Thursday, April 13, 2006

Medals Medals Everywhere

Looks like the self-praise and glorifying sessions by some of our local universities will be in season soon again. Yes, the 34th International Exhibition of Invention New Techniques and Products in Geneva, Switzerland has just concluded 2 days ago. This is the popular trade exhibition that Malaysian academics loves to attend, and probably for the wrong reasons.

Prior to their actual return to the country, the contingent from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have already alerted the Star on their incredible success - with all 14 entries awarded medals. The teams from USM won 5 Golds, 7 Silvers and 2 Bronzes. To my knowledge, Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and several other local public universities all sent sizeable contingents to the event.

Besides the above trade fair, USM has also participated in another international trade fair for "Ideas, Inventions, New Products" (IENA) held at the Nuremberg Exhibition Centre in November last year, in which they "won" 3 Gold medals. Universiti Malaya (UM) proudly announced it's "fantastic" achievements at the 33rd International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques & Products in Geneva, securing 33 medals comprising of 19 Golds, 11 Silvers and 3 Bronzes.

I have already written a fair bit about the unhealthy obsession of our local universities with trade fairs earlier. But I thought I should serve another reminder to our higher education authorities.
  1. Unlike international competitions whereby the contestants are judged by a panel of distinguished and expert judges, trade fairs such as those mentioned above are not. The "judges" at trade fairs are more like organisers of the trade fairs themselves who will then give liberal credits to the inventors of anything from coconut husks as bicycle helmets to specially formulated herbal toothpaste. How are such awards even credible, particularly since absolutely no peer review is conducted on the research by the academics?

  2. Unlike international competitions whereby participants may be required to pay at most a token entry fee, participants of a trade fair pays a large amount of money to be at the event. What these medals are, in actual fact, are tokens of appreciation from the organisers of the event thanking the participants for spending a decent amount of money with them. It's almost like, "thank you very much, here's your gold embroidered receipt!" More than half of the participants walks home with an award or other, so that they'll all come back again the year after.

  3. Trade shows are however, not useless events. They are just not academic events. Trade shows are meant for participants to seek new business opportunities and investors. Hence the measure of success of participation at a trade show is not the number or colour of medals received, but the contacts and contracts secured. The problem I have is, it appears to me that the objective of our academics attending such trade fairs is not to secure new business, but to determine the colour of their medals!
Even if we were to give the universities some face and acknowledge possibly some value to the medals, who then were the participants of the event? For two consecutive years running, the largest contingents of participants were from Malaysia and Iran, with some Russians in the current year. Last year, for example, the Malaysian contingent took up practically 30% of the floor space! Hence clearly, while the event is held in prestigious Geneva, the participants were almost definitely not of world-class standing.

I have 2 questions for the universities and the higher education authorities:
  1. 1. How much money, or for that matter, how many millions of ringgit (yes, it's almost definitely in the millions) was expensed by the Malaysian academia for participation in the above event?

  2. What are the tangible returns through participation in such events? Since last year's multiple award winning year by UM and the other universities, how many of the "medalled" inventions have been commercialised or sold to investors?

  3. The additional question for the press to ask the universities when they hold their congralutory press conferences, is have they secured any contracts with any investors or businessmen who visited the trade fair? What is the value of the contracts secured? My guess will be that, we'd be lucky if the value amounts to anything more than five digits.
Is spending these millions of ringgit to take part in these dog and pony shows justifiable in terms of returns on investment? When I first started my own company, I took part in quite a few trade shows both in Malaysia and Singapore. After 3 years, I stopped altogether because the returns just do not justify the time and expense. Will the Malaysian academia do the same if there returns are invisible? Or will they be happy to pay millions of ringgit yearly to the happy organisers in exchange for colourful medals?


Anonymous said...

For sake of the ego of politicians, heck yeah, millions of ringgit is worthwhile so long bolehland still can say "kita boleh".
More medals meaning more boleh the more boleh we have the happier our politicians become, because they can actually claim that they did something rather than doing nothing.


clk said...

Peer review counts the most.

Any other review is probably tainted with $ like such exhibitions; although sometimes (rare though) it meets commercial success. Such exhibitions are probably more suited for polytechnics,tech colleges rather than academia...Wonder did any of our local polys participated?

Also don't forget the holiday in Geneva on public money factor is great!

Anonymous said...

Do research and compete internationally also get critisized. Dont do research also get wacked. Our universities need to start somewhere. This may not be big or worthwhile in your eyes, but some encouragement may help the team of researchers to greater things.

Anonymous said...

Self glorification an artificial way to boost an insecure and sagging ego

Anonymous said...

I still remember one of my boss told me, what is so big on these Mickey Mouse awards? I think people are just like to tell around "I have been to Switzerland you know...."

Anonymous said...


Mr. Hashim ROSLAN, from Malaysia, for his system for controlling erosion in coastal areas, especially with soft soil.


