Fundamental research in social sciences and humanities important

The recent announcement of more plans for social science and humanities research is truly welcome news ("NTU to split social sciences, humanities"; Nov 1) .

Only when researchers are given the resources to perform fundamental research will science progress.

It may be harder to identify fundamental research in the social sciences and humanities, as opposed to applied research.

But there are cases such as the work of Professor Thomas Piketty on capitalism and inequality that broke new conceptual and theoretical ground while capturing public imagination.

Although research on issues with policy implications, such as ageing and social mobility, should be given attention, fundamental research that penetrates social and economic issues at a more general level should not be neglected.

There are many areas of humanities that Singapore could shore up.

Archaeology is one rare field in which Singapore perhaps lags behind its neighbours.

When Singapore attains a reputation as a place where great projects of world importance can be launched, the best minds in the fields of humanistic studies will consider the universities and institutions of this country when they plan their next move.

Opportunities abound as South-east Asia and the world at large could be open for Singapore's archaeology corps if they are given a boost in funding.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago brought fame to American archaeology and antiquities studies with projects such as the Demotic Egyptian and Assyrian dictionaries, and pioneering aerial surveys of the site of ancient Persepolis (Iran).

The fame they brought to Chicago gave it the prestige to become a leader in a field previously dominated by European institutions.

When Singapore attains a reputation as a place where great projects of world importance can be launched, the best minds in the fields of humanistic studies will consider the universities and institutions of this country when they plan their next move.

This would also enable young Singaporeans to open the doors to the full range of social science and humanities careers right at home.

Only then can the nation's talents be cultivated and nurtured to their fullest potential, in a wider variety of roles.

Leow Wei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'Fundamental research in social sciences and humanities important'. Print Edition | Subscribe