Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Knockout Punch

In better fighting form than Rocky Balboa, the outgoing chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), Mr Philip Yeo — the man who spearheaded the biomedical push — yesterday countered the suggestions raised by Dr Lee Wei Ling as well as two World Bank economists that Singapore’s biomedical strategy had only a 50-per-cent chance of succeeding. Yeo took issue with Dr Lee’s criticism, saying: “For a person who has not been here to make comments, I leave it to the person.”
In response, the person mentioned, Dr Lee, daughter of patriach Lee Kuan Yew, said in an email to Today that, unlike herself, Mr Yeo had not been to hospital, seeing patients.
“Five per cent of ethnic Chinese are Hepatitis B carriers with a high risk of liver cancer and/or liver failure. Multiply that by the total number of Chinese worldwide,” she said. Similarly, she added that head injury might not be a glamourous area for research but it was one of the main causes of disability in children and otherwise healthy adults. In addition, NNI has an established track record in head injury research, which gives Singapore a competitive advantage.
“What is Philip Yeo’s definition of success — and can he show at least some glimpse of it?” she asked.
On the World Bank’s aside that the Singapore-based foreign scientists were “a footloose bunch who could pack up and leave overnight”, Sir David Lane, the executive director of A*Star’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, decries: “They sold their house, quit their jobs and are committed to Singapore in a big way.” Professor Lane neglected to reveal who was paying for their generous relocation, housing, living, schooling and “hardship” allowances. One recalls Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s shrewd observation: “People don’t come here because they like Singapore - they come because the returns are better.”