The media’s reporting on a recent study of the regulatory approvals of cancer drugs was uniformly, inexcusably sloppy. The New York Times‘ coverage was typical. It began:
New cancer drugs are approved in just six months on average in the United States, half the time it takes for the same drugs to be approved in Europe, a new report finds.
The analysis, published online this month by the journal Health Affairs, appears to refute critics who have charged the Food and Drug Administration is less efficient than the European Medicines Agency and has been slower to approve new cancer drugs.
It ended by relating the supposedly wide-eyed, innocent amazement of the investigators at the outcome:
The results surprised the study’s authors. “When we realized we were correct, we thought, ‘No one is going to believe us because this goes against urban legend,’”said Ellen V. Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research.
The only urban legend here appears to be the conclusions of the study itself, which was widely touted in the print and electronic media as proving the superiority of the U.S. FDA to its European counterpart in approving cancer drugs.