Furry Brown Dog

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Old newspaper articles disappearing from NLB’s NewspaperSG archives

with 35 comments

Update 5: NLB has since clarified on the NewspaperSG website that it’s just a technical error and access to vanished issues will be restored on August 4th which is tomorrow.

Ok this is getting spooky. I realised recently that a bunch of old ST articles which I linked to earlier have been disappearing from NewspaperSG, a searchable online Singapore newspaper archive maintained by NLB. Let me illustrate exactly what I mean.

One of those which disappeared was this article:

Try doing a search for the article using key words from the title, or article content or just click here. You’ll see the following blank page:

Now why might such an article disappear? What did the article say? It was linked by this post, which quoted Dr Tony Tan as saying that the graduate mothers scheme was “worth a try”, which directly contradicts earlier reports by the mainstream media that Dr Tony Tan supposedly dissented on the graduate mothers scheme.

That happens to be the only article I saved, unfortunately. But I decided to check if any other articles had disappeared or were made unavailable. Two articles which were posted earlier made extensive use of citation of archived NewspaperSG articles. One is the post on Dr Tony Tan’s shifting position on the graduate mothers scheme as linked above. The other is the post on what Chiam See Tong did for university education.

What other articles disappeared? This one where the post had quoted opposition MP JBJ in 1984 strongly attacking the graduate mothers scheme:

But the priority scheme for graduate mothers favoured a certain class of people —the children of graduate mothers — and this was a step in the wrong direction, he said. “What is worse is that it’s a crime against children. Why should any child be made to feel that he or she is inferior to another child?” Mr Jeyaretnam said.

The other articles linked by the post are still accessible. What about the article on Chiam? One of the now inaccessible archived articles linked was this, which featured a clash between Tony Tan and Chiam:

Urging a freer intake of students at the National University of Singapore, he said the Government should not impose a limit on the number who can do a popular course like medicine and ask them to do engineering instead.

Education Minister Tony Tan said the Nanyang Technological Institute would be developed into a technical university in the future, so there would be two universities. But he disagreed that the Medical Faculty should be expanded and the Engineering Faculty shrunk, just because more students wanted to be come doctors.

Mr Chiam interjected from his seat that market forces should be allowed to prevail, but Dr Tan replied: “I’m a great believer in market forces, but not at the expense of the careers of young people.

Yet another which vanished is this, where Dr Tony Tan as Education Minister objected to establishing a 3rd university until NTI had been set up fully:

THREE MPs who yesterday urged Education Minister Dr Tony Tan to start a third university here were told that the priority (or the next tew years would be to upgrade the Nanyang Technological Institute to a full university by 1991.

Dr Tan said when the Nanyang Technological University is ready, it would be providing more university places. He added: “Until that is done, we would not proceed with the third university. We have to do this step by step in order to make sure that all the universities which we establish will be proper ones, universities which we would be proud of.”

Two articles on Dr Patrick Tan, the son of Dr Tony Tan who was recently in the news over revelations that he served his National Service in a special capacity has also disappeared from the archives. The ST article titled 5 President’s Scholars this year dated 20th August 1988, which featured the young Patrick Tan, together with current MCYS minister Chan Chun Sing as President Scholars of 1988 is now unavailable. What’s in that article? It contains a profile of the young Patrick Tan as a student, as well as the other 4 President’s Scholars, and includes key information that Patrick Tan was already in Harvard (on 19th August 1988) studying for a medical degree even before he was awarded President’s Scholar. So of course that casts considerable doubt on the claim that Patrick Tan was allowed to disrupt his NS for overseas undergrad studies because he was a President Scholar. The decision to disrupt, it seems, appeared to have been made before he was awarded President Scholarship. More on this will be published in a later post.

Update 4: For those interested, this is the article on Patrick Tan which was taken offline.

