and didn't get to
the exciting findings until she had cautioned against unreasonable
optimism.

On the other hand, I think the Times made a big mistake putting the
story at the top of the front page. The placement suggested to
readers that this was breaking news about a cancer treatment
breakthrough, whereas the story was really a feature about promising
new results from a researcher whose ideas were once dismissed.

I fault the paper's editors for the frenzy that has resulted. The
piece should have been inside the paper -- probably in Science
Times. Haven't we in the media learned from our experience with
Interleukin?

David
________________________________________________
David Baron, Science Reporter
National Public Radio
890 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215
Phone: (617) 353-0677
Fax: (617) 353-9380
dbaron@npr.org
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Message From: Peter Doskoch
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 09:45:43 -0400
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

Joel N. Shurkin wrote:
> I refer one and all to Gina Kolata's piece on the front page of
> yesterday's Sunday NYTimes on the new cancer drugs that´┐Żeliminate almost all forms of cancer ´┐Ż in mice.
> You can imagine the phone calls to the researcher's
> office now. You can imagine all the desperate people running to the
> phone.

What bothered me most about Gina Kolata's piece was the prominent front-page
Sunday placement. Responsible reporting doesn't end with getting the facts
right and using the correct words; just as interpersonal communication often
relies as much on body language and vocal inflections as it does on what we
actually say, the public infers an awful lot from font size and story
placement. (Of course, I realize it wasn't Gina's decision to run the story on
page 1.)

For what it's worth, these stories *do* have a tremendous impact on patient's
lives, raising hopes and then dashing them. A prominent cancer immunologist I
know emphasized this very point when I chatted with him last month about the

latest study from Steven Rosenberg at NIH. In March Rosenberg reported that
42% of his melanoma patients had responded to a combination therapy of IL-2
and an immunogenic peptide, a much better response rate than conventional
therapy. Trouble is, the immunologist noted, in 1985 Rosenberg reported a 43%
response rate to IL-2 alone, so that according to Rosenberg's own studies the
new peptide provides no benefit. Yet some news media (notably a couple of NYC
TV stations) used the dreaded b-word (breakthrough) to describe the new
combination therapy.

The immunologist (admittedly a rival of Rosenberg) complained that Rosenberg
and certain other researchers routinely study patient populations that are
most likely to respond to their test therapy, artificially inflating the
success rate. (For example, subsequent researchers found IL-2 response rates
in melanoma of about 15-20%, less than half of Rosenberg's 1985 claim.) But
as Joel imagined, those initial media reports result in a slew of frantic
phone calls by desperate patients who eventually discover that no breakthrough
has in fact occurred; when we spoke, the tumor immunologist had spent much of
the past month breaking the hearts of potential patients as he tried to adjust
their expectations to more realistic levels.

Yes, the public is foolish for ignoring all of the caveats and disclaimers
that such stories usually have. But given the long list of promising therapies
that haven't panned out, I do wonder if maybe we shouldn't raise the bar a bit
in reporting on such therapies. If Pons and Fleischmann announced next month
that their latest experiment had really, really, really produced cold fusion,
I would hope that the media would be more skeptical this time around. Yet when
some writers and editors and reporters (and certainly the public) learn of a
new anticancer drug, particularly one tested only in animals, they seem to
suddenly forget the long history of promising but ultimately ineffective
therapies. Ditto investors, as yesterday's stock market results revealed. In
the long run, stories about these drugs are often more pointless than the
latest-most-distant-object-in-the-universe stories.

End of rant.

Peter Doskoch

Neurology Reviews
2 Brighton Road, Suite 300
Clifton, NJ 07012
(973) 916-1000, ext. 140
pdoskoch@partmedcomm.com
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Message From: Amy Stone
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 09:49:15 -0400
Subject: nasw-talk V3 #195

Response to Joel Shurkin re: the Kolata cancer story

I, too, was surprised at the placement of the story. These substances have
been in the works for awhile and from my quick reading of the article, I
found no news peg, i.e., no recently published journal article or
presentation at a meeting. Was there an initiating event by the researchers
or their organization, such as a press release or conference to announce
new results?

One of the most surprising quotes was by James Watson, who said something to the effect of "Judah is going to cure cancer in two years."

In the interest of full disclosure, I have managed the ACS Science Writers
Seminars for the past 10 years, succeeding Alan Davis, whom many of you
know. I am aware of David Cleary's stand at one of the meetings (it
predated me) and this example shows why only looking over the past five
years of research does't get you very far (even though astonishing things
can happen in five years, such as the use of tamoxifen to prevent breast
cancers in high-risk women). Dr. Folkman has been working on his
anti-angiogenesis theories for over 20 years, making tiny incremental steps
along the way. You never know what will pan out, which is why organizations
try to fund a broad range of projects. Many of those projects, probably
even most, will not make it to new therapeutic advances, but may provide
some new knowledge that could be useful somewhere, sometime, somehow.

Back to Gina K's article. If there was no news peg, then I would have
rather seen it written as a feature. On the other hand, I'm pleased when
science news makes A1. And, if anybody's research is going to be
highlighted, Dr. Folkman's is probably the most worthy, cancer-wise, IMHO

Amy
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Message From: "Tabitha M. Powledge"
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 06:56:00 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

FYI, this morning's WPost had a page-one story on the drugs, emphasizing the
company involved, EntreMed, and the quadrupling of its stock price; this is
a local story, since the company's in Rockville.

www.washingtonpost.com

"EntreMed's Hot Prospects" by Justin Gillis

and also a color piece:

"Workers at Rockville Biotech Firm Find They're Suddenly in Demand" by

Michael E. Ruane

These should remain on the site free for the next 14 days.

Cheers,

Tammy

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Message From: "Tabitha M. Powledge"
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 07:13:48 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

> >Basically, I think hyping a proposed therapy with caveats amounts to hyping
>a proposed therapy.
> >Steve
>

Does this mean none of us should do stories on proposed therapies?

Tammy

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Message From: David Appell
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 10:23:08 -0400
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

The Science section of the NY Times has followups, too:

"Cancer Drug Faces Years of Testing; Hope Is Instantaneous"
By IAN FISHER
http://www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/news/national/sci-cancer-drug.html

David
appell@nh.ultranet.com
http://www.nh.ultranet.com/~appell

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Message From: Carol Hart
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 10:26:26 -0400
Subject: Re: NYT Cancer Story

David Baron wrote:
>I thought Gina Kolata did a great job with the anti-angiogenesis drug
>story. She started the piece with lots of caveats and didn't get to
>the exciting findings until she had cautioned against unreasonable
>optimism.

She always writes well and of course it was a great read. But did she have
to include so many "Wowie-Zowie" quotes right up front? I question whether
the comments from James Watson should have been included. The quotes
overwhelm the caveats, which look so lukewarm and token by comparison. Why
couldn't that space be used for *substantiating* the caveats?

Carol
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Message From: David Tenenbaum
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 09:35:42 -0600
Subject: cancer cure

At the risk of offending someone, it seems there's a misconception about
the nature of our job afoot on this list. Are we supposed to be the ones
who are curing cancer? Are we supposed to be the ones evaluating cures? Or
are we the ones who report the news?

If the latter, the question becomes, was there news here? And after reading
Kolata's report, it's hard to see the trigger for a news story. The drug's
discoverer made an announcement at an undated, unnamed meeting.
Furthermore, those intimations about exciting behind-the-scenes results
were an odd way to report the news. Close to reporting rumors.

