Longtime readers know that I'm skeptical of the Chinese Miracle. I haven't written much about that in recent years, partly because of the amazing progress they've made, but mainly because of my fears that our own economy is going to meet theirs like passengers on cris-crossing down and up escalators.
Still, despite China's economic growth and the western world's post-crash slowdown, I've held onto my belief that they've got at least one major parameter out of spec. After all, if something looks too good to be true, chances are it is. So it was more with schadenfreude than with glee that I noted a recent story about China's high-speed rail program in the Washington Post, "Are China's high-speed trains heading off the rails?" (wapo.st/kVYOZd)
The gist of the article is that the China's top railway official has been fired and arrested for corruption, top speeds on its existing lines were cut by nearly 50 km/h because of safety issues, and it's possible that the country's incredible roll-out of high-speed lines was achieved by using substandard materials. (There's also a major issue with having few riders because prices are so high, but that gets into another problem I have with command economies.)
In the Post piece, reporter Keith B. Richburg wrote, "In announcing the safety checks, officials said that in some places, villagers had built pigpens beneath bridges holding high-speed tracks, causing a potential hazard."
I admit that I chortled over that line. It reminded me of the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, which may or may not have originated from the practice of eating civet cats. In my first-world cocoon, I laughed at the notion of a hyper-populous country with cat-markets taking over the world.In the May 2003 edition of this space, I wrote:
We also need the likely regional source of thisepidemic to develop a little more openness and take on some responsibility for the spread of SARS. In the years since Mao's death and the attempted economic liberalization, China's public healthcare system has fallen to pieces, particularly in the western provinces and autonomous regions. Combine that with the secrecy of the culture, and you've got China's government denying first the existence, then the extent, of SARS infections in the country. Unfortunately, you can't hide this stuff anymore. If anything good comes out of this outbreak - besides the incredibly swift work done by gene sequencers up in Canada, which comprises a revolution unto itself - I hope it'll be a true Great Leap by China into the world community.
Do you ever look back at your old work and cringe? The fact that the railway minister was sacked and the government's opened up about potential safety problems tells me that they have made a heck of a leap during that time. Sure, it's not perfect, and I think there are still some O-O-S parameters that could lead to a huge fall, but desperation seems to have kept them along a steep learning curve.
Plus, I'm not sure we're even trying to stay ahead.
I mean, yeah, I can goof on the genesis of SARS and the notion of pigpens under 215-mph rail lines, but what am I supposed to do when I read a report about how between 50 and 80 Americans every year contract leprosy by . . . hunting, skinning and eating armadillos? (It's in the NEJM, but you can read about the study in the WSJ and NYT at on.wsj.com/j8Qpqu and nyti.ms/jO99qa)
The majority of cases seem to be in Louisiana and Texas. My Cajun wife - typically pretty open about the culinary culture of bayou country - swears she's never heard of anyone who eats armadillo. But it's pretty clear that people have been doing it, and in all likelihood, they can vote.
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What I'm Reading
VCs Turn Up The Heat on FDA to Get Faster, More Predictable
Luke Timmerman, Xconomy - http://bit.ly/eeaR6k
Comment: Except for the part where a VC compares VCsto AIDS activists, this is a pretty engaging - if optimistic -take on how the FDA's pendulum may swing back from
its hyper-risk-averse side. (Hat-tip to Fred Schulze ofCoating Place Inc. for sending this my way)
What Is Really Killing Pharma
Anthony Nicholls, OpenEye Scientific Software blog - http://bit.ly/iGFtNJ
Comment: Asks, "What hath DTC advertising wrought?" and answers, "Non-science CEOs and management fads."
Nothing pharma-related, but if anyone wants to join my Book Club of One, I'm working my way through Anthony Powell'sA Dance To the Music of Time.
What are you reading? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org,www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1775433or www.facebook.com/contractpharma