The amplification effect of social media on a single, exclusive, medical report on Canadian TV promoting an untested medical treatment for Multiple Sclerosis influenced publicly-funded Canadian scientific research agendas, created international coalitions of supporters and exposed the vulnerability of scientific support to political pressure. Coverage of Italian surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni’s venoplasty procedure (“Liberation Therapy”) for MS, a chronic, unpredictable and debilitating disease with no known cure which harms over 2 million people worldwide, is examined.

Ethical coverage of new and unproven treatments (hype and hope) has long been discussed in science journalism fora and literature. The argument is made that an intense and potentially distorting magnifying lens of social media in this seminal case was unanticipated and unprecedented. Based on academic research conducted from November 2009 through December 2011, the framing of the news stories, the trajectory of the Liberation movement, the impact on clinical research and MS fundraising are examined as is the validating role of the citizen-patient and social media’s ability to act as an instant communicator of medical news in various stages of result readiness. In the process, relevant questions are raised in ensuring quality, accountability and transparency in medical science journalism for all the actors involved.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Liberation therapy
A case study of responsibility in medical science news

Kathryn O’Hara   Carleton University

Catherine Campbell   Carleton University

The amplification effect of social media on a single, exclusive, medical report on Canadian TV promoting an untested medical treatment for Multiple Sclerosis influenced publicly-funded Canadian scientific research agendas, created international coalitions of supporters and exposed the vulnerability of scientific support to political pressure. Coverage of Italian surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni’s venoplasty procedure (“Liberation Therapy”) for MS, a chronic, unpredictable and debilitating disease with no known cure which harms over 2 million people worldwide, is examined.

Ethical coverage of new and unproven treatments (hype and hope) has long been discussed in science journalism fora and literature. The argument is made that an intense and potentially distorting magnifying lens of social media in this seminal case was unanticipated and unprecedented. Based on academic research conducted from November 2009 through December 2011, the framing of the news stories, the trajectory of the Liberation movement, the impact on clinical research and MS fundraising are examined as is the validating role of the citizen-patient and social media’s ability to act as an instant communicator of medical news in various stages of result readiness. In the process, relevant questions are raised in ensuring quality, accountability and transparency in medical science journalism for all the actors involved.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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