(p. 173) In 1971 the U.S. government finally launched an all-out “war on cancer.” In his State of the Union address in January 1971, President Richard Nixon declared: “The time has come in America when the same kind of concerted effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal.”
As the country debated a bill known as the National Cancer Act, the air was filled with feverish excitement and heady optimism. Popular magazines again trumpeted the imminent conquest of cancer. However, some members of the committee of the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, which was asked by the NCI to review the cancer plan envisioned by the act, expressed concern regarding the centralization of planning of research and that “the lines of research… could turn out to be the wrong leads.” The plan fails, the reviewers said in their confidential report, because
It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand, and that given the right kind of administration and organization, the hard problems can be solved. It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer.
Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)