Monkeys and calories and TV news – oh, my!

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The CBS Evening News failed to emphasize the limitations of animal research when it called monkey calorie-restriction research “groundbreaking” – and that it “may be the key to a longer life with less disease.”

The anchor lead-in called it “the research of restraint.” We wish CBS had employed some restraint in the application of hyperbole.

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Perhaps most notable was that the story failed to include the perspectives of any independent experts – who were likely to be critical. The NY Times had no problem reporting:

“Ultimately the results seem pretty inconclusive at this point,” (Dr. Steven Austad, an expert on aging at the University of Texas Health Science Center) said. “I don’t know why they didn’t wait longer to publish.”

Leonard Guarente, a biologist who studies aging at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also had reservations about the findings. “The survival data needs to be fleshed out a little bit more before we can say that caloric restriction extends life in primates,” Dr. Guarente said.

The one source not involved in the research who was interviewed? A woman who wrote a book about extreme dieting. The story said that the findings were “a vindication for very extreme dieters” like her. Huh? Research in a couple of dozen monkeys is “vindication”? Getting such free network TV plugs for your book may be the only vindication involved.

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