Pride? What Pride?
While everyone’s focused on the future and wondering as to whether there’d be cheers or groans come Budget 2012 on Friday, I’d like to do just the opposite — look at our past and bemoan the lack of any pride in our achievements so far that we have nothing to help us hold our heads high as we move forward as a nation.
To be a bit less cryptic about this opinion I’m trying to express, let me first tell you why I’m sad — it was triggered by a rather amusing piece I read about the Ig Nobel awards, published on cosmiclog.msnbc.com, where it was also reported: “Dutch-Russian physicist Andrei Geim, who received a funny physics prize in 2000 for his experiments in magnetic frog levitation, won a share of the honest-to-goodness Nobel Prize in physics for his work with graphene — thus becoming the first Ig recipient to win a Nobel as well.”
So, why does this news report make me feel so sad?
It’s not about that no Malaysian researchers or scientists were even considered for the Ig Nobel awards, much less the real set issued by the Scandinavian committee in charge of Alfred Nobel’s legacy. Neither it is about the poor focus on science and research within our education system or the community at large.
My sorrow is about the lack of proper recognition for some of the major scientific advances which had actually been achieved by some of our most brilliant people, who had dedicated years of their lives into these thankless pursuits.
I might probably be expecting too much for major rewards to be bestowed on these achievements — who’d ever heard of cars, houses and cash raining down on these really smart individuals or them getting Datukships or Tan Sri status? (I could be wrong on the facts, but I’m sure you know what my drift is.)
In setting my expectations way lower, I simply sought to conduct a Google search on “Malaysian scientific or major achievements” to see just how much of the advances made over the past five decades or so had been documented for posterity. And the search results weren’t pretty — I couldn’t find anything significant and the Malaysian Book of Records online didn’t exactly present what I was hoping to find.
Turning my focus to institutions which should have some form of detailed records in this area, I largely drew a blank at the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation and Sirim Bhd, getting only the barest of details at the Universiti Malaya website.
I won’t bore you with what else I did or could have done to obtain such information in full — this rant is about how sad I feel at having to go through so much trouble in the first place!
Imagine how easy it is for others with way less motivation to easily dismiss Malaysians as being plain useless where it comes to scientific research or just Ig Norant. (A thousand apologies — I simply couldn’t resist the pun!)
What happened to the malaria and dengue research successes from the 1960s and 70s which had helped lead to major health gains for our people at large and in other tropical climes? And to be more up-to-date, what about the research findings that’s now dictating how lightning rods are placed for better protection of buildings — not just in Malaysia but around the world?
Contrast this with Singapore’s Creative Technology Inc — which today remains a hallowed name in computer circles and beyond the world over for coming up with the SoundBlaster card over two decades ago — that has led to our computer projects to have far richer sounds than the original beeps, allowing us to play songs and videos with impunity and turned the PC into the multimedia devices which we enjoy today.
We also fail to recognise the one local organisation that many probably don’t know of now, despite its invaluable contribution to the unfettered online freedom we have today — including the right to post this very rant.
I’m talking about Jaring, which had catapulted Malaysia into the forefront of the Internet era by being one of the first countries in the world almost overnight and offered everyone and anyone within the country access to the Internet back in late 1994, bundling with the subscription package (a mere RM20!) with the world’s first browser called Mosaic.
The truly brave souls who ran Jaring back then did us all a huge favour by persuading former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (whom some might have viewed as dictatorial then) to allow uncensored Internet access to all Malaysians while other countries (including Singapore) sweated about whether to allow any form of limited access to the rapidly growing global online community — and later, how to control their population’s right to all kinds of liberal information and even emails which were monitored closely at some point.
Jaring’s amazing legacy of unfettered Internet access still holds true to a large extent today — except for recently-imposed DNS restrictions on some scandalous sites like Gutter Uncensored (some Malaysian politicians weren’t happy with the sordid exposure and illegal invasion of privacy) and downloading sites (remember MCMC’s ban a few months back) for copyright infringements. What many of us now complain is instead of the slow access speed and bad telcos coverage — rather than being eternally grateful to Jaring that we have any Internet access in the first place.
But, back to the topic of recognition — it’s still lacking for local scientific achievements. Even something so groundbreaking as Universiti Putra Malaysia’s claim that it has discovered a natural compound that can “treat cervical cancer” received a ticking off instead of being lauded! Otherwise, why else would Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai chide UPM for announcing a scientific discovery which the government had yet to endorse — explaining rather unconvincingly that his ministry does not approve any announcement of a scientific discovery before clinical tests are conducted. Isn’t that the very point of the announcement, which UPM had qualified accordingly?
This last example has led me to conclude there must be some underlying selfish motives somewhere — for why else could so many of our scientific achievements be buried by the powers-that-be, remaining obscure historical footnotes while others have gone on reap the handsome benefits?
This stifling or careless dismissal of what should be stuff of our national pride and inspiration for others to go on to achieve even more research advances is the very reason why I’m so sad. I just wish some concerted effort could be made (maybe even among Loyarburokkers for a start) to regain such significant pride for ourselves and the nation.