KSJ Tracker December 31, 2013

Looking back at 2013: The year the press "cured" cancer, AIDS, diabetes, high cholesterol...

One of the hazards of digesting the news every day is that it recedes so quickly into the past that we can have trouble remembering what happened.

So I decided to look back at 2013 at the Tracker. Here are a few posts I wrote over the past year that I thought might be worth a second look:

In January, a piece of personal-health journalism in the Columbia Journalism Review criticized others' health reporting on the grounds that most studies on which it is based are wrong. The author, David H. Freedman, paradoxically cited studies himself to try to demolish the others. He did not succeed.

The past year was a year of many "cures," I realized. One of the first occurred in March, when reporters wrote about a baby that was "cured" of AIDS, and a French report of 14 people whose immune systems seemed to be controlling AIDS without medication. Cures? Maybe. But it was far too soon to say so with any certainty.

Other cures and breakthroughs:

TIME magazine "cured" cancer with a cover that shouted, "How to Cure Cancer*," including this footnote: "*Yes, it's now possible--thanks to new cancer dream teams that are delivering better results faster."

The Telegraph "cured" HIV in May, with a technique said to destroy the HIV virus "permanently."

Canadians announced a "breakthrough" in the treatment of cancer in June, a story that got virtually no coverage in the U.S. Oh, pardon me--it wasn't a breakthrough, it was a major breakthrough.

Boston magazine reported that Boston Children's Hospital "could be on the verge of curing Type 1 diabetes."

David H. Freedman came back in June to report in The Atlantic that junk food can end obesity.

Gina Kolata of The New York Times had a page 1 story "curing" high cholesterol in "one of the greatest medical chases ever" for a new drug to prevent heart attacks.

In October, Kolata was back with "a game-changer, a "watershed moment" in the quest for a cure of cancer. It was, she wrote, "a moment in medical history when everything changed." Everything.

Esquire wrote in December of a "whole new way of killing cancer," in what it said was "the most extraordinary story we've ever published." (Better than "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"?)

It was also the year when ProPublica spent $750,000 to investigate Tylenol's effectiveness and dangers, Malcolm Gladwell's reporting came under suspicion, and Amy Harmon of The New York Times wrote something good about genetically modified food.

And what about 2014? I predict, with great confidence, that we will see many more "cures." Modern medicine is a wonderful thing. Not to mention modern reporting.

We hope it's a good year for you. And we hope you will stay with us for the ride.

-Paul Raeburn


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