The other article, dated 23rd August was a minor press correction, issued in response to the article published on 20th August. I don’t have screenshot of those articles, but the articles are still visible on Google:

In addition to this, I had a look at Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s website, knowing full well that he featured old newspaper articles too, mostly to highlight his parliamentary record and clashes with his colleagues and ministers.

One of the articles which disappeared is this. Yep, clearly Dr TCB’s website shows the article exists and the inaccessible link is here.

Calling for a ban on the phrase, Dr Tan had said it meant “you just cannot fail” and this discouraged people from speaking up and corning forward to get involved.

Yesterday, Mr Goh said the phrase had nothing to do with speaking up. “We are talking about making decisions as a group:that you need the best people who can calculate, offer solutions, alternative ideas and finally to reach the right conclusion for Singapore,” he stressed.

Dr Tan, who heads the Government Feedback Unit and is Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Education,had also urged MPs to speak their minds and not be “intimidated” by ministers.

And finally the last article I discovered which isn’t online is this. Try searching for it on the NewspaperSG website. It just doesn’t show up. And neither do any of the mysteriously disappeared articles. They seem to all have been excluded from the NewspaperSG search results no matter what keywords you enter.

Now of course to be fair it’s not entirely clear why these articles have suddenly become unavailable. It doesn’t necessary imply that NLB was doing so deliberately to minimise political damage to Dr Tony Tan just for the election or to deny Dr TCB past positive coverage, only to restore access to it right after that. It might after all just be a simple technical error.

But I’m glad that I did quote extensively from these articles, so that readers would know exactly what was missing. Some readers have criticised me for extensively quoting from articles. But I did so for a good reason; you never know when your links might become inactive or dead. And this is just one such example.

Update: A commenter, Fox, pointed out that it’s not just articles which disappeared but entire issues. Most of those which disappeared dated from 1988, although there are many issues which were made inaccessible from 1986 and 1987. And it appears that some of the months for those years in the 1980s do not appear in drop down list when one browses by newspaper titles by year.

Update 2: I realised this isn’t new. An SBF forumer created a thread here earlier on 23rd Jul 2011 remarking that certain search terms corresponding to statesmens’ names yielded zero results. That appears to have been fixed though, but it seems like around end-July when some, ahem, changes were made to the archived ST issues.

Update 3:  Now some might wonder, why does this matter? It matters for a few reasons. Firstly the missing articles don’t even show up in search results. Which means someone who wants to find out what Dr Tony Tan said publicly on the graduate mothers scheme prior to the 1984 election (which the PAP suffered a 12.8% vote swing) would probably search for key words like “Tony tan graduate mothers”. Now because they’ve disappeared, articles like this which quoted Tony Tan as saying the grad mothers scheme was “worth a try” would simply not turn up at all. The same for articles which highlight what Dr Tony Tan or Dr Tan Cheng Bock said or argued in parliament.

Written by defennder

August 3, 2011 at 2:49 AM

Posted in Singapore affairs

35 Responses

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  1. Are other articles unrelated to the presidential election still available? It could just be a general malfunction.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:07 AM

  2. twasher

    Those articles which disappeared are noted above. The rest of the links look ok and are still functional.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:12 AM

  3. Oh crap. It really is selective. I did a search for those articles via the Lexis-Nexis database. Plenty of articles on the graduate mothers’ scheme still available there, but the ones highlighted above are not.

    Incidentally, this has happened before (old articles disappearing even from databases). An article by Patrick Smith for Bloomberg titled ‘How Far can Singapore Inc. Get Out of Business’ led to a defamation lawsuit which Bloomberg lost (of course) and I have been unable to find any trace of that article in any database.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:14 AM

  4. twasher

    Hmm just wondering does Lexis-Nexis archive news articles before 1990s? I’ve used it before and my impression is that it doesn’t work for articles pre-1991 or so. So anyway, though they might have disappeared online, they can still be read on microfilms. Although microfilms have no handy search function.

    As for that Bloomberg article you cited, when does it date from?


