After a year of reading thousands of commentaries and millions of words, here’s my pick of Top 10 notable commentaries that appeared in the Straits Times Opinion pages in print or online, in no particular order of merit:
1. 'Singapore respects us as few nations do'
This was a sleeper hit. The article is by Sourav Roy, a professional from India with a German wife, who wrote about why they made Singapore their home.
It struck a chord with many people in Singapore - both locals and foreign visitors. Sourav told me later that he got accosted and hugged by strangers in food courts and the MRT after the article was published, and when it was shared widely online.
Every time I fear that my fellow Singaporeans are getting a bit too resentful of foreigners, I remember this article and the reception it got.
3. Calvin Cheng rebuts critics on Singapore trading freedom for economic success
In the days after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died on March 23, tributes and critiques poured in from all over the world.
One common line of criticism in western media coverage of the event was that Mr Lee had "built Singapore's undeniable economic success while trading off fundamental civil liberties," as Calvin Cheng, media entrepreneur and former Nominated MP, wrote.
He added: "I strenuously object that there has been any such trade-off."
Calvin's riposte was posted first on March 27 at 12.30am on The Straits Times website. It also appeared in media outlets around the world including in Huffington Post and The Independent newspaper’s website in the United Kingdom.
On The Straits Times’ web page alone, the article was shared 65,900 times on Facebook.
An interesting commentary that sheds light on the emerging practice of nursing homes in Johor Bahru catering to the aged sick in Singapore. Janice Tai, who covers the community beat in The Straits Times, also found that the trend of exporting aged care to cheaper neighbouring countries is a global one.
Kishore Mahbubani is a prolific writer, well-known across the world, and I'm glad to have managed to persuade him three years ago to add The Straits Times to the stable of publications he writes for.
He now writes a monthly column in our By Invitation page. His limpid prose belies a penetrating intellect. Despite being a key member of the Singapore public service establishment, he isn't averse to criticising it.
In this piece, the former diplomat calls for the government to change its culture to one of sharing data with citizens. Despite the calm cadence of the sentences, it's a pretty revolutionary call.
Another regular By Invitation columnist is psychiatrist Chong Siow Ann, who is vice-chairman of the medical board (research) at the Institute of Mental Health.
Siow Ann has a literary bent, and reads widely across many disciplines beyond psychiatry and it shows in his writings. His articles on mental health issues show a humanistic sensibility, a sensitivity to the fragility of the human condition.
This article for example is a call for compassion in the way society and families treat homosexuals.
His point in this article: parental reaction to their child coming out as a homosexual person "can significantly influence the young person's self-esteem and irreparably shape his expectations of acceptance or rejection by others outside the family".
Donald Low is a natural when it comes to writing on policy critiques - not surprising given his background as a former Administrative Service officer.
In this commentary, he analyses the challenge that car-sharing apps like Uber pose to regulators and argues that there is no need for regulators to step in when there is no market failure, and when risks are minimal. "Regulation should not exist to protect incumbents. Neither should there be a presumption that just because an activity poses some risks to safety, regulators must step in."
Donald's argument on the limits of regulation apply beyond Uber, to other kinds of disruptive practices.
The point was picked up by Singapore Business Federation CEO Ho Meng Kit, who noted in a Business Times article lamenting the slow pace of innovation among companies: "Our regulatory position towards these car-sharing apps – as unimportant as they may be to our overall competitiveness – sends an important signal of whether the authorities in Singapore stand on the side of competition and consumer choice, or on the side of regulation and protection of incumbent firms."
One of my personal favourites is a commentary by two university professors telling their colleagues no one is reading their research paper, and encouraging them to write newspaper commentaries.
Asit K. Biswas and Julian Kirchherr wrote: "Up to 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually. However, many are ignored even within scientific communities - 82 per cent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once.
"No one ever refers to 32 per cent of the peer-reviewed articles in the social and 27 per cent in the natural sciences.
"If a paper is cited, this does not imply it has actually been read. According to one estimate, only 20 per cent of papers cited have actually been read.
"We estimate that an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely by no more than 10 people."
Spend months writing an article read by 10? In contrast, an article for a newspaper that might take an academic three hours to put together (summing up research he had done) can be read by tens or hundreds of thousands. Including their peers, their bosses, their university president, policy makers, donors and ministers.
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