Editor’s Picks: Top 10 Opinion articles of 2015

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'

(From right) Mr Sourav Roy, an Indian media and marketing professional, together with his wife Katharina Muller Sang (centre). With them is one of their two children, Chetan Julian. Another child, Anasuya is not in the photo. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SOURAV ROY

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.

Read more here.

2. Analysing train breakdowns, line by line

Veteran transport correspondent Christopher Tan has seen it all: MRT breakdowns, bus model changes, boardroom battles in transport companies.

In this analysis published in March 2015, he pointed to a simple fact: when a car breaks down frequently, it is either not well maintained, or not well built.

Using this framework, he went through each of the MRT lines and concluded:

- Problems in the old lines like the North-South and East-West lines have to do with ageing and maintenance.

- Problems in the newer lines like Downtown Line and Circle Lines may have to do with quality issues from the start.

- The LRT's persistent unreliability raises the question of whether we are expecting a Lada to perform like a Toyota. Might it be better to scrap the Lada?

His analysis was written nine months ago, but I'm betting it will remain relevant for another nine years.

Read more here.

3. Calvin Cheng rebuts critics on Singapore trading freedom for economic success

The Singapore skyline. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

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.

Read more here.

4. Is Grandma destined for export to Johor Baru?


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. 

Retire in idyllic Bintan, anyone?

Read more here.

5. It's the tiny things in the haze, not its look or smell, that matter


This timely, informative piece by Straits Times reporter Linette Lai on the particles that make up the haze came at the right time and was widely shared as a result.

Read more here.

6. Trust the people, share government data


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.

Read more here.

7. Coming out: How parents react is crucial

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".

Read more here.

8. Uber: To regulate or not to regulate?


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."

Read more here.

9. Field notes

This year, we started a new series in the Opinion pages. Titled Field Notes, it devotes one page each Saturday to a news feature from our bureaus overseas. They pick out unusual issues to write on.

One week we featured the trend of young urbanites in China returning to their home villages to set up new businesses - like a cockroach farm (yes, you read that right).

Another week we had a piece on how fortune telling and politics mix in Thailand.

The series of articles can be found here.

10. Prof, no one is reading you

Students at a University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School lecture in San Francisco. Even if scholars agree on the importance of publishing in the popular media, the system plays against them. Publications in peer-reviewed journals continue to be the
Students at a University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School lecture in San Francisco. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

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.

Academics reading this, you're welcome to send commentaries to stopinion@sph.com.sg.

Keep them short and to the point, like this one by Asit and Julian, and you might just change the world. Or at least one tiny corner of it.

Read more here.

To all who wrote articles for us, who read them and shared them: Thank You and a Happy, Healthy New Year!