Jose Carillo's Forum


Open Forum: The state of education and teaching

This open forum aims to help find ways to develop a better-taught, much better-educated citizenry. You are invited to freely post here your opinions, perceptions, ideas, observations, suggestions, and experiences about education and teaching in the Philippines and in other parts of the world. Of course, you are also most welcome to post a response to any of the postings.

Photo by Luis Liwanag, The International Herald Tribune

Please confine your postings largely to your own views, knowledge, and experience. If you need to cite long references or background material on the web, just send the links to us and the Forum webmaster will take care of setting up the links with the sites you have indicated.

Why hold a thesis/dissertation workshop?
By Dr. Flor Lacanilao

Just saw this announcement in the September 2011 issue of the UP Newsletter:

Thesis/Dissertation workshop in October

The UP College of Mass Communication Foundation, Inc. (UPCMCFI) will conduct a Thesis/Dissertation Seminar-Workshop on October 21 and 22 at the College of Mass Communication, UP Diliman.

Teachers, researchers, graduate students, government workers and private sector employees who need to know more about writing a thesis and dissertation will greatly benefit from the workshop.

Faculty members of the UP CMC Department of Communication Research will facilitate the workshop.

For more details, please call Kat Ramos of UPCMCFI at (02) 981-8500 local 2678. You may also send an email to and join UPCMCFI’s Facebook group.

Now my question is: Why a “thesis/dissertation workshop?”  Why not a workshop on “How to write and publish a research paper” instead?

What is the sense of writing a thesis, then rewriting it for publication? I think this practice is the main reason why most of our graduate students think that the end of graduate training is the thesis, or that the end of research is the conference paper. And also the reason why most of them have an unpublished PhD thesis.

There are good books (in each field) on how to write research papers (ignore the chapter on writing thesis). Graduate students should learn from them. Then when they are ready to write the manuscript, they should strictly follow the “Instruction to Authors” of the chosen journal (ISI-indexed). They should at the same time refer to an article or two from the chosen journal; they should, for example, observe the details in writing the cited references in the text and at the end, like the use of the comma and period.

This should be a good start to reform the research practice in the country, where UP can lead.

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Idea for environment monitoring, modeling of eco-industrial parks

Suggestion by Eduardo (Jay) Olaguer, new Forum member (September 25, 2011):

Hi, Folks!

I am new to this Forum, which deals with some interesting issues. I belong to the Filipino diaspora and want to add my two centavos' worth to the topic at hand (“PNoy’s science policy insults scientists”). I agree that environmental monitoring is a key component of S&T development, and to this I would add environmental modeling. This is for two reasons: (1) We need to develop a green manufacturing capability that promotes sustainability locally; and ( 2) We need to learn how to manufacture products that meet increasingly stringent international environmental standards and promote sustainability globally. 

I was just discussing an idea with Fr. Jett Villarin, my former Ateneo high school classmate, about building an environmental monitoring and modeling capability on a neighborhood scale that can be used in eco-industrial parks in the Philippines, including the marriage of external monitoring with industrial process control and simulation. As the Director of Air Quality Research at the Houston Advanced Research Center, I am involved in patenting a new Emission Monitoring and Attribution System that can measure industrial emissions from outside facility fence lines using a combination of DOAS (imaging and multi-axis) remote sensing, real-time in situ monitoring, and inverse modeling. I am likewise developing a new 3D neighborhood air quality model with its own chemical mechanism as well as standard transport algorithms that can be run in both forward and adjoint (inverse) mode. I have also just now published a paper in Atmospheric Environment on a new method for performing air quality Computer Aided Tomography based on long path DOAS measurements.

I would love to hook up with other Filipino scientists to promote this idea.

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Is our science policy backward and insulting to scientists?

