Sunday, May 20, 2007

Challenge selected myths

How To Challenge Selected Myths

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt was the founder chairmen of the Singapore Science Council, Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR), Singapore Standards Council, and a member of Board of Governors of the Singapore Polytechnic for 21 years besides many other appointments and activities. He also created the famous RISIS gold orchid which became a great Singapore souvenir.
He tells me that Benjamin Franklin is one of his hero scientists who inspired him to do many of the things he did in his life. Dr. Lee has been deeply involved in the building of the science infrastructure Singapore needed in the early days of its development. These activities included promotion of science, building scientific, technological and educational institutions. He actively participated in the establishment of organizations and buildings for the application of science and technology for national development. Through the Quality Movement and R & D activities of national and personal interest he introduced and upgraded the technology of our industries. He encountered obstacles in the process but he managed to get many people to work with him. Read the articles in his blog to understand how he managed to do what he did. He challenged and succeeded in overcoming selected myths that stood in his way.

Tan Kin Lian
19th May 2007

Challenging Selected Myths

When Singapore became self governing in 1959 and later as an independent country in 1965, many believed that Singapore cannot survive as an independent nation. Singapore had a referendum in 1963 and voted to join Malaysia because of this belief. Singapore did not have what were considered important to have: natural resources, large population, big hinterland, financial reserves, special technologies and skills in our people. We do not even have water of our own! How are we to eradicate poverty and diseases and provide enough jobs, education and housing for our people having just emerged from a war, a colony and still facing “confrontation” from Indonesia?. These beliefs were very demoralizing and paralyzing to many. Fortunately we have people who dare to challenge some of these myths and beliefs and they were proven right. If we had wrung our hands and complained or cried we would not have the Singapore we have today. We must learn from these people how they did what they did. What we needed was not just capabilities alone but collective confidence in ourselves as a society. Our collective instinctive intuition to do things our way was put to the test. Many discovered how creative they were if only they dared to try. Our successes built up our records and self confidence so important to earn others’ trust in us. This is an essential element for success. Our people have demonstrated that we still have the survivor instinct and spirit in our culture to serve and the survivor instinct we inherited from our forefathers to do the necessary. Yes, there are many who might appear to be doing queer things. Cynics ridicule their ideas and critics criticize their actions. These people persevered. They stuck to their beliefs and proved their points against other formidable beliefs of the time. These people are usually passionate in what they believe in. Their rewards are the satisfaction they get when they succeed.
Besides challenging selected myths we also need dedicated and courageous people who can help improve areas that needed improvement especially in the development of our manpower, selected technologies and other areas that are still controversial. What we lack is not intellectual power and authority alone but enough people who can work together for a good cause to improve the lives of our fellowmen. Many such people have stepped forward for many years. Let us, as a society, continue to attract more of these people to step forward not by money or authority alone but by showing our appreciation and recognition of their work and spirit. Our history is full of the work of these people if we care to look for them. These people still exist in spite of the materialistic world we are fast moving into. Our institutions and mass media should do more to highlight the work of these people. With more such people we can build a great society like the ones we descended from and not just a wealthy one. We must continue to give room and opportunities for these people to play their role and contribute to our society as the famous American scientist Benjamin Franklin did. Who knows, we may throw up a few Benjamin Franklin of our own in the process in the near future.

Lee Kum Tatt
18 May 2007

Benjamin Franklin And His Lightning Rod.

Science taught me that problems will remain as problems if no new solutions were found to solve them. People who choose to stick to the safe middle ground and are comfortable with their routine are not those who will invent the lightning rod which created controversies like Benjamin Franklin did in the mid 18th century. Many houses and churches, made mostly from timber in those days, were burned by fire cause by lightning during a thunderstorm. These fires destroyed many homes and caused considerable hardship and misery to many families. Many people accepted this as a catastrophy caused by nature and that man could do nothing about it. Franklin in his search for a solution wondered what the properties of lightning and thunder bolts were and whether they were the same as electricity. He conducted his famous kite experiment. Few understand how the experiment worked but Franklin’s experiment successfully proved that lightning was actually static electricity. He did not stop there. He used this finding and his knowledge of electricity and invented the lightning rod to protect people’s homes and churches from being burned down by lightning. Instead of acknowledging Franklin’s contribution his invention created some serious controversies for some time.
Many people in Benjamin Franklin’s days used to believe that thunder storms and lightning bolts were acts of God, to discipline sinners and to teach them important lessons. Some also believe that lightening strike trees where devils take refuge. Others believed Satan, his demons and witches tried to destroy God’s holy churches and people’s homes. Many resisted putting an iron rod above or next to the cross on the roof of a church. The sacred explanations were vouched for by leading authorities of the day. Historians have written many books on Benjamin Franklin’s life and his work and this controversy were described in many of them. This Lightning Rod controversy has become as famous as Benjamin Franklin’s Kite experiment. Franklin used his scientific knowledge to prove and solve this particular problem. USA and the world honour this great man for this and his other work. Frankliu’s Kite experiment may look simple but his interpretation of the phenomenon has helped to solve a very complex problem by his invention of the Lightening Rod. The question now is “how do we hope to produce some Benjamin Franklins from our midst?” How can we use modern science to help? Can we be less gullible, challenge some selected myths and refrain from taking too much for granted. Can we also try to be less cynical of other’s ideas and concepts and give them the credit they deserve? Give our potential Benjamin Franklins a fair chance to participate in building our great society. We all have the right to demand this in a free society.

Lee Kum Tatt
19 May 2007

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