The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The value of Science in Singapore

Singapore is a materialist nation. Just how materialist became clear to me today.

We were attending a biomedical science lecture, with Ainan, 7, and after the lecture we were given a tour of the lab facilities. Outside one particular lab, the scientist in question asked the audience for their questions.

There was a pause while people collected their thoughts - and then the questions began. In the context of a science lecture and a science lab, I expected scientific questions - but that is not what came from the audience.

The first question was: "How much is the budget of this department?"

The scientist deflected the question.

The second question: "How much do these prosthetics cost?"

He answered it: "A piece this size is about 2,000 dollars."

The third question: "What is the value added here?"

Answer: "They sell for about 5,000 dollars."

No-one but us asked any questions that were scientific. We asked ones about the nature of research done - after the crowd had moved on.

Science in Singapore has, for most of the population, no value apart from the money it can make. I am not being critical of the people who asked these questions: I am just observing that their values are purely economic. They don't see value in science for science's sake. True scientists, of course, see value in science itself; value in the pursuit of knowledge, understanding and insight of the world. Yet, in Singapore, nothing, really has any value unless a dollar sign can be attached to it.

The adults in the audience were all parents of children who were interested in science. Yet, the parents' interest was purely and clearly: how much money will my child make if they go into science? The question about departmental budget was an indirect reference to how much money the scientists themselves are likely to make.

There was another question that I omitted to mention - one about turnover. "How many of these do you sell?" I took it to mean per year - and so did he.

He answered. There were no more questions. The audience had managed to assess the financial possibilities of this particular science department.

The exchange was, for me, the most unexpected of things to happen. It never occurred to me that the obsession over money extended so deeply into the local population that science, itself, had no value apart from the economic ones.

I grew up to believe in the value of science for science's sake. It is a value that I assumed all scientists to have. However, perhaps I should revise that opinion. Perhaps in some parts of the world, the only value of science, is in dollar terms.

The question then is, of course: if science is only valued in terms of dollars - would the resulting science - pursued for economic reasons alone - have any true value as science? It may be that pursuit of dollars, alone, might prevent the pursuit of higher, deeper truths. It may be that dollar-driven science might overlook everything that is of lasting importance in science. That danger has clearly not occurred to Singaporeans. The only scientific danger here is that it just might not pay as much as banking.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and nine months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and two months, and Tiarnan, nineteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:19 PM 


Anonymous Bee Yong said...

I agree with you. Your comments about Singapore is quite apt, in most of your articles.

I am not at all surprised by the questions posed by the parents.

Sad to say, most of the government policies implemented here are driven by economic reasons.

For instance, the Chinese youngsters are encouraged to master the Chinese Language not because they need to know their roots, but because of the booming economy in China. For many, many years, the dialects have been banned from being used in the mass media (TV, radio). It is unfortunate that the senior citizens here can't even enjoy their ripe old age watching TV programmes in their familiar language. It is also a saddening fact that my parents cannot communicate well with my kids because of language barrier (my parents speak dialect, while my kids speak mainly English and Chinese). Because of economic reasons, the needs of a whole generation of old folks are somehow sacrificed!

11:41 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It seems to me that a culture cannot be built on the dollar alone. Without all the rest (attitudes, arts, culture, compassion, care, concern, warmth, friendliness, humanity, intellectualism, cosmopolitanism...etc.) only the most unsatisfactory and shallow of results are possible.

Money helps you live well - but it is not and should not be, the sole value by which everything is measured. That way lies emptiness.

Thank you for sharing the sad experience of your parents' generation, cut off from the future.

Best wishes

6:34 PM  

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