The Forum features this week a fiery discussion between two Filipino scientists, Dr. Flor Lacanilao and Dr. Roger Posadas, over the former’s July 26, 2011 posting in the Forum, “PNoy’s science policy insults scientists,” where he says that “President Benigno Aquino III’s science report in his State of the Nation Address last July 25, 2011 ignores the overwhelming consensus that scientific research is a prerequisite to technological development.” We are presenting the exchange of views here after receiving permission from Dr. Posadas last August 18 to post his rejoinders to Dr. Lacanilao’s postings on the subject. Dr. Benjamin Vallejo, Jr., posted a response to Dr. Posadas's rejoinder last August 20.

This exchange of views also appears in (August 21, 2011)

PNoy’s science policy insults scientists

Posted by Dr. Flor Lacanilao, Forum member (July 26, 2011):

Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science and for 12 years president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, says in an article in the magazine emphasizing the importance of science in policymaking: “Over the long run, any nation that makes crucial decisions while ignoring science is doomed.” It is critical that national legislation be based on what science knows about potential harm, he added.

In this context, it is alarming that President Benigno Aquino III’s science report in his State of the Nation Address last July 25, 2011 ignores the overwhelming consensus that scientific research is a prerequisite to technological development. With such practices, Alberts observes, it will be difficult to make wise decisions.

In his SONA, President Aquino said: “Creativity is in display with the innovations that are already being implemented. We have developed low-cost traps that kill mosquito larvae, probably contributing to the nearly fourteen percent decrease in dengue incidents; coconut coir fibers that are normally just disposed of have been used as a cost-effective way to strengthen our roads; we have landslide sensors that warn when soil erosion has reached dangerous levels; we have developed early flood warning systems for riverside communities. All of these are products of Filipino creativity.”

But we are already in the 21st century. Innovations like these are no longer done.

The President continued: “DOST* and UP have even teamed up to develop a prototype monorail system, which could potentially provide a home grown mass transport solution that would cost us as little as 100 million pesos per kilometer, much cheaper than the current cost of similar mass transit systems. . . I am telling you now: We can dream about them, we are capable of achieving them, and we will achieve them.”

Can the DOST and UP personnel involved in this project show—with properly-published studies—the cost-effective, safety, capability claim for these innovations? 

On the other hand, it can be shown that in its over 50 years of existence, the DOST has been funding and announcing inventions and innovations, which “are products of Filipino creativity.” However, these were not backed by properly done research by published scientists. And during this period, the Philippines, from second only to Japan, has been left behind by no less than 12 Asian countries.

Further, our stunted growth of scientific capability has been shown by our S&T performance (this is measured by the number of scientific publications in peer-reviewed international journals). In 2005, our total scientific publications (in high-impact journals) were only 178, compared to those of Singapore’s 3,600-plus, Taiwan’s 10,800 and South Korea’s 16,400. China in 2009 produced 125,000.

“The environment in which decisions are made in a democracy will always be highly politicized, but it is crucial that both sides of any argument pay close attention both to what science knows and how that knowledge has been gained” Alberts concludes his article in Science.

*DOST is the acronym for the Philippine Department of Science and Technology.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Ignoring the distinction between science and technology policy

Response of Dr. Roger Posadas to Dr. Flor Lacanilao’s posting (July 27, 2011):

Hi Flor,

Well, here you go again shooting off your mouth with your criticism of P-Noy’s Science Policy and showing your illiteracy about S&T policies, the R&D and innovation processes, and industrial and technological catch-up.

In your previous commentaries, you had been calling for “literate scientists” or what you defined to be “those who know not only research but also how it leads to development (R&D) and who do something about it.” I presume that you consider yourself a “literate scientist.” However, while I might concede that you know how to do research properly and how to publish research results in SCI-indexed journals, I strongly doubt whether you know anything about the “D” part of R&D—the process that that is concerned with taking an invention (the output of applied research), developing it into prototypes, testing these for marketability and manufacturability, and preparing a business plan for its commercialization. I also question your knowledge regarding the interconnections between research, innovation, competitiveness, and national development. My strong skepticism about your literacy regarding matters of S&T, S&T Policies, and National Development is based on your flawed and naive notions about S&T and development.