    August 3, 2011 at 3:19 AM

  5. Oops, you’re right about Lexis-Nexis. The Bloomberg article is from 2002.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:25 AM

  6. If you go to http://newspapers.nl.sg/default.aspx, click on ‘Browse by newspaper title’, pick the month of August in 1988, you’ll find that many of the days in August are no longer available. In fact, pick any month besides August and you’ll notice that many of the days are also not available. Same for 1987, 1986, etc.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:31 AM

  7. To be fair, it possible that Lexis-Nexis doesn’t archive Bloomberg.com articles. It’s hard to tell because it archives a variety of Bloomberg-associated sources which may or may not include Bloomberg.com


    August 3, 2011 at 3:36 AM

  8. Checked again. 1988 has many more articles removed than earlier years. This is highly suspicious.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:40 AM

  9. Wow. Awesome posting.


    August 3, 2011 at 9:41 AM

  10. Go to the National Library and see if the digitised articles are available for access there using the NLB’s terminals.

    Overseas Singaporean

    August 3, 2011 at 10:27 AM

  11. Wow..assuming there really is something going on…then I say…wow..and we thought singapore is squeaky clean…


    August 3, 2011 at 11:26 AM

  12. This is nothing strange.
    I recall clearly two years back that Francis seow’s book “To Catch a Tartar” is searchable in the online catalog and available for borrow on “special request”. Last year I notice it is totally removed from the online catalog. What you can find easily is all the books about Old fart and their version of PAP Singapore .

    Look like the PAP is trying to erase the past and prevent the public to know about view and records of the past, and attempt to prevent converted-citizens to know about the Singapore’s heinous past of the Lee Dynasty.


    August 3, 2011 at 12:21 PM

  13. twasher

    Do you happen to be aware of any other online tools which archive old newspaper articles from the ST? Just want to see if they’re still accessible over there. I don’t have Lexis Nexis at the moment, so not quite able to check if the article is still around.


    Thanks I’ve noted it above. For the other years, it seems entire months worth of ST issues are gone. I’m just wondering what’s going on. Personally I tried searching to see if there was any announcement by NLB that they were doing maintainence work or something:

    Nope there doesn’t seem to be any such announcement. I wonder what’s going on.

    Overseas Singaporean

    Well ok, I hope someone will check this out soon.


    At the moment, I’ve no idea what is going on apart from the fact that a lot of articles have disappeared. Why this is so is unfathomable to me.


    August 3, 2011 at 12:30 PM

  14. How about going down to NLB to check the specific microfilm instead of looking online? If the microfilm is missing as well, then it’s really creepy.


    August 3, 2011 at 1:43 PM

  15. Lexis Nexis only has articles from May 01, 1992 through current


    August 3, 2011 at 1:47 PM

  16. Since 40% voted opposition, that means if NLB has 1000 employees, then about 400 employees could be potential whistle blowers. With that kind of numbers, I am sure the leadership at NLB would not risk being publicly embarrassed should any of their employee/s expose them….so no, I think the bosses at NLB would not participate in such supposed shenanigans.


    August 3, 2011 at 1:48 PM

  17. Lexis Nexis archives ST articles only back to 1992, and it’s a rolling archive. I could only find two references to Patrick Tan, one recent (on the online rumours of his NS deferment) and the other in 2001 which was about his work on cancer research (“Honoured for cancer research”, September 19, 2001).

    Btw, term in Harvard usually starts around mid-late August. President Scholars are announced around that time as well. It is conceivable that Patrick went to Harvard and then received his scholarship, or he has been notified of his scholarship prior to the official announcements in the papers, and then proceeded to Harvard. What is not in doubt is that he served his minimum 6 mths in NS prior to disruption (from Jan to Jun), just like all medical students bound for overseas studies during that time.

