NUS' disrespectful reference to Lee Kuan Yew

~by: Jewel Philemon~

National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences announced a public seminar titled ‘Fragmentation and Land Use Change: Impacts on Tropical Forest Diversity’. Luke Gibson, a graduate student of the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS is the speaker for this seminar.

Providing an abstract of the seminar, Mr Gibson said:

“Forest loss and fragmentation increasingly threaten biodiversity, particularly in tropical forests where both species diversity and human pressures on natural environments are high. The rapid conversion of tropical forests for agriculture, timber production and other uses has generated vast human-dominated landscapes with potentially dire consequences for tropical biodiversity. Using a meta-analysis, I first provide a global assessment of the impact of disturbance and forest conversion on biodiversity in tropical forests. Although there was some variation across geographic regions, taxonomic groups, ecological metrics, and disturbance types, forest degradation and conversion consistently reduced tropical biodiversity. Consequently, the protection of primary forests must represent a top conservation priority. Ongoing forest loss and conversion has also resulted in widespread fragmentation of tropical forest ecosystems, which represents another pressing threat to biodiversity. In the second component of my research, I will study the impact of fragmentation on mammal communities in a large reservoir in southern Thailand (Dam Lee Kuan Yew). A previous study documented a crash in small mammal species richness and genetic diversity on islands in the reservoir just 5-7 years following isolation. I will resurvey the same populations to identify further changes in richness and genetic diversity after an additional 20 years of isolation. With this historical comparison, my research can be used to calculate the rates of ecosystem collapse and genetic erosion, which can then be applied to the management of wildlife populations in small isolated ature reserves. I will also survey bats and large mammals and compare the responses of different mammal groups with different dispersal abilities. Finally, I will examine the ecological role of small mammals as dispersers of mycorrhizal fungi, and the effect of forest fragmentation on this important ecosystem function. These comprehensive studies – covering multiple disturbance types in a global meta-analysis and incorporating the full response and function of mammals in a fragmented forest system – will together provide a broad and detailed understanding of two of the major threats to tropical biodiversity.”

The invitation for this seminar was sent to staff, faculty and graduate students.  A TOC reader who got the invitation for this seminar took offense with the part “I will study the impact of fragmentation on mammal communities in a large reservoir in southern Thailand (Dam Lee Kuan Yew)”, from the abstract. The reader said:

“This is a public seminar announcement and the individual has inserted an inflammatory remark about the ex-Minister Mentor. I have my views on both opposition and the ruling party but after all that is said and done, the ex-Minister Mentor did build this country along with its people. Foreigner’s have the right to have an opinion but there is a respectful way of communicating this in any country.” (sic)

TOC wrote to the NUS to enquire on this and Mr Paul Thomas Matsudaira, Head of Biological Sciences Department replied and said:

“I too agree that for whatever reason, the reference to our Minister Mentor is disrespectful to him, his legacy, and to the Singapore people. As Head and on behalf of my department, I take responsibility for the actions of those in my department and apologize for the inappropriate wording of the abstract. I have spoken to Luke. While intending the remark as a joke that was not meant to be disrespectful, he acknowledged that it was a mistake. The department has corrected the announcement and will send an apology from Luke and myself to those in the email list.”