First, in criticizing P-Noy’s* science policy, you betray an ignorance of the distinction between science policy and technology policy. Science policy refers to government measures on how to develop scientific research and science resources, while technology policy has to do with government decisions on the choice of technologies, the methods of acquiring technologies, technology strategies and technology roadmaps. Obviously, P-Noy’s praise of Sec. Montejo’s technology initiatives like the monorail is an attempt to enunciate an incipient national technology policy, which I hope will develop into a policy geared towards technological self-reliance and cluster-based industrialization. Just like what America, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, China, and India had done successfully in order to catch up economically, the Philippines must pursue technological self-reliance and catch-up by creating the industrial clusters where we can start producing our own trains, buses, electric cars, power plants, ships, airplanes, helicopters, rockets, tanks, submarines, robots, medicines, etc. So why should scientists feel insulted when P-Noy expresses an incipient technology policy of self-reliance?

You point out, more or less correctly, that our country was next to Japan some 50 years ago and that today we have been “left behind by no less than 12 Asian countries.” But obviously, you have not studied exhaustively—as I have done—how these Asian counties were able to overtake us and even catch up with the advanced countries. For, contrary to your historically false “Science Push” development formula that “scientific research is a prerequisite to technological development,” these countries (South Korea, Taiwan, China, India, Malaysia, Israel) first pursued and attained technological catch-up and self-reliance in selected technologies before pursuing scientific catch-up in terms of scientific paper production. Even the US and Japan followed this formula. The US first attained industrial and technological power before achieving scientific power status. It started becoming a scientific powerhouse only after World War II. Same with Japan, which first built up its industrial and technological capabilities with the help of a huge engineering manpower base before attempting to catch-up in scientific research. Technological catch-up can certainly be done without basic scientific research, because all you need to do is reverse engineer an imported product and then do creative engineering redesign to improve the design of the imported product.

As pointed out by the Korean technology management scholar, Linsu Kim, in 1993: “R&D in the formal sense of the term was not important for Korea during this stage of imitating mature technologies. Industries in fact reversed the sequence of R&D&E: it started with engineering (E) for products and processes imported from abroad, and then progressively evolved into the position of undertaking a substantial development (D). But research (R) was not relevant to Korea’s industrialization through the 1970s.”  (Linsu Kim, “National System of Industrial Innovation: Dynamics of Capability Building in Korea,” in Nelson, Richard (ed), National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 357-383)   

If you don’t believe me, I can lend you the following books on South Korea’s industrial and technological catch-up for your enlightenment: Alice Amsden, Asia's Next Giant; South Korea and Late Industrialization (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989) and Linsu Kim, Imitation to Innovation: The Dynamics of Korea’s Technological Learning (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1997).

This technological catch-up formula of reverse engineering followed by creative engineering redesign to achieve technological self-reliance has been historically validated again and again in Taiwan, China, Malaysia, India, Brazil, Israel, and other newly industrializing countries. The reason why we have been left behind is not because of our poor research productivity but because our political and business leaders have been brainwashed by mainstream economists into upholding the theory of comparative advantage, which says that Filipinos should just import and use advanced equipment and technologies instead of trying to produce our own advanced equipment and technologies.

Ed Padlan, therefore, is partially correct when he said that the Philippines should have more engineers running the government, for it’s a historical fact that most of those who engineered the successful catch-up of the newly industrializing countries were engineers who practiced catch-up technology management and threw away the theory of comparative advantage taught in schools of economics. I said I partially agree because what those successful countries really had plenty of and what we badly need right now are technology managers, whether they come from engineering, science, business, and other backgrounds. Technology managers are persons who are knowledgeable and competent in identifying, forecasting, selecting, acquiring, creating, developing, transferring, commercializing, and deploying technologies for the defensible and sustainable competitive advantage of a firm or a nation.

So if you want to be a “literate scientist,” as you defined it, you should study technology management and stop pretending you know anything about Science, Technology, and Innovation Policies and National Development, for you only end up displaying your scientific chauvinism, hubris, and simple-minded naiveté on these matters. And please stop quoting American basic scientists who know next to nothing about S&T and national development in developing countries.


