|No money, no talk|
The husband and wife team of cancer experts left the National Cancer Institute in the United States after 20 years there to join Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) because of "generous funding". After a short 5 year stint, both are moving off to Houston, Texas, where "a generous funded state programme has proven a draw for heavy weights in cancer research." And we thought the United States was going broke.
Both declined requests for a interview and an opportunity to tell their story. The scientists still here talk about red tape and the pressure to focus on economic outcomes, the same parameters ordinary Singaporeans have been subjected to for 46 years. One researcher hinted a veiled threat, "If people are unhappy with the situation in Singapore, they will vote with their feet. It is not about money, it is about vision and how science is viewed". Lucky he, globetrotting for greener pastures under the guise of a noble cause. Not for him the obligation of bearing arms to defend a country, where we are born and have taken root.
Neal and Nancy are not the first brand-name hires to quit. British scientist Alan Colman, who helped clone Dolly the sheep, came to Singapore in 2002, and left for the Stem Cell Centre at King's College London in May 2008. Coolman's exodus followed news in September 2007 about the departures of two other top British scientists, David and Birgitte Lane, giving credence to the World Bank's criticism that Singapore's biotech drive was overly reliant on "footloose" scientists who could leave at short notice.
"I'm speaking out as "citizen Lee," not as MM's daughter, or PM's sister," clarified Dr Lee Wei Ling, when she called for a reassessment of Singapore's biotech strategy, saying billions of dollars have been spent without achieving significant results. The target of her scrutiny, Philip Yeo, formerly of A*Star, had coined the term "whales" for the foreign imports. He probably meant it as an euphemism for "prize catch", but his recruits obviously had a whale of a time here while the going was good.