Readers sometimes complain that we don't them by the halter to a
conclusion. For example, after my recent piece on evolutionary psychology,
readers groaned that I hadn't definitively solved a dispute that's plagued
science and society for more than a century. Tough luck. Life's not so
simple. And it's not our job to solve social problems, rather to report on
them. Readers are smart enough to figure things out for themselves, given
the proper info. Or at least we've gotta assume so. Otherwise, might as
well get into the propaganda business: "Here's the news, and here's what
you should think about it."

David Tenenbaum (djtenenb@facstaff.wisc.edu)
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Message From: carol morton
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 10:53:15 -0500
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

The NYT piece on the new cancer drugs and resulting soaring stock and other
media coverage seems to replicate on a larger scale the interest Folkman's
own talks have aroused on college campuses this past year.

After a talk he gave at a Harvard seminar this Fall, other postdocs in my
husband's molecular biology lab who had the money to spare invested in
EntreMed and sold their shares Monday for some pretty hefty profits. If
Folkman's talks around the country (referred to in many stories in the past
couple of days) resulted in the same extraordinary interest by scientists,
I wonder how many rushed out in a similar way and stocked up in EntreMed.
No harm in a nice stock profit generated by a NYT cover story...but what
was the trigger for the story? A new publication? A new paper? A general
feeling of goodwill toward Folkman's work? An NCI decision to spend more
money on his work? And why did such extraordinary scientific enthusiasm
for his work take so many months to make it into print?

As for the false hope for cancer patients, there are some good stories to
be done about the difference between news with medical take-home messages
or action steps and science/business news with messages about basic
research advances and trends, investment opportunities and further research
opportunities. Joe Palca did one along these lines about a week ago, and I
saw a clip from the Washington Post business section about a company with
an Alzheimer's drug with the same issues -- prematurely raised hopes for
incurable diseases vs. informing investors and the public about research
progress. As other folks have said, context can make all the difference
overall impact of a piece. But maybe it wouldn't have made the front page
of the NYT if it was reported that way.

It does seem like start-up companies not yet making a profit are more
likely to be involved in these kind of news stories (such as the telomerase
stories last year). Is that because that's where the really good drug
science is? Or is it because of the closer relationship science reporters
tend to have with academia than with industry scientists? PR folks I've
talked to at some big drug companies say they do not release findings at
this stage in the research because it raises false hopes (and I guess the
unspoken assumption is that they are not pressured to do it by the
company's financial interest either).

- -- Carol Morton

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Message From: ADold
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 10:57:22 EDT
Subject: Re: Cancer Drugs

I'll just bet that another result of this story will be even more people
pinning their hopes on shark cartilage.

The guy who promotes shark cartilage has been touting Folkman's work for years
as the basis for his junk. He quotes him out of context, bastardizes his
research findings, etc etc. All of which drives Folkman nuts.

I did an article on shark cartilage (both the medical and enviro aspects of
it) for Discover a couple of years ago and had a hard time getting Folkman to
talk to me, he was so worried that he would end up being "used" again.

Catherine Dold
Boulder, CO
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Message From: akeck@aaas.org (AKECK)
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 10:59:33 -0400
Subject: Cancer Drugs

I just read Joel's call to arms on cancer drugs and was reminded of the scathing
"F" I received on a story I wrote when covering my first AAAS meeting as a
student. I had described a cancer treatment as a cure. Everytime I hear of this
drugs "curing" or that drug "curing" any disease, the image of that big red F
looms before me. I haven't read Kolata's article yet, so I can't comment on
that. But I want to thank Prof. Sharon Friedman at Lehigh for nailing the point
home.

- -- Aries Keck
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Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 08:06:09 -0700
Subject: constructive breakthrough suggestion

>>Basically, I think hyping a proposed therapy with caveats amounts to hyping
>>a proposed therapy.
>>Steve
> >Does this mean none of us should do stories on proposed therapies?
>>== Tammy ==

Constructively, what it probably means is that we should do a _lot_ more
take-outs on how science works, particularly the segments of it so
frequently misunderstood. For example, this piece would have been much
better if there had been a sidebar on all the failed breakthroughs. The
sidebar could even be interesting. But we (more to the point, our editors)
have the impression that readers aren't interested in process. They are.
It's just more difficult to write.

One thing NASW could do, if we're all that interested (and I certainly am)
is to collect and post some facts on failed cancer breakthroughs (and on
"biggest" and "farthest" astronomy stories, and all that) so that a
reporter on deadline could tell an editor he could produce an interesting
sidebar in 45 minutes or so. As it is, that stuff is difficult to report
because no one, certainly not PR shops, have much of a vested interest in
knowing that stuff. They'll help you, but a decent debunking sidebar, with
a lot of interesting (and humorous) examples can take days to pull together.

- -- Jon Franklin

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Message From: Stephen Hart
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 08:08:56 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

>>Basically, I think hyping a proposed therapy with caveats amounts to hyping
>>a proposed therapy.
>> >>Steve
>> > >Does this mean none of us should do stories on proposed therapies?
> >== Tammy ==

No. I should have emphasized *hyping.* What I meant was that adding caveats
does not produce a "balanced" story. If you appear to offer hope to people
with incurable disease, then quote a naysayer, you are not providing the
full story. I don't have a solution for this, I'm just stating my opinion.
Perhaps waiting a bit is a good idea.

The real problem comes with the definition of news. A reporter identifies a
paper or meeting talk that meets his or her definition of news. Alerting
her editor sets in motion a train of events that results in a story written
with a particular slant being published on a particular day with a
particular prominence. Then other publications/media pick up the story and
run with it. I think the writer has to take responsibility in this
snowballing process.

At the Breakthrough meeting, Gina Kolata talked about her Dolly story
(which led to her book). That story went through the same kind of process.
(She found the research paper in a Nature preview digest on Thursday,
alerted the editor, researched and wrote the story on Friday, and it was
published on Saturday after the embargo had been broken by another
newspaper.) Many scientists at that meeting still didn't see why Gina and
some other reporters thought that was such a hot news story. They didn't
say she shouldn't have reported it, but that it isn't the science story of
the decade.

Steve

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Message From: dlindley@sciserv.org
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 11:45:41 -0500
Subject: responsible reporting


After lurking for a few days I feel compelled to stick my oar in...

I haven't read Gina Kolata's cancer story, but the consensus seems to
be that it was a pretty well-balanced piece. But then comes the
suggestion that it didn't belong on the front page. Which means what?
That was it an excellent story but it would have been better if nobody
had read it? Or at least not so many...

There's a larger issue here that makes me uneasy. The original worry
was that reporters have to be careful writing these sorts of stories,
because readers (the poor, excitable dears) can get needlessly
agitated. The answer to that, surely, is to write a good story,
putting in all the caveats and provisos that you think appropriate.
But then people worry, should they have written the story at all?
Should they have recited a long history of previous unfulfilled hopes?
Should the story be on page A1 or the bottom lefthand corner of page
A7?

Implicit in all this fussing seems to be an idea that if you can do
the story just right, all will be well: the news (such as it is) will
get out, the public will be informed (to precisely the right degree),
scientists won't be embarrassed, the stock market will remain
unperturbed, cancer patients and their families will not be
excessively distraught etc etc.

