Take puni­tive mea­sures against aca­demic fraud

The Straits Times - - OPINION - Heng Cho Choon Si­valingam De­nesh

The re­port on aca­demic fraud high­lighted the in­creased risk of doc­tors and sci­en­tists fal­si­fy­ing data in their re­search and doc­toral the­ses (Greater risk of aca­demic fraud as com­pe­ti­tion grows: Ex­perts; Nov 13).

The only com­fort is that mis­con­duct in academia does not seem to be out of con­trol, with spo­radic cases re­ported.

In the United States, the False Claims Act (FCA ) al­lows an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen to file a suit on be­half of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to re­cover awarded funds that were fraud­u­lently ob­tained.

If the suit suc­ceeds, the pri­vate party may re­ceive up to 30 per cent of the gov­ern­ment’s award.

The FCA is an im­por­tant tool for the US gov­ern­ment in fight­ing fraud in fed­eral-funded sci­en­tific re­search.

Last year, Mr Lim Chuan Poh, chair­man of the Agency for Science, Tech­nol­ogy and Re­search, put it suc­cinctly: “We must con­tinue to fos­ter a cul­ture of re­search in­tegrity, while adopt­ing a zero-tol­er­ance at­ti­tude to­wards breaches.

His­tory has shown that re­search mis­con­duct hap­pens in the best of in­sti­tu­tions.”

The re­cent cases of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct seem to in­di­cate that the cul­prits re­signed or were sacked with­out any penalty.

Since pub­lic funds were used, these rogue re­searchers should be fined and/or im­pris­oned as a fu­ture de­ter­rent.

The sad part is that most steps to re­duce re­search mis­con­duct are not very ef­fec­tive.

This is due in part to the ten­dency of uni­ver­si­ties to stonewall and deny any wrong­do­ing.

If uni­ver­si­ties are made to return up to three times the awarded re­search-sup­port sum to the state, then per­haps they would take more pains to scru­ti­nise their re­searchers. There is of­ten the per­cep­tion that a city get­ting more built-up comes at the ex­pense of green­ery, but this is not al­ways true (More rooftop gar­dens, ur­ban farms planned; Nov 10).

It is pos­si­ble to work to­wards the ideal of in­ter­lac­ing both nat­u­ral and man-made en­vi­ron­ments.

Sin­ga­pore’s push to­wards ver­ti­cal green­ery comes with many ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing vis­ual re­lief to passers-by and res­i­dents, who now do not have to travel out of their hous­ing es­tates to ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of na­ture.

In ad­di­tion, Sin­ga­pore is known to be a stop-over for a va­ri­ety of migratory birds, some of which have been ob­served to nest in Hous­ing Board es­tates.

There are sev­eral blocks in Yishun which are fre­quented by the migratory grey wag­tail, for in­stance.

While it is great to see the Gov­ern­ment push­ing for a greener Sin­ga­pore, it is im­per­a­tive that res­i­dents in Sin­ga­pore play a sup­port­ing role in this ini­tia­tive, as well.

For one thing, res­i­dents need to ac­tively main­tain these new com­mu­nal gar­dens to en­sure their sus­tain­abil­ity.

Peo­ple should un­der­stand some of the ba­sics of go­ing green.

For in­stance, they should re­frain from feed­ing wildlife, es­pe­cially birds, that may now call these new green spa­ces home, lest they be­come more in­tru­sive and vi­o­lent in the hope of procur­ing food.

Lastly, Sin­ga­pore­ans should not lit­ter in these new green spa­ces, as this will go against the Gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts in try­ing to pro­mote a cleaner and greener so­ci­ety, and pose a threat to bio­di­ver­sity in the vicin­ity.

As long as the peo­ple and the Gov­ern­ment work hand in hand, Sin­ga­pore’s green foot­print will be greatly im­proved.

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