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On March 10, 2019, 60 Minutes reported the development of a potentially life-altering gene therapy for Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). Despite this therapy’s potential for cure, SCD community members’ reactions ranged from skepticism to fear due to the use of deactivated HIV as a vector for transporting the corrected gene into stem cells, thus repairing the faulty gene in SCD. Using a mental models framework, we analyze how 60 Minutes attempted to explain this research and how audiences reacted on social media. Specifically, we show how 60 Minutes’ treatment of given versus new information, as well as the journalists’ failure to account for the specific audiences with the most at stake, led to misunderstandings that contributed to ongoing fear and mistrust of the scientific community. We conclude with recommendations for how journalists should approach accommodating science when that science has particular impacts on minoritized and marginalized groups.
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