But isn't this going a tad beyond where the reporter's responsibility
(and indeed ability) runs out? I don't think it's the job of newspaper
folk to try to second-guess what readers' reactions will be, and
adjust their writing accordingly. Nor is it a reporter's job to decide
in advance just how readers ought to react.

The fact is you can write the most perfectly pitched story in all
creation, and readers will ignore your caveats, misunderstand your
reservations, fail to read the 3 paragraphs about the lamentable
record of mouse cures, and so on. You can't force your readers to read
every single word and then give them a quiz to make sure they've got
it, just as you intended.

In short, you have to write the story the way you think fit, and after
that it's out of your hands. Readers will make of it what they will.
You don't have the degree of control that some people seem to think
you have.

David Lindley

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Message From: Elizabeth Zubritsky
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 12:17:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: responsible reporting

> ... I don't think it's the job of newspaper
> folk to try to second-guess what readers' reactions will be, and
> adjust their writing accordingly. Nor is it a reporter's job to decide
> in advance just how readers ought to react.
>
> The fact is you can write the most perfectly pitched story in all
> creation, and readers will ignore your caveats, misunderstand your
> reservations, fail to read the 3 paragraphs about the lamentable
> record of mouse cures, and so on. You can't force your readers to read
> every single word and then give them a quiz to make sure they've got
> it, just as you intended.

All that is true. But when you put a story on A1 of the New York Times,
you're telling the readers it's Big News. The problem with the cancer drug
story -- and many others -- is that it send two messages. The placement
tells the readers: "This is Big News." So, even though the story says,
"Yeah, it's news, but it's not Big News," that conflicts with the message
inherent in the story's placement. Which message are the readers supposed
to pay more attention to? Newspapers don't have to second guess their
readers, but they can reduce/avoid some problems by refraining from
pushing their readers' buttons.

- - Liz Zubritsky

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Message From: Mary Knudson
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 12:22:01 -0400
Subject: Re: Covering new cancer drugs

> Message From: Jon Franklin
> Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 16:04:42 -0700
> Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs
>
> I have to wince at Joel's questions about the cancer cure story in the
> Times. I've done one or two of those myself, and lived to regret it.

Jon,

This takes me back to our days when we overlapped in time for a while at
the Baltimore Evening (you) and Morning (me) Sun (or should that be
Suns?) For those not familiar, the papers were published by the same

company on the same floor, but had totally separate staffs, including
editors, and were hot competitors. I was the Sun's only medical writer
and you were the Evening Sun's only science writer. You started writing
about an experimental cancer drug that I think Peter Wiernik at UM's
cancer center was trying on patients. You wrote about 15 or 20 stories
in a row and the Evening Sun gave them all splashy play. My city editor
would periodically call me up to the city desk and thrust the Evening
Sun's latest story about this hopeful new drug at me and bawl me out for
letting you "beat" me on this obviously very important story.

I talked to you about why you were writing these stories and you said
you didn't care whether it turned out that the drug worked or not --
that wasn't why you were writing the stories. You were writing them as
a process-of-science continuing story and mainly, because it was a good
vehicle for dramatic writing, which you enjoyed doing.

Since I can't even remember the name of the drug, I can't say what
happened to it, but either it didn't work out at all or was
disappointing in its results. Is my memory right? It would be
interesting to go back and see how you handled your last story.

I'm wondering if this is one of the instances you regret, or if you
would still defend writing day-by-day or week-by-week developments of a
new cancer drug in a dramatic narrative style, with each story getting
headlined across the top of the front page of the Maryland section? I
think your first story and maybe, a couple of others, were on the front
page of the paper, weren't they? I know I thought at the time that what
you were doing was wrong because I knew from experience that desperate
cancer patients and their familis put more hope than they should in news
accounts about new drugs. And, if your articles, no matter what your
intention for writing them, fooled my city editor into thinking this
must be an important story, they surely must have caused similar
reaction among cancer patients and their families. This is also an
example of how what one newspaper does can pressure others to possibly
write about the same thing. My city editor, thankfully, was short-lived
in that job.

Having mentioned this incident about Jon, let me quicky add that he
graced the paper with many beautifully told stories on other topics
where emotional vulnerability was not an issue.

Incidentally, the cancer cure story Joel mentioned that started this
discussion got an unusually long segment on the ABC evening news
yesterday.

Mary

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Message From: David Tenenbaum
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 11:33:11 -0600
Subject: cancer cure

The original NYT story (from Sunday) is at:
http://www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/early/050398sci-cancer-treatments.html
in case anybody still needs to read it.
David Tenenbaum (djtenenb@facstaff.wisc.edu)
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Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin"
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 09:36:31 -0700
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

>

Three more quotes, taken from this morning's San Jose Mercury News (jump
headline: "Cancer-dug news stirs mass frenzy")

>From a Baltimore stock analyst, who points out the research was reported in
Nature in November, noted by investors who gave the stock of several of these
companies a blip: "The news that came out is not news. It just so happens
that the media picked up on it and trumpeted it."

>From the CEO of one of the companies involved (whose stock jumped 20.6%
yesterday): "To extrapolate from mouse data to predictions of cures for
cancer within a couple of years (is)...outrageously irresponsible. Most
animal data in cancer is not predictive."

>From an oncologist at Stanford: "The patient who hears news like this on the
TV frequently goes through a devastating experience. When they learn that
it's not going to be available for clinical investigation for a year or two
and, almost always, the results are not nearly as impressive as in animals,
we dash their hopes."

- --
Joel N. Shurkin
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Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin"
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 09:39:27 -0700
Subject: Re: NYT Cancer Story

David:
Go back and read her piece again. If you were an editor of the Times
wouldn't you have put it on the front page?

j

David Baron wrote:

> I thought Gina Kolata did a great job with the anti-angiogenesis drug
> story. She started the piece with lots of caveats and didn't get to
> the exciting findings until she had cautioned against unreasonable
> optimism.
> > On the other hand, I think the Times made a big mistake putting the
> story at the top of the front page. The placement suggested to
> readers that this was breaking news about a cancer treatment
> breakthrough, whereas the story was really a feature about promising
> new results from a researcher whose ideas were once dismissed.
> > I fault the paper's editors for the frenzy that has resulted. The
> piece should have been inside the paper -- probably in Science
> Times. Haven't we in the media learned from our experience with
> Interleukin?
> ------------------------------

Message From: John Fleck
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 10:44:32 -0600
Subject: Re: cancer cure

David Tenenbaum wrote:

> the question becomes, was there news here? And after reading
> Kolata's report, it's hard to see the trigger for a news story.

Do we need triggers? They're convenient tools for a daily newspaper (".... in a
report being published today in the journa Science.....") but the idea that
they are necessary is wrong. Science is a slow-moving incremental process, and
the need for "triggers" distorts our coverage. This is one of the central
points of Gary Taubes much-discussed Technology Review piece. As Jon Franklin
has pointed out elsewhere in this thread, process is crucial to the
understanding of science, and we can avoid a lot of the sins Taubes is pointing
out by helping people understand process and not rushing into print as a result
of triggers.

