I read with interest the recent disagreement between an expert panel of drainage experts and the National Environment Agency (NEA) with respect to the annual rainfall trends. No discernable trend, sez the NEA. But the expert panel disagreed. You can almost see Prof Lui Pao Chuen shaking his head in disbelief. According to the panel, the annual rainfall has actually been increasing at about 15mm per year between 1968 and 2008.
And it's my turn to shake my head in disbelief. How can something so fundamental be in dispute? I mean, I can understand differences in scientific perspectives and theories, but the interpretation of hard numbers?? There is either a trend or not. How can there be such a fundamental disagreement about whether the rainfall is going up or not?
Intuitively, and not having access to the detailed data, I am more inclined to believe the expert panel. Global warming has been melting the ice caps. There is just so much more water circulating in the environment. Sea levels are rising and projected to rise even more. Surely more rain is cycling through the atmosphere. The increasing spate of ponding, oops, sorry, flooding says a lot about how much more rain has been falling.
It kinda makes me question what's happening at the NEA. How are they, and have they been examining the data they have been collecting? Can we trust their projections for the future? And can we trust any assurances that they are adequately preparing for the future?
This is just one of the indications that we really need our agencies to provide more publicly available information. Hitherto, the public has been trained to accept sanitized proclamations from our public agencies that all is well with the world, and Singapore, and that we should trust only their interpretation of fragmented and cryptic data shown to the public.
This is not acceptable any more.
This episode speaks volumes about why we need data to be made available to the public so that they can be scrutinized independently. More eyes are always better. French philosopher Henri Bergson said, “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” How true.
In this case, the NEA mind appears to have been conditioned to comprehend a rather fixed set of reality based on historical weather models; models which are not applicable in today's world anymore.
If it appears I am picking on the NEA, I am not. This problem exists in all our government agencies. They need to break free from historical models, and look at their data/stats with fresh sets of eyes. Today is a very different world. Importantly, my plea to all the public agencies is that Singapore's interest is best served by placing much more institutional and government data in the public domain so that independent conclusions can be drawn about what is happening, so that more independent options for the future can be contemplated.
5 years ago