24 February 2007

A Zeroth World Singapore

Splashed over headlines of today's newspapers is a story about Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's speech at the Tanjong Pagar Chinese New Year dinner, envisioning Singapore in "the upper half of the First World" in "10 to 20 years". A very bold prediction, but how likely is it to happen?

The whole article highlights, building on MM Lee's speech, the economical and infrastructural developments Singapore has achieved to move towards this direction, which I must admit is pretty impressive. There's the Esplanade to drive the arts scene in Singapore, to the residences inside the city area to diversify the character of the CBD, there is little doubt that, in these aspects, Singapore can reach the standards of New York, London or Paris - cities MM Lee cited as Singapore's goals.

But I think the greatest barrier to this dream comes not in the economic aspect but in the social part. Becoming New York or Paris means embracing diversity and allow nonconformities, celebrate mavericks and encouraging differences. Are we ready to let go of our "conservativeness", the oft cited reason for the presence of anti-gay sex laws? Note that it does not mean that people should not be conservative; it means that society as a whole should have space for both people with conservative thoughts as well as people with liberal ideas.

Are we ready to not look down on people who chooses a different path in life? That is, not the typical "study study study and get a degree" path, but one which sees people dropping their studies for their dreams, such as - or in fact, especially - in the performing arts, where it has been traditionally viewed as a dead end.

Are we ready to recognise people who does not have a degree? Are we ready to commend not just "degree-less" people who are successful, but also anyone else who tries to be? Are we ready to see failures as just another facet of life, something that everyone should have no qualms about making?

Are we ready to not just tolerate but welcome other religions - not just state-sanctioned ones - and beliefs? Are we ready to accept gays, lesbians and bisexuals? Are we ready not to laugh or make jokes about effeminate men or tomboyish girls? Are we ready for people kissing (heterosexual and homosexual) in the public without others getting offended and write to the newspapers to complain?

The answer to these questions, I believe, parallels that of the acceptance of revolutionary ideas in science. Max Planck has a quote which describes this very well.

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - Max Planck

Is Singapore ready? I think not in 10 or 20 years' time.

03 February 2007

The Oily Business in Global Warming

Yesterday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published their fourth assessment report, concluding that global warming is indeed occurring, and is likely to be the result of human activities. That's what environmentalists have been arguing for years, but now with some scientific heavyweight behind them.

But does that mean global warming will be the focus of governments around the world? It's not gonna be easy, judging by where the money lies...

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday February 2, 2007
The Guardian

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

(Click here for the full article.)

From an academic viewpoint, this is blatantly wrong (though this is probably the norm in politics and business). It's not wrong because it opposes an academic body. It's not wrong because "global warming is a fact and their activities are harming the environment", which is what they are trying to dispute in the first place. It's not wrong because they only care about their profits.

What is wrong with it is the fact that they "select" the results. That's not how things should be done. Academic research is not carried out like that. Yes, one can start with the hypothesis or proposition that global warming is natural (i.e. not caused by human, or at least oil companies), but if it turns out to be otherwise, one has to just accept it. If one doesn't, it can be considered academic fraud. Imagine the pressure on the scientist to do so if he/she knew that $10000 is appended to the equation.

But then, what I've described above is the ideal scientific method, a code in which all scientist should adhere to. In real life, however...

That's the sad fact in life. And I believe it won't be long before we see some papers on what ExxonMobil wants. Well, at least Shell acknowledges global warming...