In fact, I think that's one of the strengths of the NYTimes piece - it reports
not on an "aha" breakthrough, but instead shows us the long slow process this
work has gone through.
- --
John Fleck
science writer
Albuquerque Journal
PO Drawer J, Albuquerque NM, 87103
(505) 823-3916
jfleck@abqjournal.com

"I stifled my curiosity to spare me
the answer." - John Robertson

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Message From: cassie
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 12:55:33 +0000
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

The story first splashed onto the front page of the Harvard University
Gazette in February 1997. That version points out that the experiment with
the "new" cure is not the only promising cancer research using angiogenesis
inhibitors. According to the article, in 1989 the scientists used similar
inhibitors to stop hemangioma, an uncontrolled blood vessel growth that kills
infants.

http://www.news.harvard.edu/science/archives/medicine/tumor_13.Feb.97.html

In the interest of full disclosure, I work both as a freelancer and as an
intern in the Harvard News Office. The status of my NASW citizenship
completely confounds me.

Cassie Ferguson

Norman Bauman wrote:

> The one thing I couldn't find in that story was, where has this work been
> reported before? How much was published, how much presented at meetings,
>

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Message From: Blbink
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 12:52:55 EDT
Subject: Re: cancer drugs

Yaaarghh! Joel, don't get me started!

If there's anything that makes me madder about medical writing than the
research-is-a-series-of-breaking-news-stories philosophy of some newspaper
scribes, it is the wow-that-will-boost-newsstand-sales-let's-run-it-above-the-
fold philosophy of some editors! This business of starving tumors by cutting
off the blood supply has been perking along for some time now. In my opinion,
it does no good, and in fact does positive harm, to tantalize the public, and
especially those poor individuals facing death (their own or a loved one's)
with supposed cures that they will not live to see. The Washington Post
reported this morning that the stock of the company involved in making the
drugs reported on yesterday has gone absolutely through the roof. That gives
you a hint of who benefits from most of this kind of reportage.

In fact, if the medical research biz is seen from the patients' viewpoint,
there is much that is morally murky. Billions have been spent on cancer
research since Nixon began the supposed war, but death rates have hardly
budged in the major adult cancers. The last big advance was fifty years ago,
when someone noticed that mustard gas--yes, mustard gas--would kill cancer
cells. (There has, however, been real progress in childhood cancers and some
of the rare adult ones.) The recently announced drop in breast cancer
mortality is entirely due to earlier detection, not to any improvement in
cures. Bone marrow transplantation, which I recently heard a hospital
executive call one of their leading "products," has not been properly
evaluated. (It's possible, of course, that tamoxifen will have some effect
on breast cancer incidence rates, but it has its own not insignificant risks
and toxicities.)

I once asked a friend of mine, who is a leading light in one fairly abstruse
area of cancer research, If I was wrong in thinking that his work wouldn't
benefit patients for quite a long time to come, if ever. Personally, I
couldn't see it having any effect on anybody's survival in the foreseeable
future. He said that actually he doesn't expect to see it either, and that
he, like most basic scientists, works on what interests him, not on what he
thinks will have a near-term payoffs in saving lives. Yes, I asked, but what
about the patients and families he deals with? Doesn't it bother him that
they think he's working on a treatment for their disease? He can't really
help that, he says, because cancer is such a tough problem. "But," he added,
as if by way of mitigation, "we give the families hope."

Maybe people who cover cancer as spot news think that that's what they're
doing. Personally, I think it's the opposite, because most of this stuff
touted as the wonder drug of the future turns out to be too toxic or too
complicated or not effective or just plain wrong-headed, and the docs just go
on poisoning and nuking people, becuase that's all they have that works at all
in many cases.

I don't know how many of you cover lots of medical meetings, but I've made an
interesting observation over the years. The worst food, from a health
standpoint, is at the cancer meetings. At the heart meetings or the women's
health meetings or whatever, they serve bagels for breakfast and poached fish
and yogurt dressing and stir-fried broccoli and sherbet for lunch. At the
cancer meetings, it's danish for breakfast and cheese cake and roast beef and
blue cheese dressing for lunch. At a recent cancer meeting, I asked an
oncology administrator if he knew what this was. "Sure," he said, "the cancer
docs know the truth." What truth? I asked. "They know that you want to die
of a heart attack," he said.

End of rant.

Beryl Benderly

<< (I am reminded of the late David Cleary of the also-late Philadelphia
Bulletin, who once stood up at a Cancer Society science writers meeting
and read off a list of all the advances in cancer treatment and
diagnoses reported at the same meeting five years earlier and asked what
ever happened to all those cures? Nothing, was the answer.)

I guess the question is: are there stories that are true, that are
potentially very important that you should still think twice about? Can
you add enough caution to not do harm? >>
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Message From: praeburn@businessweek.com
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 13:16:50 -0400
Subject: Times cancer story

Couldn't resist weighing in on this one. I edited a very
similar story in Business Week about three weeks ago, which
produced no hysteria. The possible explanations are: (1) We
undersold it; (2) We created the correct impression, namely
that there was no reason for cancer patients to run to their

doctors.

I'm frankly not going to insist that we did it right. I
don't think we undersold it, but maybe we did. The stories
were very similar, except that ours included news of other
anti-angiogenesis drugs that are already in clinical trials.
(I'm also not going to claim we did it first. Not only has
the story been around for 20 years, but Bob Cooke at Newsday
did some nice work on it earlier this year, before we did,
and I'm sure others did, too.)

But I would say this: In the literal reading of the Times
story, it carries all the caveats. However, the overall
impression led thousands of patients to believe that a cure
was at hand--which is why they have flooded the phones of
Entremed and their doctors and so forth. So, by that
measure, I would say the Times story was inaccurate.

What do you think?

Paul Raeburn
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Message From: praeburn@businessweek.com
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 13:21:14 -0400
Subject: cancer story

Incidentally, the NYT story presumably came from a meeting
held last week or the week before at the New York Academy of
Sciences. The press material for the meeting gave no
indication that anything new would be disclosed there, and I
don't think anything was. Why the Times didn't routinely
mention the source of the news, as we all do, I can't say.

Paul Raeburn
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Message From: Blbink
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 13:27:36 EDT
Subject: Re: cancer (and other) drugs

Tammy wrote:

<< Does this mean none of us should do stories on proposed therapies?

>>

I think we should do stories on therapies that have been_shown_to work in
humans at least some of the time. We can't blame people who are desperate for
not reading the fine print. When my father was dying of cancer, I saw my
brother, a physician, carried away by his emotions to the point of believing
in his heart in possibilities that he knew in his professional mind were
completely hopeless.

Beryl

Beryl
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Message From: Robert Lee Hotz
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 10:47:59 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

I am sure all of us in this forum saw that on Tuesday the NYT saw the need
to run a second front page story on the potential cancer treatment, mostly
emphasizing the false hope problem, and backing away from any suggestion
that this may be useful for humans any time in the near or even distant
future.

This comes pretty close to a correction of what I see as the real problem
with the first story by Gina Kolata. Her story by itself was fine, I
thought, larded with the right cautionary notes and hedges. It was
technically accurate as well. The problem is how the story was played on
the front page and that was a malfunction of the paper's editorial
judgment. The editors grossly over-played her story by placing it in the
off-lead position of the Sunday front page - as close as a traditional
broadsheet can get to a tabloid screamer treatment. If the story had run on
the science page, its play and positioning would have been more tempered
and more in line with the highly experimental nature of the treatment and
the cautious tone of the story. It is a good example of how headlines,
layout and story positioning can spin a story in ways the writer clearly
tried to avoid. The problem is especially acute for the New York TImes
which influences other media so heavily even when it may be wrong.

