News & Opinion | July 11, 2018 9:00 am

How This Viral “Cancer Cure” Video Debunks Bad Science

A group wanted to "separate sense from nonsense."

dna cancer
(Getty Images)
Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

The video started out with generically peppy music and big chunky-letter captions that claimed to have information on a breakthrough medical discovery.

“This natural trick can cure your cancer,” reads the title of the two-minute video from McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. The video says that an  “amazing cure for cancer has been known since the 1800,” but has been hidden from the world. The treatment is a species of moss called Funariidae karkinolytae, discovered in 1816 by a scientist named Johan R. Tarjany. Even a single molecule of the moss could “selectively alter the double helix of cancer cell DNA.” But then, 40 seconds in, the video changes tactics, and says, “There is no Dr. Tarjany.” It goes on to point out all the inaccuracies in the video (DNA wasn’t discovered till 1953, for one). It ends on the key message: “Be skeptical. Ask questions.”

The video is the making of Jonathan Jarry and his colleagues at McGill OSS, who are trying to help people “separate sense from nonsense.” A video of theirs usually gets 700 views. But this “cancer cure” video received well over 7 million views across Facebook and Twitter, making it just as viewed as the bad science videos it is hoping to counter.