    So it’s not really a conspiracy…


    August 3, 2011 at 1:53 PM

  18. This is very interesting. Just to share, I once read Francis Seow’s book ‘The Media Enthralled’ where he quoted Lee Kuan Yew as saying “I don’t want a liberal in my cabinet” and cited this quote as coming from “The Straits Times, 5 May 1971.” When I went to the Newspaper.Sg database to check the quote – I got the same results as you – no such article/quote or article could be found. I even called up the entire issue and searched it for “Lee Kuan Yew” and no results were returned.

    It does look like the online database is censored. I suppose we can ask the library for a microform copy of the newspaper issues in question and see whether they are readily available before making any definite conclusion.

    Btw, how do you save articles from the database? Right-click, Save-As doesn’t work. Thanks!


    August 3, 2011 at 1:59 PM

  19. before calendar reform, harvard started in september.


    August 3, 2011 at 2:42 PM

  20. Mackiney

    You’re right, To Catch a Tartar isn’t available in Singapore public libraries. Wow ok if this is true, then it’s odd that books are being removed from catalog. I wonder what guidelines NLB follows for removing books from their shelves. The book dates from 1994 so it’s not that old.


    The microfilms are still there. But it’s not surprising if they are still around. Firstly there’s no easy way to search the microfilms; there’s no search engine available; nothing but tedious browsing can be employed. Secondly, I think there are far too many libraries and too many employees involved if microfilms started disappearing.


    At the moment I believe only the IT team behind NewspaperSG is responsible. Don’t have to involve innocent public servants whose only job may be to shelve books and catalog new arrivals.


    I’ll post a more detailed article on Dr Patrick Tan’s NS stint later, so please check back. This post is about something else so I don’t really want to comment too much on this now.


    Hmm, I think I’ll check out that ST issue or get someone else to do so. As for taking screenshots I use an extension for Chrome, Webpage Screenshot available here:

    The app allows one to take a screenshot of the entire webpage.


    Hi thanks for the info. Do you happen to have a link to any source which says so? So I presume Patrick Tan started school only in September?


    August 3, 2011 at 3:02 PM

  21. Re-writing history is always always been the MIWs strongest point. So many documents from 1963 onwards have gone missing or have been sealed under OSA. Documents which would have proven the innocence of the Coldstore victims have also dissapeared. History has been re-written to make a obvious traitor who worked for the Kempetai into a hero. Apparenty the story has been added a new twist that the so-called translator was a undercover agent passing information to the anti-japanese groups, including the Communist. Well he must have sucked a lot of Japanese dicks and have his ass pounded by the Japs to master the language so fast to be rewarded with a job a translator. Anyway, skeletons are now knocking on the door and that is scaring the shit out of the old man as he is worried that his fairy son cannot handle it. Is only hope is that in his daughter-in-law he has a dragon lady like his wife to save the day for his boy.


    August 3, 2011 at 3:14 PM

  22. If it smells like a fish, is it a fish???

    Have our Civil Service being politicized by the PAP?

    How much is that “doggie in the window”? Or “a civil servant’s soul”?

    The Pariah

    August 3, 2011 at 4:02 PM

  23. your blog will be the next to disappear!


    August 3, 2011 at 4:48 PM

  24. Well, seems like if you to the site now, its displaying the following message:

    “Due to the latest upgrade of NewspaperSG to incorporate Chinese newspapers, part of the index was corrupted and some newspaper issues were not accessible. This will be rectified by 12 noon tomorrow (4 August 2011). We apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

    We’ll have to wait and see if everything is back up tomorrow.


    August 3, 2011 at 5:42 PM

  25. Melvin

    Thanks for the info! Hopefully everything will be back online again. Strange did anyone notice if they had announced this earlier?