In any case, I appreciated that the paper ran the follow-up story, but it
was sort of like shouting down a well and then reporting on the echoes.

Robert Lee Hotz
Science Writer
The Los Angeles Times
213-237-7090 voice
213-237-4712 fax
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Message From: Blbink
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 13:48:55 EDT
Subject: Re: cancer drugs

Peter Doskoch wrote:

<< In March Rosenberg reported that 42% of his melanoma patients had responded to a combination therapy of IL-2
and an immunogenic peptide, a much better response rate than conventional
therapy. Trouble is, the immunologist noted, in 1985 Rosenberg reported a 43%
response rate to IL-2 alone, so that according to Rosenberg's own studies the
new peptide provides no benefit. Yet some news media (notably a couple of NYC
TV stations) used the dreaded b-word (breakthrough) to describe the new
combination therapy.

The immunologist (admittedly a rival of Rosenberg) complained that Rosenberg

and certain other researchers routinely study patient populations that are
most likely to respond to their test therapy, artificially inflating the
success rate. (For example, subsequent researchers found IL-2 response rates
in melanoma of about 15-20%, less than half of Rosenberg's 1985 claim.) But
as Joel imagined, those initial media reports result in a slew of frantic
phone calls by desperate patients who eventually discover that no
breakthrough has in fact occurred; when we spoke, the tumor immunologist had
spent much of the past month breaking the hearts of potential patients as he tried to
adjust their expectations to more realistic levels.
>>

Another thing that we need to be careful about in reporting is what cancer
researchers mean by responding and extending survival. Patients and lay
people tend, not unreasonably, to think that those words denote getting
better, returning to health, suffering less, or some such improvement in
quality of life. In many cases, though, the researchers mean that some
physiological measure irrelevant to any of the above has changed or that the
person expired three or four months later than expected, suffering all the
while from both the disease and the terrible toxicity of the treatments.
Rosenberg's work, for example, has involved some truly appalling toxicities.
I don't fault the scientists for the language they use, because they are
talking to each other and they know what they mean, and incremental progress
is certainly not insignificant from the research standpoint, although it means
nothing to the patients who die before a good treatment is found. Nor do I
fault them for undertaking the research, as long as the subjects understand
what is really at stake. But I do think that we have a responsibility to
explain that even when treatments work, they may only drag out the misery, and
the cure may be worse than the disease.

Beryl
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Message From: Norman Bauman
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 11:59:50
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

>The one thing I couldn't find in that story was, where has this work
>been reported before? How much was published, how much presented at
>meetings, and how much reported in the NYT for the first time?

In today's Wall Street Journal, NASW member Robert Langreth notes
that the research for angiostatin and endostatin was published and
presented publicly last year.

He cites an article by Folkman in Nature, November 27, 1997 with a
commentry by Robert Kerbel of the U. Toronto.

EntreMed stock went from $39.75 to $51.8125 on Monday after the NYT
article, trading 20 million shares, nearly twice the volume of outstanding
shares.

**************************************************************************

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Message From: Dann Hayes
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 13:05:47 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: responsible reporting

>All that is true. But when you put a story on A1 of the New York Times,
>you're telling the readers it's Big News. The problem with the cancer drug
>story -- and many others -- is that it send two messages. The placement
>tells the readers: "This is Big News." So, even though the story says,
>"Yeah, it's news, but it's not Big News," that conflicts with the message
>inherent in the story's placement. Which message are the readers supposed
>to pay more attention to? Newspapers don't have to second guess their
>readers, but they can reduce/avoid some problems by refraining from
>pushing their readers' buttons.
> > >- Liz Zubritsky

Liz,

When a story is printed on page one (1) of the NYT, are you telling the readers that it is big news? or are you telling other newspaper reporters/editors that it is big news?

Having played both sides of the field -- newspaper editor/reporter now PR for KU -- I think I am starting to figuring out the game (I'll deny I have ever said that, too :-) ).

I developed a couple research releases at KU which were sent to a specific audience of science editors/writers. Nothing was done until the NYT developed a story which ran on the front page.

Once the NYT ran the front page story, the rest of the media (international) picked up on the story and it ran around the world. We are still getting a little feedback from it from alumni, etc.

So, did the story in the NYT produce the media event or was it the research?

You tell me.

Dann Hayes, science writer
University of Kansas
(785) 864-8855
dhayes@ukans.edu

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Message From: Stephen Hart
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 11:25:43 -0700
Subject: Re: cancer cure

>At the risk of offending someone, it seems there's a misconception about
>the nature of our job afoot on this list. Are we supposed to be the ones
>who are curing cancer? Are we supposed to be the ones evaluating cures? Or
>are we the ones who report the news?
>David Tenenbaum (djtenenb@facstaff.wisc.edu)

The problem with that attitude comes when if you accept that we (writers
and editors) have a responsibility for what readers think is true and not
true. Sure we're just reporters. So should we put a story on the front page
that scientist X, from company Y says that his discovery will revolutionize
Z? He said it, readers might want to know he said it, so it's news, right?
But it could be that the publication has been manipulated into effecting a
stock killing for certain investors, or has been manipulated into boosting
scientist X's promotion, or has misled readers.

Steve

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Message From: Robert Lee Hotz
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 11:29:43 -0700
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

Here is an element to add to our discussion. I am told by my publishing
contacts that Kolata is circulating a book proposal on this anti-cancer
treatment and asking for a hefty advance. To what degree does an overhyped
NYT story on this possible cancer treatment create a market for her book
proposal? I am sure she clears this sort of thing with her editors, but
nonetheless, it certainly seems a serious conflict of interest worth
disclosing to her readers. Otherwise, a reasonable reader could certainly
call the reporter's objectivity into question. There was a similar
situation with the Kolata book on cloning, in that she continued to cover
a major story while writing a book on that story, with the market for the
book being shaped in part by the high profile of the New York TImes stories
that she wrote ... and the authority of the book also resting on the
credibility of her daily coverage. It is a little too circular and
self-promotional for my tastes.
Robert Lee Hotz
Science Writer
The Los Angeles Times
213-237-7090 voice
213-237-4712 fax
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Stephen Hart
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 11:33:46 -0700
Subject: Re: cancer cures

>The fact is you can write the most perfectly pitched story in all
> creation, and readers will ignore your caveats, misunderstand your
> reservations, fail to read the 3 paragraphs about the lamentable
> record of mouse cures, and so on.
> David Lindley

True, but none of this removes your responsibility as a writer.

Steve

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Stephen Hart
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 11:49:28 -0700

Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

>This comes pretty close to a correction of what I see as the real problem
>with the first story by Gina Kolata.
>Robert Lee Hotz

But meanwhile some (perhaps many) people made a killing in the stock
market. Is there a business story here?

Steve

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Jeff Hecht
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 14:38:22 -0400
Subject: Re: Cancer story

And what are coroporate stockholders, and the Securities and Exchange
Commission, going to think if the NY Times 'correction' story on Tuesday
brings the company's stock back down to 10, the level where it was trading
_before_ the Sunday story? You don't have to be a certifiable paranoid to
consider that it might be construed as stock manipulation. What a way to
make a killing -- buy a batch of stock before the story runs, put the story
on page 1, dump the stock as it soars on Monday, and chortle as it crashes
on Tuesday. (Or maybe make a strategic retreat to a country without a
stock-fraud extradition treaty?)

