Archive for the ‘Singapore’ Category

Lee Kwan Yew: A case of a wise, benevolent dictatorship achieving what democracy could not

March 23, 2015

I have great admiration for what Lee Kwan Yew achieved for Singapore and for Singaporeans as a virtual dictator. I do not see that any “open democracy” could have achieved anything remotely similar. He became Prime Minister in 1959, campaigned for the merger with Malaysia which took place in 1963 and then oversaw the separation from Malaysia in 1965. He stepped down in 1990 and continued as an advisory “Senior Minister” till 2004 and then as “Minister Mentor” till 2011. He was effectively the Dictator of Singapore for over 40 years. The comparisons with Malaysia provide a picture of what “democracy” would not have brought – and could not have brought – to Singapore.

As part of a “democratic” Malaysia, the ethnic-Chinese would have been stifled by the Malays and their success would have rankled and they would have been constrained if not repressed. It would have been a case of oppression of a very able minority by a much less capable majority as is the case in Malaysia today. The separation from Malaysia ensured that the ethnic-Chinese majority in Singapore were not stifled by being a minority in Malaysia. That, with Lee’s vision, provided a lift not only for themselves but also for the Malaysian economy.

The one thing I feel that escaped him was the establishment of a pluralistic democracy to succeed him. If he had ensured that he could only be succeeded by equally able dictators, it would not matter.

Lee Kwan Yew built Singapore. He also put in place all the trappings of a multi-party democracy but was effectively the benevolent dictator who controlled every aspect of life for over 40 years (31 years officially as Prime Minister and for a decade afterwards).

But the institutions he set up for legislative representation and the judiciary are all somewhat nullified when the current reality is one of a single party, ruling in a quite authoritarian style under the cloak of a pluralistic democracy. The ruling party has been quite ruthless in using legalities and a compliant judiciary to exclude rival political parties as soon as they begin to show any signs of becoming popular.

What he leaves behind is a one-party “democracy”, “but Lee Kwan Yew’s legacy will not be so easily  overturned when the majority perceive – as they do – that they have it “pretty good”  and maintaining the status quo is far better than the uncertain benefits of an increased level of freedom”.

This is not meant to be an obituary for Lee Kwan Yew. There are plenty of those: here and here for example. What his death reminds me is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a dictatorship as a political system. And it is not certain that any democracy must be “better” than a dictatorship. In fact I am inclined to think that any democracy needs subordinated “dictatorships” to be able to function.

In any situation where there are many courses of action, there has to be a course of action that is “best”. The “best” course of action – by any definition – in any type of society or gathering of humans is – per force – a minority view. A “democracy” in any gathering gives no assurance that the “best” actions will guide or lead that gathering – only that the majority view will prevail. It can only be a very rare coincidence that the “majority view” coincides with the “best view” of actions to be taken. Every corporate manager is required to be something of a dictator. It is his selection which determines whether he is one of the “best” for the situation he is to manage. The good managers are those dictators who lead and manage to carry their constituencies along. The US President is given some dictatorial powers for the duration of his term. It is the selection of the President which must determine whether he is any good but the democratic process does not necessarily select the “best”. It is the fundamental weakness of democracies that the “majority views” which prevail have no necessary connection to the “correct view” or the “best view”.

Maybe Lee Kwan Yew was just an accident – the right person for the times. But he surely was a wise and benevolent dictator. So I am led to conclude that while democracies avoid the worst they will almost never provide the best. Democracies are great levellers – but they level down. Like evolution, they do not drive towards excellence; they settle for the “good enough”. It is with a dictatorship – however constrained – that one may get a chance for the best.


Melendez challenges murky process at National University of Singapore

October 24, 2013

Alirio Melendez has not distinguished himself by his less than rigorous supervision of research carried out under him. So much so that 13 of his papers have been retracted and there be many more retractions to come. But the National University of Singapore has also shown itself to be less than transparent in handling cases of alleged misconduct. And now Melendez, while acknowledging his failings in supervising research, challenges the NUS on two counts; first for not being specifically able to detail any misconduct directly by him and secondly for its “unfair” process of investigation which ignored his submissions. Retraction Watch has been following the case(s).

Now the murky story reaches the Nature News Blog. The National University of Singapore does not come out of all this very well. When there is muck – they first try to hide it. If that doesn’t work they carry out opaque investigations and political considerations and protecting the “reputation” of the University seem to take priority.

