Egyptian scribes (NYPL)

A majority of the epidemiological articles on SARS were submitted after the epidemic had ended, although the corresponding studies had relevance to public health authorities during the epidemic.  … although the academic response to the SARS epidemic was rapid, most articles on the epidemiology of SARS were published after the epidemic was over even though SARS was a major threat to public health. 1

(My emphasis) This is an analysis of the published response to the SARS epidemic in 2003.   The conclusion is basically that, although SARS papers were clearly fast-tracked by journals, most papers didn’t see publication until after the epidemic was over.

They suggest that journals could speed up their fast-track systems for this sort of thing, and cite some of the subsequent attempts to speed up availability of publications (Nature Proceedings, Pandemic Flu Updates from the BMJ, and PLoS Current: Influenza), but point out that it’s not solely up to the journals: Most of the articles they looked at weren’t even submitted until the epidemic was over.  They suggest that authors could speed up data-collection and analysis:

This bottleneck could be reduced by developing a series of ready-to-use information technologies, to improve timeliness and, thus relevance, and further, to improve standardization, and thus comparability across studies in the event of an outbreak.1

That presumably means that epidemiologists should, right now, be preparing tools for the next pandemic.  I assume some are, but I don’t know how widespread that is.

I’d be very interested to compare the 2003 SARS response to the 2009/2010 pandemic flu response.  My impression was that the response was much faster — not only through the fast-tracked sites mentioned above, but through semi-formal channels as well.  Though it wasn’t a target of this paper (which focused on peer-reviewed papers) I’d also be interested to see how much (if any) impact blogs had for the flu response.

  1. Xing, W., Hejblum, G., Leung, G., & Valleron, A. (2010). Anatomy of the Epidemiological Literature on the 2003 SARS Outbreaks in Hong Kong and Toronto: A Time-Stratified Review PLoS Medicine, 7 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000272[][]