20 March 2013

SARS a decade on, with a lesson about administration

There have been a few retrospectives the last couple of weeks about the tenth anniversary of the emergence of SARS. There are several articles in the current issue of Science magazine and on their podcast.

A story from that time. This was at a time when the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) was not up and running yet. I distinctly remember in a faculty meeting, our then department chair announced that the plans for the RAHC were that researchers there would be doing research on diabetes... and SARS.

All the faculty in the room laughed.

This was so obviously something an administrator said because he or she latched on to what was in the news right then, with no idea of the biology. Lots of epidemics are fleeting. The people in charge were fishing for ideas. I remember someone saying something like, “SARS will burn out before the building ever opens.” And he wasn’t far wrong.

This has remained a great example of why research initiatives should rarely be started by top-down directives. The gap between ideas and practical problems can be too large. There’s too much risk of people on the ground saying, “We need bullets and body armour” somehow being turned into the higher-ups saying, “We’re winning the war on terror.”

Related posts

Who ya callin’ “small”!?
Oh boy, here it comes...
A beautiful white elephant?

External links

The SARS wake-up call
A decade ago, SARS raced round the world; Where is it now? Will it return?

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