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Singapore's other side

June 5, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 23

I was very impressed with Celia Arnaud's article about Singapore (C&EN, Feb. 27, page 10). I spent more than nine years in Singapore. Yes, the efforts of the Singaporean government resulted in a miracle. But let me repeat the last phrases from the article: "Is Singapore too good to be true? Most scientists that C&EN spoke with had nothing but praise for the country and its current efforts."

There is one place in Singapore where the situation is not suitable for fanfares. I am talking about the National University of Singapore's chemical and biomolecular engineering department, which was mentioned in the article.

Several faculty had to leave the department last year or will have to leave it in 2006. Development of innovative membrane-based technology for water treatment, patented in the U.S. and Europe, was stopped. Two licenses were sold, including one to a Swedish company, but nevertheless a new spin-off company had to stop its activity. A newly awarded big A*STAR (Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology) grant and all the ideas in it were taken from one principal investigator and given to another professor.

Nikolai Kocherginsky
Urbana, Ill.

In the recent article about the ongoing efforts by the Singaporean government to enhance its scientific standing and to turn Singapore into a research and innovation powerhouse, I wholeheartedly agree with high-level and low-red-tape funding for excellent research, and I clearly see the attraction of working in Singapore under these seemingly favorable conditions. However, I believe the article falls crucially short of addressing the moral dilemmas when associating with a regime such as the one currently in power in Singapore.

It should not be forgotten and must be mentioned that Singapore is not a democracy, has some of the most draconian censorship laws, repeatedly and aggressively oppresses political opposition and freedom of speech, has a mandatory death penalty system for a range of offenses with the world's highest per capita execution rate, and is in breach of several fundamental human rights as spelled out in the United Nations Human Rights Charter. Although your praise is understandable from a purely scientific point, a more balanced view on the issue of Singapore and what it stands for would have been more prudent.

Christopher Barner-Kowollik
University of New South Wales, Australia



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