Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bandwagon Jumping

This won't be a critique of the IR woes. I think enough has been written about it. Instead, I'll write about another form of bandwagon jumping - stem cell research.

Personally, I think that the whole biotech industry in Singapore is extremely ill-conceived. Yes, we can pour potentially unlimited amounts of money into the infrastructure and education system to attract R&D in Singapore. However, Singapore is never going to be a major biotech center for as long as they do nothing to home-grow the sector.

Home-growing the sector, however, will require a deep shift in Singapore's policies. In short, there is no love for learning, no thinking outside the box, all because Singapore's education and economic system does not support breadth of endeavour, but is instead geared towards a cog in the machine.

In short, we suck at R&D because we've never learnt the joys of learning. We think too small, too rigidly and are too afraid of failure.

Singapore has been moderately successful in stem cell research thus far in part because of the Bush Administration's moritorium on stem cell research. That will change soon. President-Elect Obama is poised to reverse this moritorium.

My prediction? I think this will send a flood of R&D investments back to the US. Singapore will then pay the price of not home-growing talent, and wonder where it all fell apart, and slash its wrists to give more tax incentives, more funding to get these companies to stay. Those that do will probably pay lip service and outsource the least intellectually rigourous parts of the R&D to Singapore, benefiting for the tax rebates while doing most of the heavy-lifting in the US.

As a result, Singapore doesn't benefit one bit from technology trickle-down. Sure, it will make some hue and cry by saying it remains competitive, and earn some tax dollars, but it won't get the ACTUAL benefits of technology and skills transfer.

So there we are again. We're stuck, having sunk 500 million on overpriced facilities that we will be underutilising. Will we ever learn?


PAP Supporter said...

Your glass is half-empty.
Bush banned stem cell research.
Obama allows it.
But there are plenty of benefits with an Obama administration.
Obama pulls out the troops (over 16 months) and demand for oil drops. The price of oil drops. Yay!
You asked will we ever learn?
Well, who is "we"?
Singapore has always been good at two (2) things:
a) Middleman.
b) Copy-paste.
This mystical "R&D" is not on that list and won't be... unless... perhaps we change our modes of learning and perhaps recognize that
knowledge & research are things that we must pay for.
Instead of "copy-paste".
PAP Supporter

Pendragon said...

I guess people are just afraid to make their own mistakes.

Khayce said...

Pap Supporter,

There isn't anything in my article that says that we won't benefit from an Obama administration.

In fact, the article has nothing to do with Obama except for the single act that has changed the environment for biotech research. For the record (and in case I didn't make myself abuntantly clear through my previous posts) I support Obama.

As for the R&D portion of your comment, yes, that was already what I am alluding to. On a whole, Singaporeans are not good at original research.

Yu Sarn said...

Stem cell research is just one form of research. The ethical problem isn't with all forms of stem cell research, but with embryonic stem cells. In fact, new developments in the field of stem cell research focus on adult stem cells, which in some cases has proven to be effective as embryonic stem cells.

I am an optimist as far as changing mindsets is concerned. There are lots of creative Singaporeans out there. It's just that our kiasu attitude has held us back from taking risks and experimenting with new things.

That's why recessions are good for us. People get shaken out of their comfort zones. Suddenly risk-taking doesn't seem so risky after all, when you don't have a job anyway.