By Stuart Chaifetz
Front Page Hype - Back Page Reality
In my last blog, I wrote about how news stories of supposed research breakthroughs burst through on the front page, while deaths due to pharmaceutical drugs are usually sent to the business section.
I want to focus a bit more on some of those front page headlines, but first, a comment on why I believe these type of stories have become so prevalent, yet there is almost never any follow up to see if these ‘miracle cures’ actually work.
It’s because our memory retention is awful. You, me, reporters and the media, politicians, all of us; unless a story touches us deeply and personally, we tend to forget what the media craze of the day is once it is replaced by the next one.
So, when the big headline of June 22, 2009, is that “Total cure of deadly disease, possible: Scientists claim,” by July 10, no one really remembers this. Except...while a year from now we’ll have forgotten to ask “hey, what happened to those scientists who said they could totally cure AIDS,” there is an overall impression left by repeated publication of such stories that science is always on the verge a cure.
And this is good for business. It’s good for the media because these stories sell papers, and it’s good for the pharmaceutical and animal experimentation industries because it keeps the money rolling in. Those involved get all of the benefit and praise of a story holding out hope for a cure, but none of the backlash when the drug fails, because the public rarely finds that out.
It’s a perfect strategy. After all, who would be able to go back in time and collect stories from decades past where vivisectors and scientists told us they were about to cure cancer - but never actually did?
How about anyone with an internet connection.
Better than Mr. Peabody’s WayBack machine, we have a little thing called “Google News Archive Search.” No need to sit through dusty old newspaper racks or microfilm for hours upon hours when at our desktop history can unfold in seconds.
From across the years and front pages of newspapers, here are a select few of ‘the cure is coming’ headlines that never quite worked out. The following headlines are real, but the comments after them are all mine (for those who are vulnerable to sarcasm, you might want to leave the room for the rest of this blog):
Virus Linked To Colds May Cure Cancer, Scientists Say October 18, 1996
• Tragically, the body count from sneezing to death made the whole thing moot.
Armand Hammer foresees cure for cancer by end of decade March 5, 1983
• I believe Hammer also foresaw that 80’s big hair would never go out of style (who could have???) so maybe we should give him a pass on this.
Biologist Claims DDT Can Cure Cancer in Man January 31, 1971
Doctor Says Virus to Cure Cancer in Sight October 5, 1951
• Might have just been a smudge on his glasses. That’s happened before.
POISON GAS USED TO CURE CANCER May 5, 1950
• Clearly the influence for the great DDT cancer cure of two decades later. Personally, I am already hard at work on the nuclear waste and large vat of acid cure for cancer. Expect to see it on CNN once they run out of Michael Jackson tributes (is that even possible?)
FIND SUBSTANCE THAT RATS USE TO CURE CANCER January 29, 1934
• So it turns out that rats themselves can cure cancer. Who knew? Maybe if we had just asked them nicely for it instead of experimenting, torturing and killing millions of them for decades, they might just have shared the secret. Damn, it’s the whole water-boarding debate again.
CURE CANCER IN MICE; But Injections Beneficial In Their Case Kill Rats and Dogs.
July 21, 1912
• To get serious for a minute - this is a fascinating article, as it exposes the inherit flaw with experimenting on animals; what works positively in one species of animals - mice - is deadly to others - rats and dogs. Unfortunately, nearly 97 years to the day this was published, the same mistakes are being made. Let us hope that 97 years from now they will have finally learned that we need to stop using animals and focus on using human tissue and cells.
And finally (drum roll please)...
SCIENCE FINDS A CURE FOR CANCER Oct 19, 1895
Yes! Well, thank goodness cancer was cured in 1895.
I mean, if it’s in the newspaper, then it must be true...