Five Star Friday Feature: pieces for Oprah, STAT, ESPN

Allow us to shine a light on some things that fall outside our regular review process, but which we found noteworthy.

201603-omag-colon-cancer-screening-450x1125Laura Beil’s Oprah mag piece, “Colonoscopy Alternatives Everyone Should Know About,” with an accompanying chart, The 3 Colon Cancer Screening Methods You Need to Know About.

  • Money quote: “Rare is the doctor who doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that colonoscopy is the best means of early detection. But there are a few out there, including no less an expert than Richard Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society. “Colonoscopy is a wonderful screening test,” Wender says. “But I can confidently state it’s not the gold standard.” He notes that he isn’t against the procedure; it’s just that research shows that as a screening tool, it isn’t substantially more effective at preventing cancer deaths than other options.”

Beil’s work has been in our spotlight several times in the past, for example:


Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.04.20 PMA piece for STAT news by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. I’ve often talked about how I wish more journalists would track “batting averages” of predictions over time.  These two have actually started doing that.  As they write: “This is one of our periodic Five Year Watch columns, examining whether and why predictions of scientific progress were accurate, or hype.”  Conclusion:

“The point here is not that researchers should be held accountable for missing estimated deadlines, or that they should never make such predictions lest they prove wrong — and, thus, subject to ridicule. And we understand why scientists want to have a digestible answer to the journalist’s inevitable question of “When will this help humanity?” (Those answers, by the way, can be a signal to funders to stick with the program for a few more years, since salvation is just around the corner.)

But as the case of AC253 illustrates, arbitrary and unrealistic forecasts that keep shifting not only make researchers look like bad prognosticators, they make them seem like poor judges of the quality of their work, too. Is it too much to ask reporters to stop asking, and scientists to stop answering when they do?”

An ESPN story, “Drew Brees has a dream he’d like to sell you: With the Saints QB leading the way, AdvoCare is using its sports ties to build a nutrition empire. But is the company really pushing false hope? Key excerpt:

“Today, the company boasts an army of 640,000 salespeople, up from 97,000 in 2010. These independent distributors sell energy drinks, shakes and supplements directly to consumers. But AdvoCare is pitching more than nutritional products. It’s also offering people a pathway to financial freedom — the opportunity to “design their own lives” by selling those products and to earn even more money by recruiting others to join the fold. This business model, called multilevel marketing, helped the company generate $719 million in net revenue last year.

As AdvoCare has grown, it has signed dozens of high-profile athletes as endorsers, including NFL QBs Andy Dalton, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith, MLB pitcher Doug Fister and CrossFit champion Rich Froning. But no spokesman matters more — to the company, its distributors or its prospective recruits — than Brees. In 2014, the Saints trained next to the AdvoCare Sports Performance Center in West Virginia; Brees lends his imprimatur to a line of DB9 nutrition bars and supplements. In one commercial (like several AdvoCare spots, the ad ran on ESPN), Brees appears on-screen in a suit, talking to the camera as pictures of families flash behind him. “I’ve seen product results, and so have thousands of people who trust AdvoCare,” he says in the ad. “And the financial benefits can be just as rewarding for those who want more and decide to build their own AdvoCare business.”

This pitch — the promise that if you sign up for AdvoCare, you can reap “rewarding” financial results — draws tens of thousands of new distributors every year. But an Outside the Lines/ESPN The Magazine investigation has found that few of those salespeople will ever achieve that vision.”

from the piece

from the piece

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Comments (2)

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Stephen Cox, MD

March 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

sounds like a pyramid scam.

Joris DriePinter

March 30, 2016 at 2:33 pm

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet….
If you get in at the start, you might get rich. Otherwise you end up with a lot of worthless merchandise. The concept isn’t exactly new, remember the Tupperware(tm) parties?