That’s what journalist Seth Mnookin writes on Slate, stating, further, that it is “is wrong, grandiose, and cruel.”
He writes, “I haven’t found a single cancer researcher who believes this means we’re on the verge of curing cancer.”
And he reflects on some journalistic history in the same vein – from 1998:
“…the New York Times…running Gina Kolata’s embarrassing front-page “special report,” which quoted James Watson as saying a researcher at Children’s Hospital in Boston would “cure cancer in two years.” Watson claimed he said no such thing—“When I read her article, I was horrified,” he told a reporter at the time.“
Just 6 months ago, I wrote about how CNN provided another, more recent example:
The result of this succession of grandiose promises is similar to that of the boy who cried wolf: Eventually, it becomes hard to take even realistic claims seriously. “Historically,” says Mukherjee, “someone then comes and says, Didn’t you promise this then and aren’t we now being duped?’ It creates a cycle of problems down the road.”
Which brings us to the real problem with Time’s headline, which is not that it’s wrong, or even that it might create funding problems for future cancer researchers—it’s that in the context of a fatal disease with excruciatingly painful treatment options, it’s simply cruel.
Adams knows that’s not true, “at least not for me. Talking about a sudden cure—it’s magical thinking. My hope is not for a cure, it’s for treatment that can help people with side effects and ultimately treatment that may make this a manageable disease.” Of course, that doesn’t make for a snappy coverline—although it does have the virtue of being true.
Cure was one of the “7 Words You Shouldn’t Use in Medical News” in an article I wrote 13 years ago. I didn’t create that list in isolation; each of the 7 words was suggested to me by sick people I’d interviewed as words to avoid in health care news stories. People like Lisa Bonchek Adams, quoted by Mnookin.
Addendum: Please also see our followup post a few days after this was posted. It was entitled, “TIME, TIME Warner ethical questions raised in cancer coverage.”
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