Mr. Mahmoud MOGHAVVEMI from Malaysia for his smart stick for helping the visually impaired


Mr. Ruzairi ABDUL RAHIM, from Malaysia, for his safety system for vehicles. An SMS is sent immediately if the alarm is not turned on.


Mr. Abdul Rahman MOHAMED, from Malaysia, for his one-stage production process of hydrogen nano-tubes, using natural gas

Prize of the Taiwan Association of Inventors

Mr. Rauzah HASHIM, from Malaysia, for his branched chain glycolipids for application in high technology and liquid crystals

I believe these are the 5 golds. Don't whack lah like they had produce some rubbish or what.

Tony P said...

Hey Anon 11:14:44 AM

I have no intentions of whacking the researchers or inventors.

I am just questioning the "success" which is being glorified.

I'm not in any position to judge whether "branched chain glycolipids for application in high technology and liquid crystals" is good or bad. But I do know that a trade fair is not the right platform at all to be the judge. Scientific applications such as the above requires peer review assessments.

I'm however, in a position to judge inventions like "SMS notification" for alarm not switched on. There are so many variants of such systems in the marketplace today and it's not difficult to build. It doesn't take an academic researcher to come up with such things. There's certainly no academic rigour involved, and no special innovativeness (if there's such a word). Hence, the fact that the it's awarded such a prize, discredits the prize itself.

I maintain that the right method of judging success at such trade shows is the tangible contracts and ventures secured with investors and businessmen at the trade show. If nothing significant is secured, then the participation is a complete failure, irrespective of the number of coloured medals received.

Tony P

Anonymous said...

Same for this one:

" system for controlling erosion in coastal areas, especially with soft soil.''

heck you could have built a cement wall for pete sake.

Academically I agree these medal do not carry much weight... What is there to be proud about when non of your peer can't judge your work. If your peers can honestly agree that your work worth some weight than everybody can agree on that. THEN only you are awesome. Otherwise you can build a batang pinang bridge and call it the world first organic bridge and get a medal for that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 14:14:44,

Those are the five prizes excluding all the gold and silver and bronze medal. Imagine the show already has so many prizes, there would be even more gold and silver prizes to be given away.

I wouldn't be proud even if I win any of those medals and couldn't commercialise it.


Anonymous said...

dear anon,

while i don't agree with local universities' obsessions with medals, please get your facts right.

you mentioned "heck you could have built a cement wall for pete sake" in reply to this "system for controlling erosion in coastal areas, especially with soft soil."

this is the layman's answer to any problem. any hydrologist/ geologist/ environmental engineer would tell you that building a cement wall to halt erosion of soft sand is one of the worst things to do, as the cement wall will actually accelerate the process of erosion.

Anonymous said...

Stay focused.

Non-issue : Winning medals.
Issue : NO peer review.

Winning medals in trade shows is good but unless there is peer review, it carries no academic merit.

Anonymous said...

if a system is capable of sending the SMS, why can't the system just switch on the alarm system :P

Some of the entries won some medals in another show last year (not sure if it was the same show). So they are either sending the upgraded version or just trying to get more medals.

Anonymous said...

We need more recognized "medal" instead of just spending money to win it. I am agree with you.

Anonymous said...

For international acknowledgement of Branched Chain Glycosides, please check this patent document

and also see its competitor


Check the priority dates !

WY said...

I hope we can first work together to get the facts right..

@Tony, it’s not 34th… It is 37th.

@Anonymous 11:14
Prize list from the website:
This list doesn’t show gold, silver, bronze awards. Maybe only the more important ones.

This list doesn’t tally with your list.
Is your list for 2009 ?
I wonder where else we can get the full list of awards and the structure of the awards.

We can use search on the prize list above using keyword “Malaysia”.

M’sia won these two prizes:
Mr. Mohd Hasmizam RAZALI, from Malaysia, for his titanium nanotubes as a photocatalyzer for environmental protection and renewable energy generation.

KU Halim et alea, from Malaysia, for their integrated biological sewage treatment.

Some other prizes that you mentioned are not won by M’sians.

The glycolipids patent does exist.
But I don’t know which prize it won.
I think if an invention gets a patent, it carries some weight.

Anonymous said...

I was quite surprised initially how advance and productive the researcher in Malaysia in winning all these medals, while at the same time not being able to publish in any well established international journal. Until i came across a name whom i worked with before,,with the prize he won and the work he presented. I am not going to say its rubbish, but its just too average to be given a prize. Being in the research field of different universities for many years, i looked back at the websites of the teaching staff of my ex-universities, they just cannot produce any papers. One can easily see that they published in some what so ever local journal or journal which is never heard off.....and their websites....can you imagine a teaching staff with her website stating "dancing, gardening etc" in the "research interest" column??? Our universities are heavily sick.