Tuesday, December 11, 2007

letters to the editor

I've written 89 pages so far and my brain has been milked dry.

While procastinating, I wrote a letter to the editor of SCMP. The ended up publishing a severely edited version.

In response to a previous letter regarding the level of science education in Hong Kong, I agree that it is a shame that there isn’t more funding available for students to learn the practical side of science. Being a PhD student at the University of Hong Kong, I would hope that my children would have the opportunity to learn the practical side of science. This would require a laboratory equipped with the apparatus for experiments to facilitate an understanding of ‘how things work’ and how to apply that knowledge creatively. Science has been progressing at a rapid rate in the past decade and high school education needs to account for it.

However with this letter, I would like to state there is little point in pursuing a career in science in Hong Kong. Yes, this is a cosmopolitan world city, but hardly a place for nurturing scientific talent. From 2000-2005, Singapore and Japan invested 2.25% and 3.14% of GDP in R&D per year, respectively, compared with Hong Kong's reported figure of 0.60%. To put this in perspective, HK spends proportionately less on R&D than Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Uganda and Morocco. The PhD student stipend at HKU has decreased more than 20% since 1998. The reality of a career in science is that 10 years of your life will be spent contributing to a better understanding of the cognitive world. Then by the time you have received a doctorate, you have no savings and you will feel like a career in retail or foodservice would’ve held more promise. Actually I don’t feel all that, but I am trying to make a point. However, if I did have a child, I would tell them to steer clear of science and go into another field where passion, tenacity, creativity and innovation are valued in today’s society. Science throughout history has had a checkered reputation indeed, but for much of the Twentieth Century, it was hallowed educational ground, and top scientists really enjoyed rock-star status. Whilst this is still somewhat the case in Europe and the USA, it has been tempered a good deal. In Hong Kong, however, it would be pure delusion.

I still believe in science and I respect the accomplishments that have been and continue to be made. Advances in science directly affect how we experience life. So why is it that society places such little value on it? Perhaps it is too abstract; scientists only have to communicate with other scientists, but rarely with the public. Like any sector, it should be marketed to gain appeal. Or perhaps scientists don’t bother complaining. It would be interesting if the local (because they do in other parts of the world) hospital and university staff went on strike in the same way as Hollywood writers or ESF teachers, perhaps in the wake of the next outbreak. However, the fact remains, that this government should invest more in research and development; create platforms for seeding new biotech or knowledge service spin-off companies that could capture new markets in China. Entrepreneurial enterprise should be nurtured with more effort should be made to commercialize such knowledge. And of course, the people that have committed to this field should be rewarded appropriately.

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