*P-Noy is the self-given monicker of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

Dr. Roger Posadas, PhD, is one of the eminent physicists of the Philippines. He started his career in the academe as a professor of physics at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City. He served for 10 years as the first dean of UP Diliman’s College of Science and as chancellor of UP Diliman, and is currently a professor at its Technology Management Center.

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“Not telling the truth makes our science crisis worse”

Rejoinder of Dr. Flor Lacanilao to Dr. Roger Posadas’s response (July 28, 2011):


The S&T report in PNoy’s SONA has again brought disagreement between us. Na-isip ko isang dahilan kung bakit hindi tayo magka-intindihan [I thought that there’s one reason why we can’t understand each other]. So I will try the personal approach this time: talk about ourselves rather than what we say, meaning our respective credibility. My main concern has always been the future Filipino scientists and educators.

“Dr. Roger Posadas served as first dean (for 10 years) of UP Diliman’s College of Science and as former chancellor of UP Diliman.”

1. We are debating science and technology in a science forum. But you cite books by social scientists; they are published in journals covered in Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), but they have no publications covered in Science Citation Index (SCI). Examples are Linsu Kim and Alice Amsden as cited in your comments above. SCI and SSCI are the major ISI indexes covering high-impact journals.

2. Your focus is on using technology for development regardless of research. I explain how to improve research to develop capability to generate and to use technologies (No shortcut to progress). They indicate a difference between our training and experience. Baka pareho tayong tama—sa social science ka, sa science ako. [Maybe we are both correct, you in social science and I, in science].

3. But I can’t find any research and viewpoint papers where you are sole or first author, published in SSCI or SCI journals. This says a lot about your academic functions and the credibility of your commentaries. As a professor of physics says, “How Can We Have Science Literacy Without Literate Scientists?”  Further, Peter Mayer, director of graduate studies in physics at Princeton says, “You need to know how to do research properly before you can begin to think about commercializing discoveries” (A business blueprint: how to build a better Ph.D. Science 270:133-134, 1995).

I have enough of them—research papers & invited editorial; as sole, first, coauthor, and last author—published in 7 journal titles covered in SCI, including a research paper in Science as sole author. I led the research group that was the first to achieve the spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity (“Philippine science as world science: The case of milkfish reproduction”). They back my credibility and my views in giving out reliable information—for those who want to learn.

4. In your 10 years as science dean at UP Diliman, whereas the number of PhDs in the college faculty increased twofold-plus, the percentage of SCI-indexed papers produced per PhD decreased from 12 to 5 (Celebrating the UP Centennial, Table 1). The result is lower academic standard of teaching, graduate training, research, and outreach, not only in UP but also in other universities through graduates produced. They tell a story why we are unable to move forward (see “Problems preventing academic reforms,” and Google “Science in 100 years of UP biology”).

5. During my assignment as chief of SEAFDEC in Iloilo, the number of research and technology papers published in ISI-indexed journals increased sevenfold in 6 years. And made SEAFDEC the only world class Philippine institution in the R&D sector (Philippine science: Time for a fresh start).

“The environment in which decisions are made in a democracy will always be highly politicized, but it is crucial that both sides of any argument pay close attention both to what science knows and how that knowledge has been gained” (Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science, and for 12 years president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, in “Policy-Making Needs Science”)

Para sa akin, in time of crisis—like our crisis of science governance in universities and government—to avoid telling the truth makes it worse. “Being honest does not mean being insulting, or nasty.”


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“Natural science isn’t the only authoritative source of knowledge”

Rejoinder of Dr. Roger Posadas (July 29, 2011):

Hi, Flor!

Recall that our debate issue was whether your hypothesis, “Scientific research is a prerequisite to technological development,” is correct or wrong. I argued that there is not a single historical example of a country that can confirm your hypothesis and that on the contrary, country after country in history—Germany, USA, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Israel, Brazil, Malaysia—have invalidated your hypothesis by first accomplishing industrial and technological catch-up and development before pursuing and attaining scientific catch-up in terms of scientific publications. Then I said that if you don’t believe me, you can read the books on South Korea’s industrial and technological development by two internationally recognized scholars on Korea’s
national development, Alice Amsden and Linsu Kim.

