The small number of people reading academic papers has become an accepted fact in Singapore and in most of the world, partly due to an opinion piece in The Straits Times in 2015 titled Prof, No One Is Reading You. The piece went viral in Singapore and the rest of the world.
A related and equally big problem is that few technologies emerge from academic papers, raising further questions about the value of these papers. For example, an analysis of the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Billion Dollar Start-up Club by one of the contributors of this opinion piece found that only 11 of the 143 members cited more than 10 science or engineering papers in their patents.
Instead, the content of the patents suggested that members of these start-ups were monitoring improvements in Internet speed, smartphones, and electronic components – the types of trends that are emphasised by practitioner blogs and websites and not by academic journal articles. They are monitoring these trends because most of the new products and services offered by members of the WSJ’s Billion Dollar Start-up Club are Internet-related services, such as smartphone apps and new forms of electronic commerce that have emerged through improvements in Internet speed and cost rather than through recent advances in science. This suggests that engineering professors, as well as those from other fields, should spend more time on these issues in the classroom and less time covering the concepts reported in academic papers.
Asit K. Biswas is founder and president of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the LKY School.Prof Jeffrey Funk is recently retired from the National University of Singapore (NUS) as Associate Professor of Technology Management.
This article was first published on The Straits Times on 8 February 2017.