The Trouble at M.D. Anderson

By George Johnson | April 4, 2013 6:31 pm

After belatedly reading my colleague Paul Raeburn’s scathing appraisal of the Time magazine story on cancer, I’m thinking I was too generous in my previous post. I wrote that if you could forget for a moment the reckless magazine cover — with its blaring headline “How to Cure Cancer” — that the article itself was reasonably well done.

Raeburn makes some good criticisms and, it turns out, there is an even larger issue. I had read the Time story online and not in the paper edition, and it is disturbing to learn that there is a full-page advertisement for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center placed among the pages of the article. Even worse, Raeburn writes in a follow-up post, “the language in the ad is almost identical to some of the language in the story.”

Anderson has had a wave of bad publicity under its recently appointed president, Ronald DePinho, and his wife, Lynda Chin, over conflicts of interest and a managerial style that has led to resignations of top researchers. And Dr. DePinho’s “moon shots” program and the way it was played up last year on CNN has been called the worst kind of cancer hype. For a biting critique see Gary Schwitzer’s report in

Since then morale at Anderson has apparently gotten worse. Just as Time’s cover story appeared last week, The Cancer Letter published a special issue about the low morale at Anderson, as described in a 64-page internal report. (Both can be downloaded at The Cancer Letter’s website.)

Related posts: On Dwarves, James Watson, and the Oddities of Cancer

M.D. Anderson’s Chief Entrepreneur


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cancer, select, top-posts
  • Michele Amason

    There have been problems at MD Anderson for a very long time. The experience that my family had was not good. My dad was sent there by his PCP with the forgone conclusion that he had cancer but they never really checked on that. He was 85 at the time and they said he had Cat Scratch Fever because we had cats. This took quite a few days for them to do this all the while having a sick man run from one department to another to fill out the SAME paperwork each time. REALLY! We left in disgust and went to a clinic in East Texas who worked with another clinic and got him tested and diagnosed with Lymphoma within a short period of time. He was treated with surery and 5 rounds of chemo. He died due to complications of the steriods and stubborness but his last scan showed on cancer.
    MD Anderson did not even bother with diagnosing him in 1998 and they still want a donation from us to this day. I will not recommend them to anyone.

  • Canucker

    The MDA hype balloon will burst at some point but the damage has already been done both to the dignity of patients who appear to be props for fund-raising and to the storied reputation of this fine institution. Being brash and optimistic is one thing, but there is a disdain exhibited by MDA management for their key assets and for the history of the hospital. MDA is not a professional sports team but it is being run like one.


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About George Johnson

George Johnson writes about science for the New York Times, National Geographic Magazine, Slate, and other publications. His nine books include The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery (August 2013), The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, A Shortcut Through Time, and Fire in the Mind. He is a winner of the AAAS Science Journalism Award and has twice been a finalist for the Royal Society science book prize. Co-founder and director of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, he can be found on the Web at Twitter @byGeorgeJohnson.


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