You replied, however, by raising issues about my publication record and administrative accomplishments, trumpeting your own publication record and administrative accomplishments, and even questioning the competence of Amsden and Kin because they did not publish in SCI journals.

So, thank you for demonstrating your: (1) fallacious reasoning (argumentum ad hominem and false appeal to authority), (2) unscientific thinking, and (3) scientistic mindset, as I will now explain one by one:

1. My publication record and administrative accomplishments have nothing to do with the issue we are debating. To bring these up in a debate is a fallacy called argumentum ad hominem. In fact, even if your PhD is in the breeding of bangus [milkfish], I never questioned your administrative record or your research outside bangus breeding because these are irrelevant to the debate issue. Besides, the truth of a hypothesis, whether in the natural or social sciences or management, is not determined by the number of ISI publications of the proponent or the opponent.

Neither is the credibility of a person determined by the number of his research accomplishments. Lord Kelvin was the world’s most outstanding and authoritative physicist in the 1890s when he “expertly” predicted in 1895 that “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”

2. I cited the works of two internationally recognized scholars on South Korea’s industrialization as evidence to refute and falsify your research-must-precede-technology-development hypothesis, but you dismissed their works as social science research, implying that natural science publications are more credible evidence of truth than publications in other journals. And so you would rather appeal to the authority of natural scientists like Bruce Alberts to bolster your hypothesis. This is called the fallacy of “False Appeal to Authority,” i.e., citing the opinion of an authority who has no expertise on the issue under discussion. But, in fact, your reference to Bruce Alberts was misplaced because his commentary was an argument for scientific thinking in policy issues related to climate change and global warming (with which I have no quarrel) and not for your “science-must- precede-technology-hypothesis.”

3. Your predilection for appealing to the opinions of foreign natural scientists on our the issue of our debate—an issue of national S&T and development strategy—and dismissing the opinions of technology management experts just because they have not published in SCI journals is a glaring example of scientism—the belief that natural science is the only credible and authoritative source of truth and knowledge in all human spheres. And your belief that only natural scientists with ISI publications are fit to run universities and S&T institutions betrays your bias for scientocracy and scientistic chauvinism. What you forget is that natural scientists with ISI publications are highly specialized scholars who may have acquired deeper and deeper knowledge of “things” within a very narrow specialty. Hence, these research scientists in fact are the least qualified people to manage institutions where they have to deal with people and not “things” like quarks and DNA. So, unless these scientists acquire training and experience in dealing with people of all kinds and in managing social processes, they should not be appointed as heads of institutions.

4. In the scientific method, a scientist poses a hypothesis as an attempt to explain a certain phenomenon and then makes observations and experimentations to test the hypothesis. If an observation confirms the hypothesis, that is one point towards its confirmation but not its proof. But if even a single observation negates or invalidates the hypothesis, then the scientist must discard or revise the hypothesis. In your case, however, your hypothesis of “scientific research is a prerequisite to technological development” cannot be supported by a single country in history, whereas its reverse (technological catch-up and development is a prerequisite for scientific catch-up and development) has been confirmed by the cases of Germany, USA, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Israel, Brazil, India, Finland, and others. Nevertheless, you pigheadedly insist on the truth of your hypothesis despite the verdict of history. So the only conclusion is that you are an unscientific person who is no better than an astrologer or mythologist trying to peddle stories that have been called “unfalsifiable” by Karl Popper.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of your campaign to get our researchers to do research properly and to publish them in ISI journals. But let us not make ISI publications the prerequisite for technological and economic development. We must get rich first before can create a world-class environment for scientific productivity. And to get rich, we must first develop our technological capabilities and our industrial competitiveness. And stop judging the worth or qualifications of people on the basis of their number or lack of ISI publications. Please judge them on the basis of their values and character as well as their competence and capabilities.


