Thursday, August 18, 2011

Media Overstatement on a Slow News Day

Right now one of the lead stories at the NY Times website deals with a potential new "miracle drug" called SRT-1720. With heavy emphasis on the scare-quotes. The article's title, "Drug Is Found to Extend Lives of Obese Mice," might be generating a huge buzz on the obese mouse circuit, but beyond this, I'm puzzled as to why this story is given such prominence in the Paper of Record. You could even argue that the story is barely worth running at all, even if placed deep in the science section of the website.

Bottom line is that this is a very preliminary study of an experimental drug. Studies like this are a dime a dozen, and it turns out that lots of fascinating things can be done in mice, but most of the time those fascinating things either don't work in humans, or end up having unacceptable risks compared to the benefits. I don't mean to belittle the experiment--it sounds very exciting--but I'm not sure that it's ready for primetime among laypeople just yet. Could it be part of a bigger article talking about strides that science is making in the field of aging? Sure: that's what the TV show NOVA is about, among other forms of popular science media. But there ain't no miracle drug coming down the pike that's going to extend the lives of obese people by 44 percent. So time to bury the story.

I can't wait to see what Gary Schweitzer is going to do to this story in his HealthNewsReview Blog. Go get 'em!


  1. I couldn't agree more with your assessment. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that the Grey Lady has put up this type of story.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Nate, and apologies for the late reply. I agree that NYT can screw the pooch from time to time and wish they wouldn't overhype stories like this--although at least they do get some stories right, which alas can't be said for the bigger media outlets. Best, Billy