Science, Nonscience, and the Media

2. Look at the clickbait headline for this Daily Mail Online article, review the analysis of the story by scientists, and answer the questions that follow.

The mail online website is shown. A headline reads Breakthrough as scientists create a new cowpox style virus that can kill every type of virus. There is a summary at the end. The summary reads This Daily Mail story, published in early November 2019, claims in its headline that scientists have created a new cowpox-style virus that will cure Every type of cancer. This report appears to have originated from a similar Daily Telegraph story. The Daily Mail report quickly went viral on Facebook and has already received an estimated 1 million interactions, including more than 220,000 shares. The story also received significant coverage by news outlets in other languages. The conclusions reported in the article are based on the peer-reviewed findings of a research group led by Professor Yuman Fong, a surgical oncologist at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in California. The group found that a virus they had developed from the cowpox virus, which they named CF33, was able to kill certain types of cancer cells in petri dishes, as well as tumors growing in mice. Scientists who examined the Daily Mail’s coverage of the study found the headline to be highly misleading and an exaggeration of the actual research findings. They explained that while the work by Fong and his group is very promising, it is still in the preclinical stages and has not been tested in human clinical trials. Therefore, the efficacy of this approach in people has yet to be determined. Although the article includes this caveat, the headline does not. The article also lacks a commentary on the research findings by relevant cancer experts who could have helped explain the results more objectively and accurately and could have provided additional background and context to help readers better understand the science.

Why do the scientists say this headline is “highly misleading”? What harm might be caused to cancer patients because of this article?

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