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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Study in Rightwing Media Misinformation -- The FDA and Avastin

AvastinIf you've ever wondered how the right got crazy, then join the club. Personally, I think it happened after Clinton was elected. For some reason, this unleashed a fury in conservatives, who seemed to believe that the White House in a post-Reagan world belonged to Republicans. They were entitled to a president from their own party and a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office became an affront to liberty and freedom and blah, blah, blah. Never mind that Clinton brought with him an unparalleled period of prosperity and growth. Never mind that Clinton balanced the budget. Never mind that he was meeting Republican goals, he was a Democrat and that automatically made him incompetent. With Clinton administration rose what Hillary Clinton rightly called a "vast rightwing conspiracy" -- a campaign of misinformation and outright lies that began with Rush Limbaugh and would eventually be described as the "rightwing noise machine." What began as talk radio blather grew into a massive, self-feeding echo chamber that exists primarily to agree with itself and attack anyone outside a certain group of politically correct ideologues.

Case in point; a University of Maryland study that found viewers of Fox News to be the most poorly informed of all cable news viewers. Worse, the study found that the more you watched Fox, the less informed you became. In other words, watching Fox News makes you dumb and watching more Fox News makes you dumber.

But Fox News isn't the worst offender. Here's Fox on the FDA's revoking of approval of the drug Avastin for treatment of breast cancer:

Dr. Cynara Coomer, Chief of Breast Surgery and Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital, told that doctors should ultimately base their decisions on statistics.

"Avastin has been given to patients to decrease the chance of metastases, but they are not really finding that there is that much of a significant difference," Coomer said.

The FDA still holds approval for Avastin for other types of cancer, because breast cancer was the only disease that showed lack of evidence for improved survival rates, according to Coomer.

"With indications such as metastatic colon cancer, metastatic kidney cancer and metastatic brain tumor -- some of these cancers, the benefit of the drug clearly outweighs the risks of the drug," she said. "With breast cancer, it is not as clear that it is improving the chance of survival for these women taking it, according to the studies by the FDA."

Pretty straightforward, right? Now here's Andrew Brietbart's Big Government blog:

Sources on Capitol Hill have informed Capitol Confidential that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will indeed begin rationing late-stage cancer drugs. The FDA will make an 11am (EDT) announcement that it will begin denying Avastin to breast cancer patients but will graciously offer the creator of the drug a final show trial of a hearing in 60 days.

The FDA will be judge, jury and executioner. Unfortunately, the victims of breast cancer will be the ones punished and harmed.

The post calls this "rationing" and warns, "Republicans are talking a good game about repealing ObamaCare but the battle has now truly been joined and it is a fight we cannot afford to lose." Another post on the same subject by the same author warns that revoking approval for Avastin for breast cancer is the beginning of the dreaded "death panels."

So let me see if I have this right; in clinical trials, Avastin is shown to be no more effective than standard chemotherapy, but with worse side effects, making it a needlessly expensive and pointlessly dangerous course of treatment. So abandoning it means "death panels?" Have I got that right?

Bloomberg reports that the FDA aren't the only ones taking a second look at the drug and that "European regulators said Sept. 24 they would review Avastin's use in metastatic breast tumors." In fact, Bloomberg reports that the drug was approved for breast cancer treatment under the Bush administration despite an advisory panel's findings.

The FDA's 2008 clearance overruled an advisory panel that concluded the benefit of slowing the spread of breast tumors wasn't worth the risk of side effects including high blood pressure and death. Approval was accelerated, and done on the condition that later research confirmed Avastin's benefit for breast cancer patients.

So that condition hasn't been met, Avastin's approval is being revoked as planned under the Bush administration, but we're all supposed to believe this is Obama's "death panels"  -- because Sarah Palin had a crazy notion one day that must be defended until the end of time. Big Government has everything ass-backward; instead of looking at the evidence and coming to a conclusion, they come to a conclusion and look for evidence to back it up. No wonder people who follow the blog seem crazy. This isn't anything even approximating logic. Yet a bunch of 'baggers consider it slam-dunk proof that "Obamacare" will kill us all.

What's wrong with the right and their media is as much the fault of the right's media consumers as anyone else. They want to be outraged, they want to be terrified, and they want news sources that will outrage and terrify them. Maybe they've gotten used to it, I don't know. But they clearly want to live with a bunker mentality, always under attack by enemies without and within, intent on destroying them, their families, and the entire United States.

So there's a certain amount of supply and demand going on here. People will sell bullcrap as long as there are people who want to buy it. Call it the "cowards' market" or the "paranoia exchange" or the "gullibility economy," but if no one was reading this crap, these things would go under. We can blame Fox and wingnut blogs all we want, but we can't forget that most of these misinformed and frightened masses are misinformed and frightened by choice.

The next time you read about a study showing how poorly the rightwing media serves their audience, go ahead and skip feeling sorry for that audience. They got what they were looking for.


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