Cancer is a disease that affects most people at some point in their lives. Biomedical researchers like those in my team are working hard to better understand what cancer is and how it behaves so that we can develop drugs and interventions that fight it. When we make new findings, it is very important for us to share these with our colleagues so that we can all learn from each other. In order to do this, we write up a report explaining what we did and how our results let us draw new conclusions about cancer biology. We then send our reports to journals who have reviewers that are experts in the field examine the science and determine if our results really justify the conclusions we state in the paper. If these reviewers agree that our data supports our claims, the journal will publish our paper. If the reviewers have doubts or suggestions of how we can make our claims stronger, the journal asks us to revise the paper and add more data before it is published. This vetting process is called Peer Review and it is critical to maintaining the integrity of science.
When you read a news story about a new discovery by scientists, it is because the journalist read a paper published by the scientist and felt that it would be of interest to the public. But the public and the journalist are not experts in all fields of science and so the journalist has to boil down the important findings and make them understandable by a wide audience. Sometimes they do a great job. But sometimes they don't and the public comes away with the wrong understanding of what was actually said in the paper. Most of the time, this is probably not of great consequence. But cancer is a serious disease that affects a lot of people and when so much bad advice is being floated around about cancer causes and treatments, we want to do our small part to bring clarity to the debate.
In the Digest, we will discuss what is said in the news stories that hit the papers and compare them to what is said in the scientific paper. Because we do not have an agenda and don't need to sell papers or get pageviews, we are not interested in the hype that draws people in but in letting our readers know where the science actually stands. This may be less satisfying than what is in the news, but hopefully it will leave our readers better informed and, at the very least, get them to think more critically about the cancer-related news stories out there. If you see an interesting story that you think we should cover, please send it our way! We will do our best to cover as many of them as we can.