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Dr. Lacanilao rests his case on this debate

Rejoinder of Dr. Flor Lacanilao (July 30, 2011):

Hindi na ako sasagot [I won’t reply anymore], can’t see any sense to do so.


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We need to seriously prioritize science and technology development

Posted by Dr. Benjamin M. Vallejo, Jr., in response to Dr. Roger Posadas’s comments on “PNoy science policy insults scientists” (August 20, 2011):

While Dr. Posadas may be right, there are other technologies that the Philippines can prioritize in order to catch up. But I don’t think a monorail is it.

Also I do not subscribe to the thesis that Japan became technologically advanced first before becoming a scientific powerhouse. This thesis is too Western. Japan already had a literate population, its own indigenous science and technology and medical science prior to Commodore Perry’s port call and the Meiji restoration. Japan was already advanced in Japanese science (partly contributed by “Dutch Knowledge” in Nagasaki when the country was closed), thus it is was quite easy for Japan to “catch up” with the West! Historical accounts by the Protestant Europeans who were allowed to trade with the Closed Country all say that the Japanese were not that interested with technology as with the science behind it. 

One evidence of Japan’s prior preparation in science and technology is that world-class international publications were accepted in the best science journal in Asia during the first decade of the 20th century. Japanese results in basic medical sciences and medical technology were published in the Philippine Journal of Science (PJS) starting 1908! Many of the findings, most especially in cancer research and tropical medicine, were cited by the West. 

The American colonial establishment, in a sense, tried to implement a Japanese kind of science and technology prioritization. This was further supported by Quezon’s Commonwealth. Indigenous technologies coupled with ensuring that these were vetted by scientific research as published in PJS gave the journal good credibility. In World War II, this preparation allowed Filipino scientists to alleviate the hardships of the Japanese occupation especially in medicine and food technology. After WWII, however, the Philippines did not follow through and took a less focused approach by developing local technologies without developing their basic science capabilities and ramping up scientific publication. The quality of PJS suffered as a result.

Japan had the science when they started developing the technologies. The model proposed by Dr. Posadas is exactly the other way around. We have the technology and then find out the science behind it. And if we have done so, then what? Dr. Posadas’ model is not the one that is now powering translational science research in Korea, Singapore, and Thailand and is increasingly being adopted by the ASEAN countries. Translational research is the one that attracts the investors sooner and not the S&T model Dr. Posadas promotes. Why? It is because our economy is not as competitive now than—let me say the mantra—“When the Philippines was second to Japan in Asia.” Whatever technologies we develop should meet an unmet need that has wide  global marketing potential, and this should be our priority. We are just too late in the LED TV market but we can try to do that if we can attract Samsung to transfer some of their techie knowhow here. But I doubt if a Pinoy LED TV will be as competitive as the made-in- China LED TVs that CDR king sells! Thus, if DOST comes up with a technological product like this, will the investors form a beeline to develop it? I doubt it. It will end up like any of the nice ideas that live and die in SMEx inventors’ fairs!

Let me suggest a science and technology sector that DOST should put its money in. These include technologies in helping people cope up with climate and environmental changes. First, environmental sensors technology. The country has good expertise in this; it is just a matter of prioritizing it. There is money to be made here and it should generate serious climate-change research in the country. Any search on the Internet would show that the technology here is relatively undeveloped but any knowledgeable Pinoy knows that country has the knowhow. We need not copy Japanese/Korean technology here but develop that knowhow. If you cross over the Ateneo campus, in fact, some of the undergrad students are already into it—but for a different application. The science is sound but the technology isn’t. Does DOST know this? 

What we need are serious prioritization of science and technology development.


Dr. Benjamin M. Vallejo, Jr., is a faculty member of the College of Science and affiliate faculty in geography of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. He has a PhD in Marine Biology from the James Cook University in Australia, and his fields of interest are pure and applied biogeography, coral reef malacology, and aquarium science.

