In Parliament yesterday (15 Oct), DPM Heng Swee Keat said that even as Singapore shifts its focus to economic recovery while its COVID-19 situation stabilises, Singapore needs to stay open and be connected to the world.

As a city, Singapore’s global competition includes cities such as London, New York, Shanghai and Mumbai, said Heng. The other cities have their own hinterlands and can draw talent from large local talents in their country. But Singapore, with its small population has to remain open and draw talents from all over the world.

“We want to make sure that we have the best players in our squad, playing to one another’s strengths, working together as a team,” he said. “This is why we must remain open to the best talents from all over the world. So that we can put forth the best team and step out onto the world stage.”

Top foreign talents in Singapore has allowed locals to collaborate with the best. For example, leading researchers Professor Sir David Lane and Professor Birgitte Lane have provided thought leadership that has spurred Singapore’s advancements in the biomedical sciences, Heng noted.

In his speech, he said that Singapore is making every effort to help its workers upskill and reskill. “The new economy will require workers who are versatile and know how to build on existing skills, embrace lifelong learning, and be able to move between adjacent industry clusters,” he said.

“As a global city competing and collaborating with other global cities, it is crucial that we remain open, and at the same time, invest in our people,” he added. “That way, we remain relevant to the world.”

Fake talents

Indeed, companies and countries are always competing for talents to drive their business and economy, and it’s not wrong for the DPM to suggest that Singapore needs to be open to the “best talents” from all over the world.

However, with news of “fake talents” surfacing in Singapore every now and then, it has certainly cast some doubts in Singapore’s ability to attract the “best talents” to work here.

In 2014, news emerged in the US that a doctor, Anoop Shankar, has falsified his resume claiming that he has a doctorate in epidemiology and has graduated from India’s top medical school when he was 21.

Shankar’s credentials began to unravel after West Virginia University (WVU) in the US handpicked him in 2012 for the first endowed position in a new School of Public Health. What was to have been a routine pre-appointment check revealed that Shankar did not have a doctorate degree, and did not graduate from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. What he does have is only a master’s degree in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina.

But what was even more startling was that he was employed by NUS as an assistant professor at NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine from 2005 to 2008.

A NUS associate professor who knew Shankar told the media that she was taken aback by the allegations as she had not found any reason to question his credentials. When approached by the media, NUS did not want to comment on the matter.

Fake research

And speaking of attracting leading researchers to work in Singapore, in 2009, NTU Prof Ravi Kambadur’s team was awarded up to $10 million in research grants by the Singapore government for his biomedical research which looked into the reprogramming of skin cells to change into muscle cells.

In 2012, his team reported a “discovery”. They said they had found that, by blocking the protein myostatin, muscle growth could be enhanced and fat utilisation in the body could be increased. They also added that this could reduce obesity without the need for strenuous physical exercise, and indirectly protect against type-2 diabetes. Their research was hailed as a breakthrough.

However, in 2016, their research was called into question after investigations by NTU revealed that their data from laboratory experiments had been falsified. NTU did not say how it uncovered the falsifications. All the team’s research papers had to be retracted and withdrawn.

Prof Kambadur’s joint appointments at NTU and A*Star’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences were terminated. Another of his team member, Dr Mridula Sharma who was an associate professor at the NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, was also removed from NUS. Dr Sharma is the wife of Prof Kambadur. And one of Prof Kambadur’s PhD students, Sudarsanareddy Lokireddy, has had his doctorate revoked by NTU.

It’s not known how many “fake talents” are still hiding among the “best talents” Singapore currently has.

 

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