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Quartz’s Misleading Article on Yale-NUS Reflects Journalism’s Sad State of Affairs

All PostsOpinionQuartz's Misleading Article on Yale-NUS Reflects Journalism's Sad State of Affairs

story | Terence Anthony Wang, Arts Editor

photo | Terence Anthony Wang, Dave Chappell and amCharts

A few days ago, digitally-native news outlet Quartz published an article titled “Yale’s six-year-old Singapore campus is now harder to get into than the 316-year-old Yale,” commenting on Yale-NUS College’s five-percent admit rate for the Class of 2020. The Quartz article resurfaced old criticisms about the College, raising doubt about its ability to “reconcile Yale’s individualistic values with [Singapore’s] restrictions on free speech,” as well as concerns regarding the “poor academic quality” of its curriculum.

The numerous flaws and misrepresentations in the Quartz article are immediately apparent to anyone who can be even bothered to google Yale-NUS College. This starts with the title itself, which calls Yale-NUS “Yale’s six-year-old Singapore campus.” Considering that Yale-NUS is an autonomous college located within the larger NUS campus, belonging neither to NUS nor Yale, and in fact gives degrees awarded by NUS to graduates, such a statement is utterly ridiculous, and would be laughable if not for the serious misconception that it impresses upon readers, many of whom might not know otherwise.  

This Quartz article upheld shockingly low standards when it came to presenting evidence for its claims. The article does not stop at just instilling doubt in the College’s ability to protect free speech. Oh no; in fact, it goes all-in, claiming that the College is struggling in this aspect, confirming what “many have predicted.” The evidence? The writer claims that the College had landed itself “in hot water” by trying to screen the restricted film “To Singapore, With Love,” insinuating that the Singapore Government actively censors media within Yale-NUS. Upon further reading on the article’s own link to Yale Daily News’ report on the matter, it is clear that the College did not screen the film because the filmmaker, Tan Pin Pin, had refused to allow it. College President Pericles Lewis was in fact quoted as saying that the Media Development Authority of Singapore “had no problems with [the College’s] plans” to screen the film.

But of course, this is surely an example of state overreach by the infamously authoritarian Singaporean Government, never mind that Yale-NUS has and continues to screen other controversial films at its campus without any instances of Government pushback.

My belief that the Quartz article’s credibility could not sink any lower was quickly dashed by its next claim, which was that the College had been accused of a “superficial” curriculum, and that it “fails to deliver on the promise of meaningful, intimate seminars.” The evidence this time? A single link to a Today article published nearly two years ago, which itself interviewed a grand total of two students. Yale-NUS students would of course be acutely aware from their lessons in Quantitative Reasoning that judgments based off such a stunningly small sample size will undoubtedly be extremely inconclusive. While the piece didn’t explicitly say if these concerns were well founded, no effort was made to offer a counter argument. This can be easily done by actually interviewing current students.

My stressed peers going through the College’s excruciating workload were understandably offended at the article’s suggestions of low academic rigor. However, rather than offer anecdotal evidence to rebut the article’s poorly-reinforced claims, I would instead like to point readers to the fantastic capstones created by our graduating Class of 2017, which they created by building upon the knowledge gained in the College’s curriculum. I would also like to point you to our presentations at global conferences, our successes at various competitions, our contributions to contemporary academic literature, and our innovations in scientific research. And unlike the author of the Quartz article, I sincerely hope that you will actually click those links and judge for yourself, rather than simply take my word for it.

Ironically, this article ultimately gives me a lot of optimism about the growth of the College. If the best evidence that detractors have against Yale-NUS dates back to its early days and is embarrassingly inaccurate, then I daresay that we are doing something great here. The 8000-odd applications that we receive every year seem to back that up as well. As I approach the end of my freshman year, I have never been more thankful for the amazing faculty and staff, the incredible opportunities, and the wonderful friends that I’ve gained because of this rising institution.

A chart of Americans’ trust in media by year, sourced from Gallup.
Americans’ trust in media by year, (source: Gallup)


What’s perhaps more troubling, therefore, is not so much the subject matter of the article, but the way the article seems to have been written. Trust in the media today is at an all-time low. It would seem obvious that the immediate order of action should be to tighten writing and editorial standards and regain trust from readers, but sadly, that does not seem to be the case, and controversial claims that draw clicks continue to rule in the world of online publications. Quartz claims to “publish bracingly creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview”; I’ll be generous and say that the amount of spin that went into the article’s narrative certainly required a lot of creativity.

The best takeaway for us, perhaps, is to remain vigilant readers, and even more cautious writers. As an editor of The Octant, the latter point is particularly pertinent for me, and I hope to take it strongly to heart into the coming semester. While it might be hard to always be 100% accurate when on tight deadlines, journalists should make an effort to fact check key claims and seek opposing viewpoints. Given their failure to do this, I hope that Quartz does the right thing and retracts the article, or at least issues a correction, like The Octant does when it makes mistakes.

Meanwhile, if you’d like more factual information on Yale-NUS to clear any possible misconceptions, its FAQs are but a click away.

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com.

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