The subject was a study in the New England Journal of Medicine on PARP inhibitors. It was an early phase I trial – the kind of trial that is not primarily designed to measure effectiveness. That didn’t stop the big 3 TV networks from trumpeting “BREAKTHROUGH!”
The CBS Early Show said “researchers in Britain say they may have found the holy grail of cancer research.” They called it “incredibly effective” but gave no evidence to support that.
On NBC, veteran science correspondent Robert Bazell made no mention of the limited scope and duration of the phase I trial or what sort of testing remains to be done. The correspondent presented this treatment as essentially proven, proclaiming “whatever else happens, these drugs look like they will eventually save thousands of lives.”
Compared to the NBC News story on treating cancers with PARP inhibitors, ABC News was relatively restrained in its enthusiasm. It offers viewers more information about the underlying concept of synthetic lethality, which is really the core of the news value of this journal article. ABC still called it a breakthrough and still predicted widespread availability within two years – a foolish prediction game to play.
Pick your poison: the offerings of network TV health news.
(Hat tip to Andrew Holtz, who reviewed two of the stories on HealthNewsReview.org. See the full reviews there.)