It is not with any relish that HealthNewsReview.org publishes its worst review ever of a New York Times story.
Summary of our review:
“This story about a drug company’s announcement of positive study results fails readers in every important way.
It portrays a “decisive” clinicial trial that shows a first-of-its-kind prostate cancer drug “prolonged the lives of men.” It spins the tale of a determined company rewarded for its persistence against a slow-witted bureaucracy, whose earlier inaction led to the loss of “a lot of good men.” It presents testimony of a cancer-stricken patient “looking into the abyss,” seeking only “a chance.” It anticipates the drug’s approval, and documents Wall Street’s instant validation of the study findings.
Not until paragraph eight does the story state that the company has not released the results, that the findings will not be discussed in public for two weeks, and that even then they will not have been peer-reviewed or published. It does not say that the results of this medical study were announced in a conference call to investors.
It recklessly, even perversely, suggests that the FDA’s earlier inaction, combined with patient protests and what are now claimed to be positive results, constitute proof of efficacy.
It’s hard to imagine why a story would delay and omit key information, imply efficacy had been demonstrated in the absense of evidence, or fail to balance all the positive views with those of a skeptic, or at least someone who urges prudence until the data are made public.
It is true that this story was originally published in the paper’s business section. But all journalists share a common responsibility to the public when writing stories about diseases and treatments. In today’s media environment, where a story’s readers usually encounter it out of context of a “section,” few readers will be “savvy” enough, if that is the word, to bring lower expectations of accuracy, balance and fairness to a story about what a drug can do for a deadly disease merely because it was originally written for the “business” section.
It’s painful to imagine how families affected by advanced prostate cancer may respond to this article, and then to what they will subsequently learn. Even investors are badly served by such an unbalanced, incomplete story.
In any case, it is distressing to see such credulous, feeble, negligent journalism published anywhere in the New York Times.”