I am one of those people who will write a letter to the editor if I read something in a periodical that stands out—whether good or bad. And as much as Bill Saporito’s recent TIME article: The Conspiracy To End Cancer left an impression on me, I don’t believe a letter would be constructive. My feedback would be lost on an editor who would publish such an article.
Maybe I’m feeling resentful. There’s nothing worse than a feature story that promises to be one thing and turns out to be something completely different.
But when it’s a TIME cover story, and the said cover reads: “How To Cure Cancer,” I am going to take notice—which I did—and then proceeded to slog through five long pages hoping to glean some tiny snippet of new information regarding a cure for cancer. How was I to know it was all a ruse?
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one taken by the headline. And I felt vindicated when I read Seth Mnookin’s comments about the article in Slate. Mnookin articulated (quite well) much of what I was feeling about the disconnect between headline and content (one might say headline and reality). He also expressed similar disappointment in being duped.
Knowing I wasn’t completely off base, I would normally drop the whole thing, write it off to a wildly overstated headline, and move on. But something about this article has been nagging at me.
It’s not how Saporito completely disregards the vast amount of medical research that has brought us to this point in the war on Cancer; the way he paints old school researchers as anti-social, self-serving, egomaniacs; his misguided claim that SU2C invented the team research model; or even his unrestrained use of metaphors.
It’s more about what Saporito doesn’t say in the article that I find problematic. For all his talk of a collective research model, a cross-disciplinary/cross-institutional approach, the wonders of collaboration, and leaving no stone unturned, he never once mentions what is being done about cancer from an epidemiological standpoint or the important role politicians, business, industry, and individuals have to play in the war on cancer.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent for finding a cure for cancer, and I commend the work that is being done on the treatment front—bring on the funding. But I am also of the belief that if we seriously want to end cancer as we know it, we need to consider and learn more about the etiology of the disease.
In order to create a truly comprehensive and universal strategy to stop cancer, the lens must be widened to include causation, risk-reduction, and prevention.
As exciting as Saporito’s Hollywood version of the war on cancer seems—replete with dream teams, moon shots, and glitterati–it doesn’t address the cause or causes of cancer and how to prevent the disease in the first place. Until we turn that stone over, there will be no happy endings.
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