I don't mean to deny the moral concerns of inflating false hopes for cancer
patients. That's a real moral issue, and one we all should think seriously
about as well. But this kind of stuff also can breed class-action
stockholder lawsuits, with nasty consequences for all concerned.
- -- Jeff Hecht

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Amy Stone
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 14:59:19 -0400
Subject: nasw-talk V3 #198

Reply to: Beryl

You wrote: < what cancer researchers mean by responding and extending survival.>>

Your points are excellent. I wrote about cancer for a long time before the
light bulb went on and I realized "5-year survival rate" counted everyone
alive 5 years out of treatment -- regardless of whether they had no cancer,
some cancer, or were in the throes of end-stage cancer.

Amy Stone
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Elizabeth Zubritsky
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 15:03:09 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: responsible reporting

> When a story is printed on page one (1) of the NYT, are you telling the
> readers that it is big news? or are you telling other newspaper
> reporters/editors that it is big news?
> ...
> So, did the story in the NYT produce the media event or was it the research?
>
> You tell me.

Dann -

I'm not sure whether it was the research or the NYT play that generated
the media event. Your point about the power of the Times is well taken. I
think that paper has a little too much influence, personally.

But what I was trying to say before is that by placing a story on the
front page, the editors are sending a message to the readers. You're
right, they're sending one to other reporters, as well.

There's a difference between readers and reporters, though: Reporters are
supposed to be able to make their own judgments on the value of news. That
is part of their job. The readers, on the other hand, are not news
experts. In many cases, they rely on the media to tell them what is news,
and that can be done in many ways. The text of a story is only part of the
message.

As many others have pointed out in this discussion, the placement of the
story carries a lot of weight with readers. I think media folks create
problems when the placement of the story doesn't match the message in the
text. Such conflicts aren't inherent to the research; they're inherent in
the story telling.

- - Liz

**************************************************************************

------------------------------
Message From: Mlemonick
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 15:32:36 EDT
Subject: Re: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

In a message dated 5/5/98 6:33:25 PM, you wrote:

< treatment and asking for a hefty advance. To what degree does an overhyped
NYT story on this possible cancer treatment create a market for her book
proposal? >>

I presume this is rhetorical, since the answer is: to a HUGE degree
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Sylvia Wright
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 12:42:15 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer story

>And what are coroporate stockholders, and the Securities and Exchange
>Commission, going to think if the NY Times 'correction' story on Tuesday
>brings the company's stock back down to 10, the level where it was trading
>_before_ the Sunday story? You don't have to be a certifiable paranoid to

>consider that it might be construed as stock manipulation. What a way to
>make a killing -- buy a batch of stock before the story runs, put the story
>on page 1, dump the stock as it soars on Monday, and chortle as it crashes
>on Tuesday.

After opening at 50 3/4, EntreMed (style cq?) is down about 12 percent,
according to the online service StockTools
http://www.stocktools.com/asp/quote.asp?showgraph3&symbolenmd;.

Meanwhile, "Science Friday" is seeking intelligent comment on the issue;
this is from this morning's ProfNet transmission:

**32. SCIENCE AND THE MEDIA - "SCIENCE FRIDAY" (NPR). I am looking for
a guest who can talk about science and the media. How do front page
stories effect the public, Wall Street, other media outlets? Should
media outlets be held responsible for the play they give science
stories? >>> Amy Sirot Email: asirot@npr.org [T::5/5:3052]

Y'all might send suggestions -- or volunteer -- to Amy.

- -- Sylvia

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Carol Hart
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 16:18:37 -0400
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

Robert Lee Hotz wrote:
> > >Here is an element to add to our discussion. I am told by my publishing
>contacts that Kolata is circulating a book proposal on this anti-cancer
>treatment and asking for a hefty advance.

Very interesting! Next question in the "who gains what from the hype" thread:

I would love to hear any ideas as to what motivated James Watson to make
his remarkable comments, namely:

"Judah is going to cure cancer in two years" and that Dr. Folkman would be
remembered along with scientists like Charles Darwin as somone who
permanently altered civilization.

Carol

------------------------------

Message From: Eric Bobinsky
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 16:58:09 -0400
Subject: Re: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

At 03:32 PM 5/5/98 EDT, you wrote:
> >In a message dated 5/5/98 6:33:25 PM, you wrote:
> ><contacts that Kolata is circulating a book proposal on this anti-cancer
>treatment and asking for a hefty advance. To what degree does an overhyped
>NYT story on this possible cancer treatment create a market for her book
>proposal? >>
>

A very BIG degree, no doubt! And I would *love* to be in her position! Of
course, who wouldn't?

I agree that while this potential COI should probably be disclosed somwhere
(where, though?), I'm not sure it would make any difference. Only
"discriminating" readers would take note of it and make the proper
allowances, but then they're also the ones who would take note of all the
caveats in the piece. In other words such a disclosure would be ethical,
but-- practically speaking-- redundant. Just my opinion...

Eric

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Norman Bauman
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 18:33:33
Subject: Re: responsible reporting

No, I think it sucks, because she didn't cite the published research and
meeting presentations (as the WSJ did). That should be an automatic F too.

At 11:45 AM 5/5/98 -0500, dlindley@sciserv.org wrote:
> > I haven't read Gina Kolata's cancer story, but the consensus seems to
> be that it was a pretty well-balanced piece. But then comes the
> suggestion that it didn't belong on the front page.

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@compuserve.com>
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 23:38:58 -0400
Subject: Re: cancer drugs

Beryl B wrote: >>Another thing that we need to be careful about in reporting is what cancer
researchers mean by responding and extending survival. Patients and lay
people tend, not unreasonably, to think that those words denote getting
better, returning to health, suffering less, or some such improvement in
quality of life.<<

I absolutely agree. Some years ago I read a story about a woman with breast
cancer who refused a treatment that was described as her only hope and that
had one chance in three of working. The story made a major impression. A
year or so later I was hired to write a monograph on breast cancer
treatments, and it was only then that I discovered what she was refusing
was not one chance in three of a cure, but of an extra year or two of life.
By the time her cancer reached the stage it had, cures lay in the realm of
St. Jude, not of medical science. But there was nothing in the story -- or
in many other stories about breast cancer treatments I'd read -- to alert
me to the fact.

Bill Thomasson
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 21:20:16 -0700
Subject: Re: cancer (and other) drugs

I don't think, as a practical matter, it is possible to ignore cancer
science stories on therapies that have not been tried in humans. If we
don't use it, the tabloids will. Such is the market. So the only
practical question is what our group sense of ethics is -- which, in the
absence of anything else, is a purpose served by this list. Once a sense
of group ethics is established, then at least if one of us makes a
different judgment, it'll be a consciously considered one.