An immunologist accused last year by the National University of Singapore (NUS) of “serious scientific misconduct” relating to 21 research papers says that he refutes the accusations and is calling on the university to make public its report into the matter.

“I categorically deny having been party to any fraudulent or scientific misconduct,” Alirio Melendez, who worked at NUS before joining the University of Glasgow and the University of Liverpool in the UK, wrote on a new website on 16 October, and at the site Retraction Watch, which has been tracking the case.

Melendez has maintained for two years that he is not to blame for the problems found in papers that he co-authored. Yet in December 2012, NUS said that a committee report had found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct. Or as Melendez sees it: “without showing any proof whatsoever that I am the guilty party for scientific fraud”.

Thirteen of those papers have now been retracted, and Melendez concedes that as corresponding author he is at fault for signing off the work without overseeing it adequately — a form of misconduct in itself. But in seven of the papers in which NUS found irregularities, he stated last week, he did not contribute data generation, analysis or any part of the manuscript writing.

So far, Melendez’s counterclaims have lacked convincing detail. That is, in part, because neither Melendez nor NUS would provide details of the papers, nor the committee report. Now, Melendez tells Nature that he will shortly post a “paper-by-paper response” on his website, but that it will be his “personal statement” on the papers, not the whole report. “Since this report is confidential I cannot publish it myself without NUS permission,” he claims. ……. 

……. There is also dispute about whether Melendez’s concerns have been given a fair confidential hearing by  NUS. The university says that it “conducted interviews with as many authors as possible” and that Melendez declined responses when a committee visited the United Kingdom in 2011 (which Melendez puts down to ill health).

Melendez says that last year, he did send two replies to the NUS investigation, but that they did not take these responses into consideration for their final report. The NUS spokesperson agrees, and says that Melendez’s responses in 2012 did not address the irregularities that NUS found and were also not sent in time for the deadlines that the university allowed, as guided by its research integrity code. Therefore, they “were not considered part of the record of the inquiry”. But Melendez says he was never made aware of this.

There would seem to be a whole lot of muck hiding under the carpets of the National University of Singapore and while the dirt may be invisible, the smell is spreading.

“Serious scientific misconduct” but NUS tries to brush it all under the carpet

December 21, 2012

The National University of Singapore is not going to win any prizes for transparency.

It is perfectly understandable that they would like that the massive “serious scientific misconduct” by Alirio Menendez had never occurred but they would seem still be in a state of denial when they refuse to reveal any details. Some 70 of his papers were suspect  and the NUS admits that more than 20 papers are involved but say little else. The NUS – which is desperately trying to buy its way to a reputation – would do better to take a lead in being transparent and – as Retraction Watch points out – follow the example of  “University of ConnecticutErasmus Medical CenterTilburg University, and others who’ve been involved in high-profile misconduct cases”.

Retraction Watch has this update on the Melendez saga:

Alirio Melendez, a former National University of Singapore immunologist whose story we’ve been following here since a retraction in September of last year, committed misconduct on an “unprecedented” scale, according to the university, involving more than 20 papers.

Nature’s Richard van Noorden has the scoop:

After a 19-month investigation, the National University of Singapore (NUS) today says that it has determined that one of its former scientists, the immunologist Alirio Melendez, has committed “serious scientific misconduct”.  The university found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct, it says.

Melendez has retracted five papers so far, as we’ve reported, but NUS wouldn’t give the whole list. They tell Nature:

“It’s standard procedure that for research-misconduct investigations such a report and the list of papers would be kept confidential,” an NUS spokesperson explained to Nature. She said that the university is now contacting journal editors and co-authors about each of the papers involved, and added that normally the university would not make a public statement at all, but in this case “the scientific misconduct uncovered was unprecedented”. When asked whether the report would remain permanently under wraps, she added: “I don’t think it will be released at a later date.”

Translation: Well, there you have it, folks, please move along, nothing to see here. It’s “standard procedure” to sweep misconduct investigations under the carpet, so we’ll just keep doing things our way, thank you very much. We released a statement this time because the misconduct was “unprecedented.” But misconduct with precedent? We’re not going to release reports about that.

National University of Singapore exonerates Yoshiaki Ito of misconduct

November 15, 2011

Not entirely unexpected that Yoshiaki Ito would be exonerated by the National University of Singapore but the speed of the investigation and the exoneration is noteworthy.


