I've had occasion to remark a number of times how much of what is reported as "science news" is just warmed over press releases from university media departments or company flacks. I read them anyway, often sucked in my a headline that turns out to oversell the case. Now I'm becoming aware headlines can also (deliberately) undersell the case. Consider two press releases that came out on virtually the same day, one from Big Pharma Pfizer, the other from biotech player, Genentech, owned by Big Pharma's Roche (maker of Tamiflu). Pfizer, first.
The headline pretty much tells the whole story, as confirmed by reading the press release:
Two Phase 3 Trials Of Sunitinib With Commonly Used Chemotherapies In Advanced Breast Cancer Did Not Meet The Primary Endpoint
This one is absolutely straightforward and I give Pfizer credit here. The gist is that the hoped for breast cancer drug did no better in progression-free survival than existing treatment and had more serious adverse events.
Then there's Genentech, who had hoped adding their flagship drug, Avastin, would be an improvement over current protocols for advanced prostate cancer. Here's their headline, followed by the lede of the Press Release:
Genentech Provides Update on Phase III Study of Avastin in Men With Late Stage Prostate Cancer
Genentech, Inc., a wholly owned member of the Roche Group (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY), announced today the topline results of a Phase III trial led by the U.S. Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) and sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) investigating the use of AvastinÂ® (bevacizumab) in combination with docetaxel chemotherapy and prednisone in men with late stage prostate cancer (hormone-refractory / HRPC). The study, known as CALGB 90401, did not meet its primary objective of extending overall survival compared to chemotherapy and prednisone alone. (Press Release)
Some "update." Genentech obviously didn't want the headline "Avastin flunks" floating around the PR newswires. So we thought we'd do it for them in our headline.
So they're PR department firmly believes no-one in journalism will ever read past the first sentence. Ouch.
Very impressive juxtaposition.
And great re-write.
When reporters bury their ledes, I usually just think they are not very sharp.
When corporations or government agencies make their main data points harder to find, I usually think it's intentional.