Who should fund basic science?

Recently, William Brody mentioned that Singapore should invest in funding basic sciences rather than applied sciences in an interview. (see ‘Tip to Singapore: Change R&D approach’, Straits Times, Jan 11). A/Prof Lee Wei Ling, the executive director of National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), pointed out in a ST forum letter that the government needs to exhibit prudence in spending on biomedical research and advocate that funding should concentrate on improving human health and confined to areas of research specifically relevant to Asia. In principle, I agree with her reasoning on why government funding cannot be used to fund the basic sciences. The government should fund projects that can yield tangible returns that benefit the people in the short term.

However, that does not mean that there is no way to fund basic science in Singapore. The scientists working in basic sciences should look at other possible sources of funding. An alternative solution to government funding is to seek research grants from private foundations from philanthropists. For example, in the UK, basic science research pertaining to genome sequencing is funded by the Wellcome Trust, while in the US, the Sloan Foundation has funded fellowships and grants in the esoteric areas of astrophysics. The scientists dabbling in basic sciences should approach the various foundations or the rich & wealthy to secure new funds for their obscure research areas, for example, particle physics and string theory.

Ultimately, basic scientific research is essential to the development of Singapore as a knowledge based economy. The real challenge is whether the workers in the basic sciences are ready to walk out of their ivory towers and start lobbying for their own cause.

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Is Social Engineering still appropriate for Singapore?

Recently, I was at the annual National Science and Technology Awards 2006, where awards are given to scientists who have contributed significantly for their scientific pursuits in Singapore. Of course, the night was filled with good food and entertaining speeches from both Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports & 2nd Minister for Trade and Industry) and Dr Sydney Brenner, a Nobel laureate (who won the Science and Technology medal this year for contributing to the research and development in Singapore).

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Can Singapore support Basic & Social Sciences?

The Singapore government has poured S$13.75B into research and development. Of that sum of money, S$5B will go to the new Research Enterprise and Innovation Council (REIC), chaired by Dr Tony Tan. The rest will be channelled to the Agency of Science, Technology and Research to fund the current ongoing projects in the physical and biomedical sciences. It has appeared that the new REIC has decided to recreate the wheel to fund applied sciences rather than basic sciences. This article provides some perspective on both basic and social sciences in Singapore and suggests a model for funding such academic enterprise.

Continue reading Can Singapore support Basic & Social Sciences?