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24Sep 2012

Four Words that Should Never Appear in the Same Front Page Story

Faye Flam

Cancer, Cure, Gina and Kolata

I’m sure other trackers will be analyzing the coverage of this story in depth, but I had to chime in on the hype that propelled a breast cancer basic research story onto the front page of the New York Times, and, sadly, The Philadelphia Inquirer. None of our highly knowledgeable medical reporters were asked to advise the weekend editors on the decision to give the story above-the-fold placement.

The story, headlined “Study Divides Breast Cancer Into Four Distinct Types” was based on a paper in Nature. The paper summarized some research that may well have been important. But does it justify the big front-page headlines? The sub-head with the seductive world “cure”? Our medical reporters have advised me that much of what was presented in the story wasn’t all that new.

(For those new to the world of medical reporting, Kolata was responsible for another unfortunate incident back in the late 1990s, which involved James Watson, angiogenesis drugs, and a claim that science would cure cancer by 2000.)


Faye Flam's witty "Four Words" remind me of Gore Vidal's "Three Saddest Words in the English Language: Joyce Carol Oates."


As the founder of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, you deserve special hearing. But I respectfully disagree with your call for the item to be withdrawn.

I laughed out loud when I saw it. Faye Flam is channeling Jon Stewart. It's harsh, but it's funny--and it's appropriate. Kolata has been heavily criticized for her reporting, as you know, and this isn't the first shot she's taken.

Indeed the story that Faye Flam is addressing appears to be incorrect, as I noted in my more detailed post on the same story. But I suspect Tracker readers will remember Faye's post longer than they will remember mine.


The tone of Tracker is decided by Tracker. People who complain about tone always have a problem with content. Complaining about tone is one of the sub-definitions of trolling.

The tone of this comment on Gina Kolata is not acceptable in the Tracker and should be withdrawn.

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