On 21 February 2003, a 64-year old medical doctor, suffering from an unusual condition, registered at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong. No one could imagine that this would be the start of the first epidemic of the 21st century: the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Dr. Liu Jianlun transferred SARS to at least 16 other guests during his brief one-night stay. Each one of them subsequently became the index patients who spread the infection to Singapore, Toronto and Vietnam. By 7 August 2003 the international outbreak had spread to 30 countries causing 8422 cases and 916 deaths (The Who Report 2003). The World Health Organization (WHO) set up an international network of the world’s top public health and laboratory experts to identify the cause of the disease and stop its spread, producing scientific and epidemiologic discoveries with unprecedented speed (Enserink and Vogel 2003). On 5 July 2005, WHO announced that the chains of human to human transmission had been broken. The SARS network shared knowledge and collaborated in an "unprecedented fashion" taking advantage of modern communication technologies like "teleconferences and a secure website for sharing research data in real-time" (Kullberg and Voss 2003). Moreover, research results that otherwise would have taken weeks to be reviewed, revised and published were published within days. Thus the SARS case provides an excellent opportunity to analyse how communication among scientists was modified to respond to the challenge of solving a practical and urgent problem that involved multi and interdisciplinary work. I will present a critical examination of how communication among scientists was modified during the SARS crisis as compared to the traditional methods of communication. The global outbreak response team set by WHO will be the case of my analysis. The analysis will be divided in three sections, each one addressing a question that can be critically examined through a literature review: (i) how scientific information was communicated during the crisis?; (ii) whether dissemination of new research finding through fast track publishing in major journals complied with the traditional peer-review system and how; and (iii) how scientific credit for new discoveries was managed? Finally, the conclusion attempts to show, based on the evidence presented in the discussion, how changing certain forms of science communication between scientists can be critical for a future effective response to a new epidemic.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science communication between scientists
The SARS case

Laura Vargas-Parada   Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

On 21 February 2003, a 64-year old medical doctor, suffering from an unusual condition, registered at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong. No one could imagine that this would be the start of the first epidemic of the 21st century: the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Dr. Liu Jianlun transferred SARS to at least 16 other guests during his brief one-night stay. Each one of them subsequently became the index patients who spread the infection to Singapore, Toronto and Vietnam. By 7 August 2003 the international outbreak had spread to 30 countries causing 8422 cases and 916 deaths (The Who Report 2003). The World Health Organization (WHO) set up an international network of the world’s top public health and laboratory experts to identify the cause of the disease and stop its spread, producing scientific and epidemiologic discoveries with unprecedented speed (Enserink and Vogel 2003). On 5 July 2005, WHO announced that the chains of human to human transmission had been broken. The SARS network shared knowledge and collaborated in an "unprecedented fashion" taking advantage of modern communication technologies like "teleconferences and a secure website for sharing research data in real-time" (Kullberg and Voss 2003). Moreover, research results that otherwise would have taken weeks to be reviewed, revised and published were published within days. Thus the SARS case provides an excellent opportunity to analyse how communication among scientists was modified to respond to the challenge of solving a practical and urgent problem that involved multi and interdisciplinary work. I will present a critical examination of how communication among scientists was modified during the SARS crisis as compared to the traditional methods of communication. The global outbreak response team set by WHO will be the case of my analysis. The analysis will be divided in three sections, each one addressing a question that can be critically examined through a literature review: (i) how scientific information was communicated during the crisis?; (ii) whether dissemination of new research finding through fast track publishing in major journals complied with the traditional peer-review system and how; and (iii) how scientific credit for new discoveries was managed? Finally, the conclusion attempts to show, based on the evidence presented in the discussion, how changing certain forms of science communication between scientists can be critical for a future effective response to a new epidemic.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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