November 12, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 41  

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Media mix-up irks researcher

By Jonathan Yazer
Gazette Staff

An objectionable press release could prevent groundbreaking breast cancer research from drawing the attention and scrutiny it deserves.

As reported last week by The Gazette, William J. Muller, professor of biochemistry and a faculty member in the department of medicine at McGill University, led a group of researchers who developed a method for overcoming breast cancer in laboratory mice. The findings of the research were presented at a summit of the International Association for Breast Cancer Research at the University of California Davis.

Muller was reported as being "horrified" upon discovering a press release from the summit was reported in Canada's national newspapers, however, he later downplayed any controversy.

"I had been talking about this for months. Although information presented at these types of meetings is not generally published to the press, it's no big deal," Muller said. "I think it's fine."

Christine Xeinder, communications officer at the McGill University Health Centre, said U of C Davis issued a press release, not Muller.

"My understanding is that Dr. Muller knew he had spoken to the media, but he didn't realize the results would be released to the Associated Press. It was a misunderstanding," Xeinder said. "I don't think that's common."

"The big worry is to get data out there before it's published in newspapers," she explained. "If something has already been published in the press, peer-reviewed journals may be less inclined to publish the research."

Catherine Ross, dean of the faculty of information and media studies at Western, said she did not think this type of occurrence happened very often.

"I don't think you'd expect a newspaper headline would replace the publication of a study in a scholarly journal, such as Nature or Science. The two formats are very different," she said. "Studies are not thoroughly covered in newspapers."

Xeinder added that Canadian news media gave the press release wider coverage than media outlets in the United States, where the story was reported less extensively.

Muller said his research findings have the potential to help human sufferers of breast cancer. "I think it could be applied to people in the future."



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