21 January 2011

Epic beginnings

Well, I've seen some epic beginnings to scientific papers in my time, but this one takes the cake. Writing about legal rights in relation to quarantine during a potential influenza pandemic, Belinda Bennett kicks off the discussion by re-telling scenes from José Saramago's Blindness. And I quote:
"In his book ‘Blindness’, José Saramago tells the story of a city struck by an epidemic of ‘white blindness’... Those who are blind are placed in quarantine in a disused mental hospital, with food delivered to the main entrance three times daily. Inside the hospital, the ugly side of humanity is revealed as the strong take control of the food supplies and assault the  women. Beyond the hospital walls, the epidemic, initially a trickle of baffling cases, spreads to affect the whole city until, finally, soldiers no longer maintain the quarantine and the blind leave the hospital. The story follows a small band of people as they venture back into the city, led by one woman who still has her sight. Through their experiences, we see the chaos of a city where all social infrastructures have broken down and people do their best to survive in their new grim reality."
To be fair, she does go on to point out - on the following page - that the social disruption caused by a flu pandemic would be "considerably less", but, well... yikes! Is this an appropriate way to introduce the issue? I mean, it's attention-grabbing. You might at least read the rest just to see what the hell she's going to say next. But it's a little frightening, to say the least. It's pretty much like saying "When the apocalypse comes..."

Has anyone else come across an epic beginning to a scientific paper? I'd be interested to see others referencing fiction, and particularly science fiction. And what do we think about the "epic" approach to writing papers?

Bennett, B. (2009). Legal rights during pandemics: Federalism, rights and public health laws - a view from Australia. Public Health, 123, 232-236. DOI: 10.1016/j.puhe.2008.12.019


Jo said...

Oh *that* sort of epic... I was about to tell you about my favourite start to a paper (well, abstract) but it really doesn't qualify as epic in that sort of sense.

Anyway, I've started typing, so I'll finish :)

"Seven weeks after he was bitten on the lip by a puppy in the Gambia..." - so evocative! Sadly the man died from rabies soon after. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1639858/

Hayley said...

Sort of epic though - they used that storytelling element to draw in the reader at the beginning. Although in this case, perhaps that was just a consequence of the facts.