Weekly reads: possible rare HIV cure, stem cell chicken, FDA commish

The idea of stem cells outright curing diseases is exciting and has powerful appeal, but media need to be careful about using the word cure in headlines and articles as we saw this week related to a possible HIV Cure.

HIV cure via stem cells and chemo?

The big news of the week was that stem cells might have led to long-term remission or even possibly a cure for a woman with HIV and cancer.

HIV infected T cell, HIV cure
HIV infected T cell. Image source NIAID.

While some of the media articles I saw on this news were rightly careful with their headlines, The NY Times (again) overdid it. Their article headline said the woman was outright cured without any qualifiers.

This reminds me of another NY Times article on stem cells recently (scroll down in that post I linked to) in which I think they also wrongly used the word cure in a headline. In that case at least they made it a question but they raised the possibility that a man had been cured of type I diabetes by an experimental stem cell infusion. In reality, the data just weren’t there to even ask that question in a headline I’d say.

As to the HIV story, here’s an example of a solid headline and article. Scientists have possibly cured HIV in a woman for the first time, NBC News. 

This is good news, but there are some caveats here. This treatment is so intense and risky that it is only for those who have both certain kinds of blood cancers like some types of leukemia or lymphoma, and also have HIV.

More recommended reads

3 thoughts on “Weekly reads: possible rare HIV cure, stem cell chicken, FDA commish”

  1. Re Bill Jones’ question about CNN, TV is a different animal than the standard print or print-based online media. Plus, headlines are not the only thing that helps to build audience, although with print newspapers they can be very important for street sales. Compelling headlines also increase the amount of time that readers spend with newspaper and online sites. Boring headlines — ones that don’t say ‘cure’ — do not help to build audience. I think it is fair to say that 99.96 percent of headlines in scientific journals are boring.

    The whole business of online headlines can lead one down a rabbit hole. Many “experts” exist. Different styles exist for social media versus news sites, which themselves have differing approaches. To sample some of the discussion about headlines and how they work online, here is a link to an article that deals with the matter and has a particular viewpoint. https://neilpatel.com/blog/the-ultimate-guide-to-writing-irresistible-headlines-for-social-media/

  2. What’s your explanation for CNN? Its headlines (on TV) don’t seem to be selling much these days. If it weren’t for Big Tech (like Yahoo and Google News) propping it up online, CNN would be toast.

  3. From the perspective of a person who spent three decades in the news business and also observed the rise of Internet news and was part of it, the headlines are about what is to be expected. That’s because news operations, with a few exceptions, have a lot of comparatively low-skilled workers nowadays for many reasons: high rotation of employees in and out of the business, low pay, bad working conditions and an incomplete understanding among some employees of the values of a news organization. The problem also has a basis in the need to generate hits on a story, which is really, really important nowadays. Not that it wasn’t really important prior to the Internet (BI?). Headlines sold and still sell newspapers, which help them acquire an audience, which newspapers (the media) then sell in order to generate a profit, which keeps them (the media) out of bankruptcy court.

    For more on Paul’s nice item, see the California Stem Cell Report. https://david293.substack.com/

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