- -- Jon Franklin

At 01:27 PM 5/5/98 EDT, you wrote:
>Tammy wrote:
> ><< > Does this mean none of us should do stories on proposed therapies?
>
>>> > >I think we should do stories on therapies that have been_shown_to work in
>humans at least some of the time. We can't blame people who are desperate
for
>not reading the fine print. When my father was dying of cancer, I saw my
>brother, a physician, carried away by his emotions to the point of believing
>in his heart in possibilities that he knew in his professional mind were
>completely hopeless.
> >Beryl
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 21:20:11 -0700
Subject: Re: NYT article on Cancer drugs

The linkage of the book proposal with a story we mostly agree is *probably*
over-hyped is very bothersome. The problem is that if she believes she has
made this call right (and we are making it wrong), then she _should_ have a
book proposal out there. That is, if she isn't sure enough to go with a
book proposal what's the thing doing on the front page of the NYTimes?

I _DO_ think there are times that a reporter uses his or her judgment and
says "screw you" to the rest of us. If Kolata is right on this one, we
will all look like a bunch of overly-conservative establishment yokels. If
she is wrong, nobody will remember.

Meanwhile, she ought to get a good sale. That's what makes it so
troublesome. It's a no-lose situation for her. At first blush, anyway.
Can anyone think of a way that, as a practical matter, it could turn sour?
I mean, from the point of view of Kolata's reputation and bank account?

For the record, I once said "screw the pack" on a cancer story and went
with it despite all. And I was wrong. And you know what? Nobody
remembers it, and I have never once, in all these years, been accused of
screwing it up. Which is exactly what I did. So, as I said, there's no
downside for the reporter.

- -- Jon Franklin

>Here is an element to add to our discussion. I am told by my publishing
>contacts that Kolata is circulating a book proposal on this anti-cancer
>treatment and asking for a hefty advance. To what degree does an overhyped
>NYT story on this possible cancer treatment create a market for her book
>proposal? I am sure she clears this sort of thing with her editors, but
>nonetheless, it certainly seems a serious conflict of interest worth
>disclosing to her readers.

**************************************************************************

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 21:20:14 -0700
Subject: Re: responsible reporting

>When a story is printed on page one (1) of the NYT, are you telling the
readers that it is big news? or are you telling other newspaper
reporters/editors that it is big news?
> Does one dare bring up the subject of the gullibility of editors on this
particular issue? Or on medical science in general? Or on science, for
that matter?

- -- Jon Franklin
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 21:20:18 -0700
Subject: Re: Cancer drugs

>EntreMed stock went from $39.75 to $51.8125 on Monday after the NYT
>article, trading 20 million shares, nearly twice the volume of outstanding
>shares.
>Norman Bauman

For those of us who are idiots about this stuff, would someone explain what
"nearly twice the volume of outstanding shares" means? Does this mean that
there are only 10 million shares of stock, and that with 20 million sold
every share (statistically) sold twice? Is that anything like normal, even
when something hot like this happens, or is that as bizarre as it sounds?

- -- Jon Franklin

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: "Michael Kenward (E-mail)"
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 11:53:26 +0100
Subject: RE: Times cancer story

> > > Couldn't resist weighing in on this one. I edited a very
> similar story in Business Week about three weeks ago, which
> produced no hysteria.

Well, if my memory serves me right, you did run it kind of small on the
(excellent) "Developments to Watch" page. But did you notice of the BW piece
had any impact on the share price? The BBC ran an interesting piece on Radio
4 pointing out that this is one of the more significant effects of such
items in these biotech days.

MK

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: "Michael Kenward (E-mail)"
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 12:04:29 +0100
Subject: RE: responsible reporting

> Does one dare bring up the subject of the gullibility of
> editors on this
> particular issue?

Is it gullibility, ignorance or some combination of the two? Better informed
news editors make different choices.

No one has yet mentioned another important factor, what was running against
the story? I mean, the Middle East is one of those topics that the US press
just dare not cover properly, that is objectively, European Monetary Union
is a non starter and as far as I know no one in the Royal Family has dropped
their knickers lately and even Bill seems to have kept his flies closed.

MK

_______________________________________________________________________
Michael Kenward OBE / Phone: +44 (0)1444 400568 Fax: (0)1444 401064
/
Science Writer & / michael.kenward@dial.pipex.com
Editorial Consultant/ http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/michael.kenward/

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: "Michael Kenward (E-mail)"
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 12:10:45 +0100
Subject: RE: NYT article on Cancer drugs

> > Meanwhile, she ought to get a good sale. That's what makes it so
> troublesome.

I find it depressing that anyone is willing to pay a large advance for a
story that small. Is there really enough there to pad out a whole book? Of
course, it could be one of those horrid accounts of the research in progress
"Sally stirred her coffee and thought, 'where can I get some more mice?'."
Or it maybe a blow by blow account of the biotech company. But in either
case there must be better candidates that are further down the track.

MK
------------------------------

Message From: praeburn@businessweek.com
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 08:33:17 -0400
Subject: [unknown]


Jon says that if Gina turns out to be right, we'll all look
like conservative yokels, or something to that effect. But
the issue here is not whether the therapy will work in
humans. And the Times story shouldn't be judged based on
what might or might not happen years from now. The story
ought to be judged now. No one knows whether the treatment
will work, and Gina's story apparently led thousands to
believe a cure is at hand.

A story that leads people to think right now that a cure is
at hand is inaccurate--even if no paragraph or sentence in
that story is in error.


Paul Raeburn
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 05:41:33 -0700
Subject: RE: NYT article on Cancer drugs

Yeah, but New York publishing is in desperate straits these days, and is
probably clutching at mice.

- -- Jon Franklin

At 12:10 PM 5/6/98 +0100, you wrote:
>> >> Meanwhile, she ought to get a good sale. That's what makes it so
>> troublesome.
> >I find it depressing that anyone is willing to pay a large advance for a
>story that small. Is there really enough there to pad out a whole book? Of
>course, it could be one of those horrid accounts of the research in progress
>"Sally stirred her coffee and thought, 'where can I get some more mice?'."
>Or it maybe a blow by blow account of the biotech company. But in either
>case there must be better candidates that are further down the track.
> >MK
------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 06:13:24 -0700
Subject: Re: Crawling out on Limbs

I have always operated on the assumption that, because so few of our
readers have any savvy about the subjects we cover, science writers are
charged with an extraordinary amount of judgmental responsibility. Since
only a very small number of possible stories can actually be written, given
the number of science writers, our choices are often critical to public
understanding. We need to choose the stories that bring out issues or
principles that will truly matter in the future. I haven't covered the
Folkman story for years, but was pretty impressed with it when I did, and I
am willing to cede the possibility that Kolata may know something important
that I don't. So maybe she had what will, in the future, turn out to be
good reasons to write the story when and how she did.

Put differently, sure, this story affected the stock market in strange ways
and certainly caused psychological suffering for a lot of cancer patients.
I do not minimize those problems when I point out that maybe, just maybe,
the story is so important it did in fact deserve its play. The difference
between hype and news judgment is very difficult to define.

But all this was said, originally, in part to dovetail with the point that,
if she's wrong, there are no particular repercussions for her. There
_would_ be, if a political writer were wrong on the scale we're discussing
here. IMHO, that sometimes encourages science writers go crawl out on
longer limbs than we probably should, and also encourages editors to _push_
us out onto those limbs.