The National University of Singapore (NUS) announced today that it has found no evidence of research misconduct by Yoshiaki Ito, a high-profile cancer researcher accused of data fabrication. However, the finding does not resolve the underlying—and long-running—scientific dispute over whether a gene known as Runx3 is a tumor suppressor.


Investigations of misconduct at Singapore need to be seen to be impartial

November 7, 2011

The saga of potential misconduct at the National University of Singapore continues to escalate with further questionable papers regularly being identified by “whistleblowers” to Abnormal Science (Joerg Zwirner).

But the investigations initiated by the University are not totally above criticism especially as Prof. Barry Haliwell the Vice President at the University and responsible for these investigations is himself facing allegations of self-plagiarism and is a co-author on some of the questionable papers. There is an urgent need for some outside participation in the investigations to ensure independence and impartiality. My current perception is that the objective of the investigation will over-ridingly be to save the reputation of the University (any by extension of the government of Singapore) and that the investigation committee will be heavily blinkered. Since the government has effectively been trying to short-cut its way to a scientific reputation by “buying in” researchers, there is little chance that the investigations – as they are set up now – will not be contaminated by government meddling.

As Abnormal Science comments:

A more stringent management of quality and integrity issues in experimental (medical ) research needs to take center stage at NUS. Vice president Prof. Halliwell  is in charge of the Office of Research and Technology at NUS,  and therefore responsible for driving the University’s research agenda. Unfortunately, he also appears to handle issues related to science integrity at NUS himself. This constellation constitutes an inacceptable accumulation of responsibilities and should be banned since it carries the potential for conflict of interest. Prof. Halliwell, you might want to take a leave of absence from your position as vice president until these issues (including the allegation of self-plagiarism) have been resolved.

More dodgy papers for National University of Singapore to investigate

October 24, 2011

Update: 31st October 2011: Further dodgy papers are given in the next instalment from Abnormal Science.

Japanese Retraction Watch has also been on the case.


Abnormal Science ( Joerg Zwirner) has 3 more examples of papers with some questionable images. This time the papers are from the Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore with 2 papers published in Blood and one in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The three papers tagged are:

1. Pervaiz S, Seyed MA, Hirpara JL, Clément MV, Loh KW.
Purified photoproducts of merocyanine 540 trigger cytochrome C release and caspase 8-dependent apoptosis in human leukemia and melanoma cells.
Blood. 1999 Jun 15;93(12):4096-108.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore; and the Oncology Research Institute, NUMI, Singapore

2. Hirpara JL, Seyed MA, Loh KW, Dong H, Kini RM, Pervaiz S.
Induction of mitochondrial permeability transition and cytochrome C release in the absence of caspase activation is insufficient for effective apoptosis in human leukemia cells.
Blood. 2000 Mar 1;95(5):1773-80.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

3. Hirpara JL, Clément MV, Pervaiz S.
Intracellular acidification triggered by mitochondrial-derived hydrogen peroxide is an effector mechanism for drug-induced apoptosis in tumor cells.
J Biol Chem. 2001 Jan 5;276(1):514-21.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The two names common to all 3 papers are JL Hirpara and research supervisor Professor Shazib Pervaiz.

The NUS investigation committee has its work cut out with all the questionable papers they need to check out (See here and here).

As Abnormal Science puts it:

Their inquiry commissions might soon run out of unbiased members. NUS should consider to accept assistance from abroad to clean up the mess.

And it seems to be truly a mess covering a number of departments which indicates a prevailing culture and not just some isolated incident of wrongdoing.

Academic Pandora’s box in Singapore well and truly open as more allegations of misconduct surface

October 20, 2011

Skeletons seem to be tumbling out of the Singapore academic closet thick and fast as one allegation follows hot on the heels of the last. Previous revelations are here, and here.

1. Abnormal Science reports that another whistleblower has appeared and has pointed out image irregularities (image manipulations?) in two more publications, both from  the Department of Pharmacology, National University of Singapore. Abnormal Science.

2. From the Straits Times (h/t as pointed out by an Abnormal Science reader) it is reported that a famous cancer scientist in Singapore is having his work challenged. If Prof. Yoshiaki Ito’s work is found to be flawed then some 200 other publications based on his results would be thrown into doubt.

The Times article is behind a pay wall but Asia News Net  carries the article (more…)

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