Science news should report the facts

In medical and science news, cancer has always been a hot topic. A naturally occurring alphavirus (M1) being identified as a novel selective killer targeting zinc-finger antiviral protein (deficient cancer cells) was widely reported in October 2014.

On 6 October 2014, the paper with topic “Identification and characterization of alphavirus M1 as a selective oncolytic virus targeting ZAP – defective human cancers” from Professor Yan Guang Mei’s team of Sun Yat-sen University Pharmacology was published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). In China, there was the first science news reporting by Science and Technology Daily on 10 October 2014 with the news title of “A new oncolytic virus can precisely kill cancer cells”. In this news reporting, lots of metaphors were used, such as saying “M-1 virus borne with eyes and with innate ability to pinpoint tumors and kill cancer cells”. This message and all metaphors being used in this article was subsequently being widely used in the communication and other news reporting. However, this analogy, in fact, is not able to convey the original research result and fact.

On the same day, the Sun Yat-sen University posted a news release with about five hundred words on its official website. Contrast was found that the releases was using the wordings like “inhibit growth of tumor” and meaning with the above story was markedly different.

During the next couple of days, many news media reported this news with about  thousands of words and the content did not exceed the initial reporting and communication of scope. However, more and more optimistic expression such as “expectation to conquer cancer” was added and even some media mentioned the study should deserve a Nobel Prize nomination.

Few days later, an article “Study for human trials of M1 virus will take another 3 years for completion” was released. In this article, there was considerable information being incorporated and provision of factual information, which also endorsed by most of the respondents and readers.

As a general reader in China without scientific background, I closely followed this hot topic since the maiden release of this research paper. I felt it was easy to be misleading when I read those science news published by various news media. In fact, I visited the website of PNAS and studied the journal in order to have an in-depth understanding. Unfortunately, I soon found I did not have the ability to analyze and understand the contents after reading a few paragraphs.

Therefore, I still relied on the news and information published by various public media but I need to stay calm and not rush to conclusion and waiting for more detailed reporting whenever learning of hot and breaking science news. Last but not least, I earnestly hope public media to ensure their news to be true and fair, factual and in line with the information sources.