- -- Jon Franklin

------------------------------

Message From: Carol Hart
Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 09:15:16 -0400
Subject: RE: responsible reporting

Michael Kenward wrote:

> >No one has yet mentioned another important factor, what was running against
>the story?
>

Actually, there was another health/medicine story further down on page 1
that I thought was potentially much more newsworthy. This was "U.S. Is
Faulted Over Screening for Drug Safety" by Robert Peer, reporting on the
failure of the FDA to inspect foreign plants that produce 80% of the
chemical ingredients for U.S. drugs. (I wonder if it isn't the *inert*
ingredients and the article has it wrong, but no matter.) Anyway, the
article gives a couple of horror stories about filthy polluted plants in
India and China but otherwise is sketchy and leaves a lot of my questions
unanswered. It was still interesting enough that I wondered why the subject
hadn't been explored further.

This could easily be another helpless panic topic--"Oh, no, technology is
poisoning me and there's nothing I can do about it." But, it could also be
handled more constructively, with a view to saying, here's a problem that
needs to be fixed and here's how it could be fixed. To me, it suggested yet
another reason why physicians shouldn't be writing unnecessary
prescriptions and health care consumers shouldn't be so eager to fill them.
Then again, it could be overblown and the problem is a few rat hairs and
bug legs in the inert stuff used to bind the formulations.

Anyone else notice this little article and have opinions about it?

Carol
------------------------------

Message From: Jon Franklin
Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 06:30:15 -0700
Subject: RE: responsible reporting

This brings up the "journalistic quality" factor. Particularly where
complex subjects are concerned, there is a natural tendency on the part of
editors to play the best-written story higher than a poorly-done story,
regardless of the news values of the stories.

- -- Jon Franklin

------------------------------

Message From: Jeff Hecht
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 09:31:07 -0400
Subject: Re: Cancer story

I think we're starting to focus on two of the real reportial issues in this

story: the undue influence of the NY Times in what gets covered in much of
the world's press, and Kolata's running with a book proposal seeking a high
advance on the strength of the story.

The problem with the Times is that too many editors and writers are too
lazy to search things out for themselves, and decide it isn't a story until
the Times covers it. Yes, the Times has done very good reporting -- but
I've also seen it do some very _bad_ reporting. All of us get suckered now
and then, and the Times is no exception.

I can understand the impulse to take a story and run with it all the way to
a book proposal. I wrote a book on laser and particle beam weapons
published in 1984; a manuscript was on the editor's desk when Reagan gave
is "Star Wars" speech. (Needless to say, I revised it hastily -- but what I
added was the Presidential endorsement and the political implications,
_not_ new ideas. I had those already.) But I've also done enough book
proposals to know they take a while to write. If I read Robert Lee Holz's
comment correctly, it sounds like Kolata sat on her story until the
proposal was out or ready to go, then tried to get it on page one, so the
timing was dictated by promoting her proposal -- not by a news event. I
don't think that's the way to go.

By the way, today's Boston Globe has a story by Richard Saltus pouring cold
water on the prospects for near-term treatment, which notes that other
scientists are distressed by Watson's comment because he has a record of
shooting his mouth off like that.

So I now see a scenario for scoring big on my next book proposal: Find a
story that looks good but not great, get some big-shot Nobel Laureate to
shoot off his/her mouth about how great the idea is, pull a couple
all-nighters to churn out a book proposal, get my agent to get copies of
the proposal out everywhere, then hype the story for all it's worth on page
1 of the Times. I hope I'm just too cynical this morning.

- -- Jeff Hecht

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Eric Bobinsky
Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 10:07:53 -0400
Subject: Cancer story on the TV news

After reading the start of this thread following Kolata's story, it was
fascinating to watch Peter Jennings do the ABC News version. It looked to
me as though he was almost apologetic about reporting it, and the story was
so full of caveats and disclaimers (by reporters and scientists alike) that
it was almost, well, silly. I think one guy said something like "This is
certainaly good news, provided you're a mouse with cancer."

My question is, would ABC News have even run the story (as more than just a
short blurb, or whatever it's called) had it not appeared in the Times? Or
did its appearance in the Times necessitate an editorial decision that it
appear on national TV that night? Anybody see how the other networks played
it? Just wondering, as I've no idea how TV news producers make decisions.
But the way ABC ran this story was really noticeably different (in terms of
the disclaimers) than their norm.

Eric

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Stephen Hart
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 07:02:43 -0700
Subject: Re: cancer cures

>Steve:
>Do you have any more info on the Univ of Md. person you mentioned earlier
>today? Like phone or email? Thanks,
>Dave
>David Tenenbaum

Bob forgive me if posting press releases is verboten, but you asked. And
no, I don't know this PIO, am not planning a story on the topic, have no
financial interest in anything, etc.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
David Van Echo, MD, head of new drug development at the University of
Maryland Cancer Center, thinks the hype over anti-angiogenesis drugs is
out of control. He points out that they've been researching them for 30
years, that the Cancer Center has already used versions of them for
treatment and have found certain chemo therapies work better, and says
that there are more significant therapeutics that are closer to market.
If you want to talk to him, give me a call or drop me a line and I'll
try to set something up.

Mela Kucera
Science and Technology Media Relations
University of Maryland
Baltimore
410/706-3803
Fax: 410/706-6330
http://www.oea.umaryland.edu/Media/OMRhome.htm

**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: David Tenenbaum
Date: Wed, 6 May 1998 09:24:00 -0600
Subject: cancer cure

One more item to add to the discussion: on Nov. 27, 97, the Times ran a
piece by Nicholas Wade, reporting the same Nature article that apparently
sparked the Kolata coverage. Wade's ran on A28 and stressed the lack of

tumor resistance to the anti-angiogenesis drugs.
Deadlined "Tests on Mice Block a Defense by Cancer," it began:
"Many drugs work well at first against cancer, but the tumor cells quickly
develop resistance. A concept for getting around the resistance problem has
now been proved, at least in laboratory mice, and may well prove relevant
to the treatment of human cancer."

Contrast that to Kolata's reporting of essentially the same results:
Headline: "A Cautious Awe Greets Drugs That Eradicate Tumors in Mice," and
beginning

"Within a year, if all goes well, the first cancer patients will be
injected with two new drugs that can eradicate any type of cancer, with no
obvious side effects and no drug resistance -- in mice."

Wade's piece did cause Entremed's stock to rise 28% the next day, but it
lacked quotes from fiery-eyed Nobelists, appeared in the back of section A,
sparked no press furor... and maybe caused fewer desperate patients to
phone their doctors.
David Tenenbaum (djtenenb@facstaff.wisc.edu)
**************************************************************************

------------------------------

Message From: Daniel Pendick
Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 09:39:52 -0500
Subject: Re: nasw-talk V3 #199

> call the reporter's objectivity into question. There was a similar
> situation with the Kolata book on cloning, in that she continued to cover
> a major story while writing a book on that story, with the market for the
> book being shaped in part by the high profile of the New York TImes stories
> that she wrote ... and the authority of the book also resting on the
> credibility of her daily coverage. It is a little too circular and
> self-promotional for my tastes.
> Robert Lee Hotz

Robert,
Well, they say you write what you know. If Kolata has been reporting on
anti-cancer drugs for awhile I would expect she would know enough to
write a good book (which have value to readers as well as writers and
agents). Would you expect her to write only about things she hasn't
reported on? - that is, things she doesn't know about? I see your point
about participating in the media process that creates a market for a
book, but how do you avoid that if you are a daily beat reporter? You
are one and I'm not, so I'm curious about what you think.
//Dan Pendick
**************************************************************************

End of Part 1.

Continue to Part 2.

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