Editor’s Note: Is it Wrong to Call it Swine Flu?

We just published the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Texas, the magazine for UT’s McCombs School of Business. I’m managing editor and wrote the cover story, “Diagnosing the H1N1 Pandemic.”

Business school? Isn’t that where they study boring things like derivatives and fair-value accounting? What does a global health emergency have to do with business school?

Well, one of the discoveries I’ve been pleased to make since joining the McCombs team is that the business world (and business school) is teeming with juicy stories and fascinating people. And that business research and thinking touch all corners of society. This story is a prime example of that.

Paul Damien is a McCombs professor and statistician, and it’s his research I wrote about for this story. He’s working with faculty in Natural Sciences to study what factors affect the spread of H1N1 and to create mathematical models that predict infection rates. That information can then be used by health organizations in their outreach and education efforts and by schools and other organizations to determine when, if ever, it’s necessary to close down. And hopefully those efforts will prevent more people from getting sick or dying.

Damien is a great interview because he knows how to talk about his research in an accessible way, and he speaks eloquently about the importance of business knowledge and applications:

“Indeed any body of human knowledge has a business impact if you think about it. We use the word ‘business’ somewhat myopically at times. But business really means the buying and selling of goods and services. And what more valuable thing than the human body? And any research having to do with that is going to benefit business and the consumer.”

He further explains business school is about more than just training managers:

“When you think of business schools as a rule, the first thing that pops into most people’s minds is management. And then you think of accounting and finance, and then maybe economics, but then in stops, which is surprising because a major component is in analytics and quantitative analysis. A lot of my colleagues are involved in projects that aren’t necessarily business related. But they have business implications long term.

“So when you’asking what are the business implications for the H1N1, then clearly one answer is the pharmaceutical companies – how much of the vaccines should they produce. One interesting thing that came up from a business point of view was until about a month ago it was believed you needed two doses of the vaccine spread over a three week span for it to be effective. What is the business implication of that? It means you have to produce different batches of these things. The cost models, the revenue streams. But now they’ve actually realized that one dose is sufficient. So immediately that gets translated to the pharmaceuticals because that means their production processes can be better monetized because they don’t have to worry about coming up with two levels of doses. So right away the pharmaceutical companies become much more efficient models of operation, which in turn translates to better revenue for companies, and overall the consumer benefits in the long run when companies operate more efficiently, and that’s a proven fact.”

And as for the Swine Flu vs. H1N1 debate, while swine flu has a certain playfulness (One of the concepts our cover illustrator sent us was a strangely adorable pig lurking behind a chalkboard), we decided to follow the CDC’s guidelines and use H1N1 (except on the cover teaser – we couldn’t resist the “Solving Swine Flu” alliteration)

Plus, the pigs are probably ready to have their reputation back.

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I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.