Despite the largely positive response of people here towards science and research, more should be done to bridge the gap between the public and the scientific community, said Nanyang Technological University (NTU) researchers.
Scientists could, for instance, leverage on social media platforms to explain their work or publicise new research findings. These were recommendations made by NTU researchers, Associate Professor Shirley Ho and Assistant Professor Juliana Chan, following a survey on people's views towards science and technology issues in Singapore.
The study, a first of its kind, involved close to 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents who responded to 80 questions online. Slightly over half of the respondents were aged between 35 and 54.
While it found that most respondents supported government funding for research and felt it would help keep the economy competitive, it also showed uneven scientific literacy among the respondents.
AMONG STUDY FINDINGS
• About eight in 10 respondents agreed that science keeps the national economy competitive. About the same proportion backed government funding for R&D in science and technology.
• More than three-quarters agreed that science and technology are making their lives healthier, easier and more comfortable, while only 5 per cent disagreed.
• About six in 10 agreed that the benefits of science and technology outweigh any harmful effects while over one in 10 disagreed. One-quarter of the respondents were neutral.
• While respondents wanted to find out more about science and technology, more than half - 57.8 per cent - wanted to engage with the scientific community. This is compared to about eight in 10 who said they would like the Government to engage them on science and technology issues.
S'pore a bioscience engine but needs more success stories
Singapore has succeeded in building a reputation as a regional powerhouse in biosciences but is still in the early stages when it comes to translating research into commercial outcomes, an industry White Paper has found.
The report, produced by life sciences association BioSingapore in conjunction with a healthcare research consultancy owned by the Economist Intelligence Unit, gathered views from experts in the biomedical industry.
Entitled The Next Lap - Biosciences In Singapore 2025, the report provides an overview of Singapore's bioscience cluster and highlights areas that Singapore can look towards in the next decade. It also lists challenges and opportunities in the industry.
The report noted that since the Government's investment in Singapore's bioscience cluster in 2000, the country has not only developed basic research infrastructure and research capabilities, but has also attracted research and development partnerships from major multinational firms. The bioscience sector also accounted for $30 billion in manufacturing output in 2012 - five times more than in 2000.
However, Singapore still lagged behind other successful bioscience clusters - Israel, Taiwan and South Korea - in terms of commercialisation success, it noted.
The report drew comparisons based on indicators such as the number of corporate spin-offs and the number of licensed patents.
For instance, Singapore filed 104 bioscience patent applications in 2012 compared with Israel, which filed 451, and South Korea, which filed 1,168.
Nonetheless, the report did point out a few examples of successful commercialisation in Singapore, including the drug finafloxacin, used to treat ear infections, which became the first "novel drug" from a Singapore firm to be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration this year.
BioSingapore executive council chairman Simranjit Singh said that commercialisation here is at an early stage, with big gaps in venture funding and management experience in bringing healthcare products to the market.
Moving forward, Singapore has to focus on key areas where it has a distinctive advantage, because of challenges such as limited resources and rising costs, he added.
"As we look ahead to 2025, the bioscience sector should consider how best to create success stories that inspire more bioscience companies to establish and grow in Singapore," he said.
While over 80 per cent knew that the centre of the earth is very hot, many were unaware that antibiotics are effective only against bacteria, and not viruses. Also, while over 80 per cent wanted to engage directly with policymakers, only about 58 per cent wanted to speak directly with scientists.
"It is possible that the general public may be intimidated by scientists and their complex scientific jargon," said Prof Chan who is also editor-in-chief of Asian Scientist Magazine, a print and online science and technology magazine about research and development in Asia. She added: "In general, the science communications landscape is very underdeveloped in Asia - scientists don't tweet, write blogs, or write books for the layman, and there are very few science magazines and professional science writers to help bridge the gap between scientists and the man on the street."
Prof Ho said more respondents may have indicated their preference to engage with policymakers because there are more avenues for them to do so such as Meet-the-People Sessions and social media.
Scientists who use social media to expand their reach include world renowned American physicist Michio Kaku, who has also appeared on many TV shows, speaking about galaxies and physics. The Jane Goodall Institute, founded by prominent primatologist and animal rights activist Jane Goodall, is also active on social media.
While local scientists may not have invested as much in having social media sites of their own, organisations like the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) as well as Science Centre Singapore have programmes to reach out to the public. For example, since last month, A*Star has been conducting talks by its own scientists so that the public can better understand science and how it improves lives.
Topics include "How private is your online personal data?" and how using computer 3D modelling can help diagnose heart disease.
Science Centre Singapore chief executive Lim Tit Meng said there is a moral obligation for scientists to share the outcome of their scientific research and development with the public as they are using large resources to do their work. "More significantly, we want to make the public value and appreciate science and the creative power made possible with STEM (science. technology, engineering and mathematics)," he added.
How science literate are you? http://str.sg/ZaRB