Michael Joyce is a writer-producer with HealthNewsReview.org and tweets as @mlmjoyce
The source is BC Cancer Foundation (the fundraising arm of the BC Cancer Agency); more specifically, Gerry Krystal, PhD, a professor at the University of British Columbia who just started blogging for the foundation, and who researches the effect of diet on cancer or, in his words:
“… particularly how a diet low in carbohydrates can be one of the best ways to prevent — and even manage — a cancer diagnosis.”
This bold statement — and the headline — appear to be based on coupling these two claims by Krystal:
First, these two claims are unproven and Krystal offers no supporting evidence to back them.
Second, the only data Krystal does refer to are his own mouse studies. There’s no evidence these translate to humans. Period.
Third, he goes further to provide nearly a dozen food recommendations to “lower your cancer risk” including:
Again, no scientific evidence is cited to support these claims.
Fortunately, the response on Twitter was brisk, apt, and touched upon all three of the problems highlighted above. Leading the rebuttal was Tim Caulfield, a frequent contributor to HealthNewsReview.org, and a professor of Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.
But beyond the outrage expressed in these tweets is the fact that this misinformation is being spread by a blogging cancer researcher, on the website of an organization that raises funds for what is otherwise a publicly funded, provincial health care provider whose mission is to address incidence, mortality, and quality of life issues of cancer.
What about the three-fold mission of the BC Cancer Agency? Is that well served?
“I can tell you as a cancer patient it’s doubly frustrating,” said breast cancer patient Sonya Canavan of Colorado.
“If we have PhD’s in ‘positions of trust’ giving unsupported and misleading advice, then who ARE we to trust for legitimate health and medical information?”
‘Could following this diet prevent up to 90% of cancers?”
We see this tactic quite a bit. A sort of passive abdication of accountability.
But the fact remains that the accompanying article still uses causal and declarative language.
And ask yourself this: Do you really think those two changes altered readers’ perceptions? As in ‘Will Coffee Help You Live Longer?’ makes readers pause and say: “I’m not going to read that! I bet the answer is ‘no’.”
Take note: a 2014 analysis by the Media Insight Project found that about 6 out of 10 Americans admit they did nothing more than scan the headlines in the past week.
And that’s just the people that admit it.
The natural habitat of clickbait is not in the middle or end of an article. It’s the headline. And if 4 out of 10 of us aren’t getting past that, we’ll never know if the article even remotely supports that headline.