Many scientists and physicians claim that "the media" present their findings incorrectly or, at least,with misunderstandings. For this reason, communication researchers in the USA have been investigating the accuracy of the coverage of science and medicine in journals, radio and TV for several years. The research project "Medienthema Krebsmedizin" has conducted one such "accuracy study" on the coverage of the first gene therapy trials in Germany in May 1994. Molecular medicine was seen by its protagonists as the only promising way to heal cancer in the future. The media’s response to the announcement of the first gene therapy trials in Berlin and Freiburg was accordingly large: more than 100 press articles were published in the first three days alone. We have compared these articles with primary information (press releases, press conference) and submitted selected articles to the experts involved. In doing so, we initially found the same inaccuracies as the American studies did: incorrect terms, misleading headlines, shortenings, and biases, for example, the portrayal of the gene therapy trials as a "race" between two research teams. But more importantly, contrary to the scepticism expressed by the German public about genetic engineering in general, the coverage of gene therapy was positively received. As the experts see it, this response on the part of the media is also problematic precisely because the coverage did not stir up exaggerated anxieties, but instead misled people suffering from cancer by creating false hopes. Not only was the journalistic "framing" of a "medical sensation" responsible, but so were the scientists involved who tried to use the media as a part of research politics.
 

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The "lnjection against Cancer"
The first gene therapy trials in germany as a media event

Andrea Appel   Freie Universitaet Berlin

Many scientists and physicians claim that "the media" present their findings incorrectly or, at least,with misunderstandings. For this reason, communication researchers in the USA have been investigating the accuracy of the coverage of science and medicine in journals, radio and TV for several years. The research project "Medienthema Krebsmedizin" has conducted one such "accuracy study" on the coverage of the first gene therapy trials in Germany in May 1994. Molecular medicine was seen by its protagonists as the only promising way to heal cancer in the future. The media’s response to the announcement of the first gene therapy trials in Berlin and Freiburg was accordingly large: more than 100 press articles were published in the first three days alone. We have compared these articles with primary information (press releases, press conference) and submitted selected articles to the experts involved. In doing so, we initially found the same inaccuracies as the American studies did: incorrect terms, misleading headlines, shortenings, and biases, for example, the portrayal of the gene therapy trials as a "race" between two research teams. But more importantly, contrary to the scepticism expressed by the German public about genetic engineering in general, the coverage of gene therapy was positively received. As the experts see it, this response on the part of the media is also problematic precisely because the coverage did not stir up exaggerated anxieties, but instead misled people suffering from cancer by creating false hopes. Not only was the journalistic "framing" of a "medical sensation" responsible, but so were the scientists involved who tried to use the media as a part of research politics.
 

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