play a part in ovarian cancer survival rates.
Hey, Los Angeles Times
, if you're going to use "may," the most powerful weasel word ever invented, you don't have to settle for the humble vegetable. The sky's the limit!
Butter-pecan ice cream may
prevent cancer. A Maui vacation may
keep cancer from spreading. Daily massages may
prevent recurrence. Especially free massages, given by reluctant relatives.
On the other side of the equation, housework may cause cancer. Also clerical work.
I'd expect weasel words in a blog, since most bloggers don't get paid. Plowing through a thicket of medical/legal language would not be my definition of a fun or relaxing way to spend a weekend. Nor is waiting for medical experts to return your calls.
But the L.A. Times pays, doesn't it? Probably, but in the last couple of years newspapers have cut staff and consolidated beats. When they weren't closing their doors, that is. The free classifieds of Craig's List busted the monopolies newspapers enjoyed in the late 20th century, and advertising revenues fell off a cliff.
As expected, journalism migrated online, but not without first shedding quality. Experienced, meticulous reporters cost money. Now publishers have at their disposal an army of hungry free-lancers (a.k.a. laid-off journalists) and reams of search engine data to tell them what to write.
Several companies have sprung up around this business model, but one is gaining on the others, according to Daniel Roth in his Wired magazine post "The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model
By summer, Demand Media will be publishing 1 million chatty, newsy how-to articles and videos per month
Writes Roth, "To appreciate the impact Demand is poised to have on the Web, imagine a classroom where one kid raises his hand after every question and screams out the answer. He may not be smart or even right, but he makes it difficult to hear anybody else."
Citizen journalism takes up some of the slack, but for every Neda video
or footage of Sully belly-landing in the Hudson River, there are thousands of innocuous videos of cats riding on vacuum cleaners or instructions on how to draw a Greek helmet. These items may entertain and inform, up to a point, but they do not help us understand the world we're in or the challenges we face.
On the Michigan-centric blog freefromeditors, the post "What Went Wrong
" caught my eye. It begins with a bang: The powers that be "announced the shuttering of one newspaper and neutered three others."
A commenter named Dave Forsmark complained
about the "man on the street" interviews that pass for knowledge, but are not. He found one story particularly galling:
"They talk to some 'holistic healer' . . . the Michigan president of some kind of medical society. When you look it up, it had a half dozen members in the state! He asserts that the [truck] plant is definitely making people sick. Then they start calling people who live by it, and one woman with MS says she hadn't thought of it before, but now she wonders if it is making her worse. Then they call another woman who is told this doctor says the plant is making people sick, who says something like, 'I guess that's the price you pay for jobs.' Not a single real scientific source was consulted."
At least the L.A. Times cancer/diet post, which was based on a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, begins with science. But there are other problems.
The study followed a tiny sample. The Times says 351, but the correct number is 341, according to the abstract
. Only 341 women out of the 21,550 in the United States diagnosed annually. In one year, 14,600 will die from ovarian cancer. With statistics
like that, it's no wonder people grasp at straws. Or carrot sticks. Hell, I'd eat a bag of turnips every day if I could be sure it would keep cancer at bay.
Another problem is that the diets are self-reported. Who would admit they cruise the doughnut shop every morning? Also, I don't know if this study controlled for other healthy or unhealthy habits like smoking and exercise. The L.A. Times doesn't tell me. You could read the abstract, but the language is obtuse.
However, even I understood the study's conclusion: "Prediagnosis adherence to diets that reflect recommendations for optimal nutrition and cancer prevention may have benefits that continue even after an ovarian cancer diagnosis."
There's that pesky "may" again, even for a statement as lame as that one. Gee, food that's high in nutrition may
be good for you. Who knew?
WebMD, reporting on the same study (conducted by researcher Therese Dolecek), gives a more detailed picture in "Good Diet May Aid Ovarian Cancer Survival
." Milk and processed meat once again get whacked. But overall, the WebMD story backed off the study's conclusion:
"High intakes of fruits and vegetables evaluated together didn't make enough of a survival difference to be significant from a statistical point of view, the researchers found. It's not clear, either, exactly how a healthy diet may lengthen survival in those with ovarian cancer, Dolecek says. 'You might have a stronger immune system,' she says, or 'your overall health status may be better.' "
What? It sounds like the study's author is contradicting the study's own conclusion, not to mention the headlines in L.A. Times and WebMD.
Another recent article, "Stage IV Cancer Without Chemotherapy
," in the Suffolk News-Herald features a Virginia woman diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2009. She tried chemo but didn't care for it. No surgery either. Instead she went to Colorado to fast for eight days, and then changed her diet to raw food.
"I felt that for me, if I wasn't going to survive the cancer, I didn't want to be sick on my last day because of the chemo. I'm convinced now that was the right decision for me. . . . When I first started telling people the Lord was going to heal me, I didn't say it with a whole lot of conviction, but now I know it is."
She had another CT scan in December. "It didn't show they'd gotten smaller," she said, but the doctor was "amazed they hadn't grown."
My beef is not with the cancer patient. She took stock of her situation and made a decision. It's her body and her life. My beef is with the reporter and, by extension, the newspaper. They had a chance to educate the public by balancing the patient's comments with a statement from an oncologist or scientist.
You could argue this is a feature story. Why not keep it light? As long as the patient is happy, who cares?
You could also argue that the story would be more appropriate for a church newsletter or a sales brochure on alternative cancer "cures" than a newspaper. How do we, without the benefit of aggressive reporting, separate fact from fiction when so many entities stand to profit from vague claims and outright distortions?
Cancer is complicated. Often we don't know what causes it, or what we can do to prevent it. Doctors make you well by first making you sicker, and even then the treatment may fail.
What a bummer. Easy to see why people don't like that story. Even if it's the truth. Especially if it's the truth.