By Prof Ir Dr Dominic CY Foo
This year (2020) marks the 25th anniversary for the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), a statutory body which was founded in 1995. The academy had originally planned various activities at the beginning of the year to have a grand jubilee celebration. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most celebrations have now been shelved. Probably, most lay people do not understand the role of ASM, or are even aware that this statutory body was enacted under the ASM Act 1994.
Within the academic community, many regard the ASM as an "old folks home". The reason is obvious, being that most ASM Fellows and Senior Fellows are retired professionals, with an average age of more than 60 years. Nevertheless, there is also a group of young people within ASM, i.e. the Young Scientist Network (ASM-YSN). The latter is a very active group consisting of young scientists in 8 working groups, working to address various national agendas.
Even though ASM does not appear frequently in the main stream media, it does play its role as a think tank to provide advice to the government on matters related to science, engineering and technology. One of the annual activities of ASM is the evaluation and selection of Top Research Scientist Malaysia (TRSM). Besides, it also carried out some flagship studies such as Malaysia 2050, emerging technologies (blueprints for rare earth, fuel cells, etc.), sustainable sciences, etc. Apart from that, it has also carried out commissioned studies for government ministries, such as the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2021-30, Mid-Term Review of Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education), Impact Study of the Implementation of the Malaysian Research Universities. Some may also be aware of the feasibility study of the Local & Transboundary Pollution Act. A final report has been submitted by ASM last February to the ex-minister of MESTECC (Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change) – YB Puan Yeo Bee Yin, who is said to have obtained the green light from the cabinet to formulate a transboundary haze law. Nevertheless, with the reorganization of government ministries, it is unclear whether the government will still enforce this law in the coming months.
In the past two months, many ASM Fellows and Senior Fellows have been doing their best (in various capacities) to support the government in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of Movement Control Order (MCO), the ASM Secretary General – Datuk Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, who is also an epidemiologist with the University of Malaya, persuaded the government to extend the MCO to at least 6 weeks in order to see a significant result. He is indeed correct and we have witnessed the MCO being extended twice, before the daily new COVID-19 cases dropped to below 100 in mid-April. Datuk Prof Awang now heads a national task force formed by MOSTI to look into the epidemiological analyses and projections for COVID-19. ASM has also established a Special Interest Group (SIG) on COVID-19, which comprises of Fellows, TRSM and YSN-ASM members to review key research findings around the world and to produce fact sheets to help the public understand the implications and limitations of the relevant research studies (may be found on ASM website). We also saw some ASM experts on several online forums with YB Khairy Jamaluddin, the new Minister for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), to discuss the various strategies in adapting to the new norm post COVID-19.
To raise the public awareness of ASM, the academy has initiated some public seminars, known as FAScinate talks since the end of 2019. These seminars have the same format as TED talks, which is limited to 18 minutes for their total duration. Some of the newly appointed ASM Fellows in 2019, including myself were among the speakers for the inaugural FAScinate talk in Nov 2019. The six FAScinate talks covered topics as diverse as climate change, dengue fever, sewage treatment, etc. and all of them can be found on YouTube.
In the post-MCO period, I hope that ASM can continue to play its role as an important think tank for the country, in restoring its economic and social security, as well as to strengthen its role in matters related to science, engineering and technology.
(Prof Ir Dr Dominic CY Foo, FASc is Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia.)