There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic or providing hope to people who are literally scared for their lives, but what we object to in this report by Vox is the haste by which reporters transform a single study into conclusive evidence:
A group of American cancer researchers, writing in this week’s issue of the journal JAMA Oncology, measured how often 10 superlatives were used to describe new cancer drugs in the press. (The list of terms included “breakthrough,” “game changer,” “miracle,” “cure,” “home run,” “revolutionary,” “transformative,” “life saver,” “groundbreaking,” and “marvel.”) They searched Google News to see when these phrases were used in connection with cancer drugs, and then read the articles to see if there was any evidence to back up the wild claims.
In half the cases, terms like “breakthrough,” “miracle,” and “cure” were used to describe medicines that hadn’t even been approved yet by regulators. So not only were these drugs not yet available to patients, they also hadn’t even passed scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration. Even worse, about 14 percent of the time these terms were used, the drugs actually had no human data behind them. This means journalists were calling a drug a “miracle” or “cure” when it had only been tested on mice or cell cultures.
As Vox indicates, what journalists fail to keep in mind is that not all studies are created equal. Here’s the hierarchy, based on the subject of the study:
- First Place. Large studies with over 1,200 people.
- Second Place. Smaller studies with fewer than 1,200 people.
- Third Place. Studies that don’t use people at all (and test on animals).
So if a study is small or focuses on rats instead of people, we have to take the results with a grain of sand. As a consumer, this gradient of reliability creates confusion, confusion that companies often exploit for their own gain (think global warming deniers).
But while we might not know exactly how well turmeric slows cancer growth, here’s some things we do know:
- Fruits and vegetables are loaded with so many nutrients, some of which we haven’t even discovered yet. In light of this, try to consume every fruit and vegetable available in the grocery store as often as you can. You’ll get the benefits we know about and the hundreds of others we don’t yet understand.
- Exercise provides so many benefits to your health that even walking around the block once or twice a day can have profound effects on your health.