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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Let This Mistake Continue? Part I

In the past two weeks, a storm has been brewing in Singapore's biomedical scene.

A war of words has broken out between two powerful members of the elite: Mr. Philip Yeo, the chairman of A*Star, and Assoc. Prof Lee Wei Ling, the director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

Prof. Lee, who is the daughter of Minister Mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew (see my earlier article), was interviewed by Reuters when she expressed her concerns about the biomedical policy in Singapore.

She felt the current research efforts was not focused enough and should be concentrated on Asian diseases such as hepatitis B, autoimmune diseases as well as head injury.

She did not agree that Singapore should compete in the same areas as scientific powers in the West, and was skeptical of the strategy to employ prominent foreign researchers to spearhead the research effort here.

"How many of the foreign stars have made any major discoveries after coming to Singapore?"

She also said that the government may be having a rethink about its approach.

This prompted a quick response from the government stating that there was no change in the biomedical research strategy. A*Star also posted a report demonstrating that there was good growth in the biomedical industry. Government officials have unanimously expressed their support for the current biomedical direction.

Professor Sydney Brenner (see earlier article) noted that:

"Of course we are conscious that we need to focus because a small country cannot do everything. However the ills of Singapore, as we undergo economic development, are coming to be the same as other developed parts of the world - diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity and so on... My belief is that we should focus on the diseases that are rapidly increasing in incidence here, and those that have public health value."

During a media meeting, Mr. Philip Yeo said that Prof. Lee was a lone complainant, "one voice in the wilderness". He noted that Prof. Lee has not been to the Biopolis, which is the complex that housed key research institutes.

In the local newspapers, Prof. Lee countered "I would say that Mr. Philip Yeo, having never practised as a doctor, is strategising about biomedical research directions in an ivory tower. That is why he can dismiss hepatitis B and head injury as unimportant."

"This is not a matter of one-upmanship. We're talking about billions of dollars of tax-payers' money. I will not let this mistake continue."

She also revealed that she had received many email messages from local doctors and researchers who thanked her for speaking up.

The debate still rages on today. Many people in the local scientific community are talking about it. Ordinary citizens are taking sides on online forums regarding this issue.

As a Singaporean science blog, Fresh Brainz will examine the details carefully and concentrate on answering the main question.

Was it all a mistake?

To be continued...


along said...

Waiting to see the continued detailed report and analysis.

Kevin said...

Storm? More like a wayang for more moeny and an alternative fund as well as duplicating agencies.

ah said...

woohoo, FreshBrainz is back and with the first decent analysis on the Immovable Object vs. Irresistible Force 'debate'. Not sure what is going on, and your analysis makes things even more confusing. If LWL likes Hep and head injury so much how come she has not realigned the NII to cover those two areas?

The cynical Kevin above may have hit the nail on the head... Angling for more money?

Interesting that the debate has gone quiet just recently. A certain elder statesman bashed two heads together??

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Nobody can be sure what is going on, but it has been much quieter since the budget announcement.

Prof Lee has written a letter to the Straits Times again today, but she has returned to her previous issue regarding organ donations.

ah said...

Interesting how there has been no letter to the Straits Times from LWL... Pursuing Shorvon to enact justice, indeed...