Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thanks, But No Thanks

No money, no talk
No one will doubt Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins are foreign talents in the true sense of the term. Unlike Bangladeshi construction workers, Indian IT technicians or PMETs, no local can easily step into their shoes. But like all foreigners, they also stay for mercantile motivations. In a sense, they are no better than the nocturnal denizens of Gelyang. No money, no honey.

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.



    This PhD taxi driver, also formerly from IMCB, said he was laid off by FT (not Foreign Talent, but Fuck Type) management.

  2. Looks like the other side who invited them over seems to be more than pleased with their research .... research at the expense of Singapore ?

    If that is the case, then we really must be suckers ! What a joke, Singapore.

  3. We the people should indeed be terrified of people like Philip Yeo.
    They are the recipients of the govt scholarships and generous funding to pursue their own pet projects to further their own ambitious to leave some kind of legacy -- all for their big paycheck and ego. And in the end not only did they prove no new science, but also a barren of local talents who claim no nobel prize. In casinos, "Whales" are names given to players who play with large amount of money..and they are judiciously and strategically courted and wooed. It only goes to show all these years, their beliefs that buying/getting instant foreign talents to lend them the temporary fame is all an illusion. These leaders are not qualified to be called leaders. They have no interest nor the desire and patience to groom and train our very own talents. No wonder all these decades, there's only 1 prodigal son who makes it back - Chen show mao.

    The people shld be very afraid of this government. Especially a new president who will only make nepotistic appointment even worse off than before, if elected.

  4. I really hope A*Star is not making "emperor new clothes". But we will not know as there is no accountability and transparency.

  5. Cancer research too high class for Singapore.

    Just focus on our core competence:

    Melioidosis Reseach!!

    Wait. Wait.

    Got commercial value or not ah?

  6. Philip Yeo's son holds a senior position at IMCB thanks to daddy!!!

  7. Since the departure of the foreign talent director, LWL has taken over the research institute for so many years. What output this institute has produce so far after pumping in millions of research fund? Yet, LWL has time to write her story to publish in the ST. What has she done there so far? We will never know because this is a place of no accountability and transparency.

  8. AStar is a big flop. Wasted billions of dollars with very little outcome. With people like Philip Yeo and succeeded by a ex-military man, you cannot expect anything really.

  9. A*Star was formed in 1991 to raise the level of science and technology in Singapore. After 2 decades, Singapore economy is still very much dependent on MNCs. So where are the golden eggs?

    In an organisation where degree holders are only fit to wash test tubes, the elite A*Star's appetite for funding is anything but small. With more than $26 billion spent in the last two decades, all we can see now are two grand 'palaces' - biopolis and fusinopolis.

    If we look closely at A*Star's budget, it doubles every 5 year:

    1991-1995: S$2 billion
    1996-2000: S$4 billion
    2001-2005: S$7 billion
    2006-2011: S$13.55 billion

    No prize for guessing how much they will like for the next 5-year science and technology plan.

    Manhatten Project took 6 years and US$2 billion (roughly equivalent to US$24.4 billion as of 2011) to bring on the Atomic Age. How does A*Star measure up to that after spending an equivalent budget and taking longer time? Shouldn't A*Star be made accountable to Singaporeans? By the way, raising the level of science and technology in Singapore is not about building another 'palace' like mediapolis.

  10. I see non Singaporeans in these two ...polis. Where is the return to our investment?

  11. Is there no policy makers in the govt who is born-and-raised Singaporean and really care about the future of Singapore as a nation and not his self interests?


    Academic evidence has increasingly mounted indicating that performance related pay leads to the opposite of the desired outcomes when it is applied to any work involving cognitive rather than physical skill. Research[1] funded by the Federal Reserve Bank undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with input from professors from the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University repeatedly demonstrated that as long as the tasks being undertaken are purely mechanical performance related pay works as expected. However once rudimentary cognitive skills are required it actually leads to poorer performance.

    These experiments have since been repeated by a range of economists[2][3], sociologists and psychologists with the same results[4]. Experiments were also undertaken in Madurai, India where the financial amounts involved represented far more significant sums to participants and the results were again repeated. These findings have been specifically highlighted by Daniel H. Pink in his work examining how motivation works[5].