    August 3, 2011 at 6:06 PM

  26. […] This is Singapore. There is no free Press – Furry Brown Dog: Old newspaper articles disappearing from NLB’s NewspaperSG archives […]

  27. Wah, PAP trying to erase history!!! Highly scandalous


    August 3, 2011 at 10:04 PM

  28. From what I learnt in class 25 years ago from a current affairs lecturer:
    In the sixties, PAP was leaning on the left and later on after Singapore’s independence and our improved relations with USA and the West (plus EDB’s push to get lots of FDIs to build up Singapore’s manufacturing and Jurong Industrial Estate)… PAP leaned nearer to the centre.
    Apparently our oldest school libraries, such as Hwa Chong Junior College’s, used to have reference books (I have not seen them myself but a staff member of HCJC has read them himself) that cronicled PAP’s left-leaning stance. Not sure if these books are still available to the public but apparently NLB do not even have them anymore.
    Japan is one of the advanced nations we look up to and they are good with re-writing history. We, we are simply learning from the best.

    i am awed by the intellectual capacity of this group

    August 3, 2011 at 11:13 PM

  29. How can i contact you off the website?

    John B

    August 4, 2011 at 1:40 PM

  30. To editor,

    Maybe your reporter can check this:

    Patrick Tan study for Ph.D is from 1992-2000 in his CV, however, in the same CV, his graduate thesis is completed in 1998. Is there a two-year gap?

    1998 Charles Yanofsky Award for Most Outstanding Graduate Thesis, Stanford University

    Patrick Tan’s online CV

    We know this is his graduate thesis because this is his own statement in media:

    “I graduated with the Charles Yanofsky Award for most outstanding graduate thesis in biology or chemistry.

    ‘After graduating from Stanford, I returned to Singapore in 2000 ready to complete my national service in whatever post I was assigned.

    In the same statement, he did clearly clarify that in 1992 there is no time gap, then why he ignored the gap in 1998-2000?

    “I attended Harvard University (late 1988-1992) for pre-medical studies and moved on directly without interruption to Stanford University”


    August 4, 2011 at 2:30 PM

  31. […] Is Dr Patrick Tan making misleading claims about his NS sting? Old newspaper articles disappearing from NLB’s NewspaperSG archives […]

    Mockery « MetaKnowledge

    August 4, 2011 at 2:32 PM

  32. The Harvard fall term does not begin until the day after Labor day in the US, typically the first week of September.

    Seriously, people, newspapers in Singapore get facts wrong all the time. He may have been admitted that fall, but he sure wasn’t enrolled yet.

    Second, Harvard college does not award medical degrees. There is a pre-medical major, but that is a BA. Medical degrees in the US are graduate degrees. He clearly got his MD-PhD from Stanford med, which by the way is usually a ten year program.

    Finally, there are many legitimate reasons why someone may choose to delay defending a dissertation. There may also be other requirements to fulfill before one can defend. Get your facts straight before you speculate.


    August 4, 2011 at 4:13 PM

  33. The Pariah & dt

    Well they’ve since clarified it’s a technical error on their part.

    i am awed by the intellectual capacity of this group & Truth

    Well this case aside, there are still a lot of documents which are not declassified. Such as Cabinet papers tabled or policies in their name. For eg. see this doc on GKS:

    However, many of the official public records of Dr Goh’s contributions to policy making remain classified. These are the Cabinet papers that were tabled in his name or which he initiated. A deeper understanding of Dr Goh’s role as a major policy maker who shaped post-1965 Singapore would be possible if these very significant Cabinet memoranda were to be declassified and made available for public consultation.

    Too bad there’s no FOIA in Singapore.


    Looks like there’s no 2 year gap. According to the current MSTP on Stanford website, students are expected to finish their thesis 2 years early:

    On average, PhD thesis research draws to a close in the fifth year of training, allowing most MSTP students to complete both degrees in 7 years. Typically students register for Practice of Medicine VI (INDE 206) Spring quarter of their fifth year, complete and defend their thesis the following summer and/or autumn, and re-enter the clinical curriculum in Winter or Spring quarter of their 6th year.

    After which they proceed to complete their clinical training.


    August 4, 2011 at 11:04 PM

  34. John B.

    Hi John, I may be contacted by email at defennder@gmail.com


    August 4, 2011 at 11:06 PM

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