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No signs of reform even now in Philippine science and education
By Flor Lacanilao

“From global terrorism and the spread of disease to the dangers of global warming, we are increasingly facing the sorts of threats for which governments everywhere will need to turn to their scientists.” (From “The scientific impact of nations,” Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science)

We have already been getting such threats. But we have yet to see in place the needed preparations to handle them. Crucial are improved science and education. How can our country ever handle the threats if we don’t have enough properly trained scientists—in the natural and social sciences, in engineering, and in math? And how can we produce more of them if national institutions in science and education are not run by such trained scientists and educators? The same problems beset our major universities.

Properly trained scientists refer to those who have contributed to knowledge through research. “The easiest way to assess if one has made any major contributions to one’s field is with the ISI data base called Web of Knowledge.” If you have no free access to the ISI data base, you can get the same information (published papers and citations), but not quite as complete, from Google Scholar. The number of citations per paper is a useful measure of the quality and impact of one’s output. 

Most papers you will get by Google Scholar are not valid publications. Hence, you have to count only those published in journals covered in Science Citation Index or SCI (for science, technology, engineering, and math) or Social Sciences Citation Index or SSCI (for social and behavioral sciences). Our failure to use such objective, internationally accepted criteria is the major reason for the poor state of Philippine science and education. 

Let me cite as a specific example the National Research Council of the Philippines, which shows continuing problems. These problems become evident if we apply the above indicators for assessing the capability of those making and implementing national programs, starting from the top officials.

I will now quote from the NRCP President’s Report dated June 21, 2011 (click this link for the full text):

“When I was first elected President of the National Research Council of the Philippines in 2009, I laid out my vision clearly and projected where I wanted to lead the agency in the scientific community… 

“One of the innovations I introduced, which is now being pursued by NRCP, and which the Governing Board supports, is the establishment of an Online Journal. The idea behind this proposal, which the Board hopes to finish within 2011, will have all research studies in the basic sciences funded by NRCP published in the Online Journal, instead of in the usual old journal printed annually by NRCP and distributed to each member of the Council during its annual General Membership Assembly…”

What is the sense in putting up academic journals without enough properly published researchers? Besides, there are already thousands of such journals in existence, journals that are competently managed and adequately peer reviewed (e.g., SCI and SSCI journals), and from which our researchers can learn how to do research better and teach more effectively.

If you look at their websites, you will see similarly conceived and implemented programs in our other science and education institutions—the DOST, NAST, CHED, DepEd, and TESDA. You will see how we have been addressing our national problems with hardly any progress, as I have reviewed in my article “Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education” that has been previously posted in this Forum. That documented review is also the basis of another article of mine, “Democratic governance impedes academic reform,” that has also been posted in this Forum.

As I discussed in those two articles, the innovative incentive system started at UP for outstanding publications using objective criteria (like ISI-indexed publications) resulted in increased research output during the last decade. That incentive system, however, has undergone an unexpected change. Last year, instead of raising the requirements to higher standards like those of higher-impact ISI-indexed journals (covered in SCI or SSCI), as has been done by our neighbor countries, UP made it a requirement for cash incentive the publication of a research study in the Philippine Science Letters, which is not even ISI-indexed. This makes UP set a bad example to other universities. 

With substandard approaches like this, how can our total of 178 SCI-indexed publications catch up with those of Singapore’s 3,600, Taiwan’s 10,800, and South Korea’s 16,400 in the year 2005?

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Rotting fish due to fish-kills: another food for thought
By Flor Lacanilao

Most fish kills in lakes and coastal waters occur where fish farming activities are excessive. A common suspect is pollution build-up—industrial & domestic wastes, agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, and fish feces and excess feeds. These dissolved nutrients can trigger phytoplankton or algal blooms and subsequent decay (using oxygen). The decay may be blown by wind in one area or settle at the bottom, then brought up by upwelling caused by wind or temperature changes. Algal blooms in coastal waters may also involve poisonous phytoplankton that, in high concentrations, cause red tide. The specific causal pollutant or factor in these environmental changes or fish kills is largely unknown.

What is known is that organisms have a capacity for tolerance to environmental changes, like pollution. The tolerance is limited and varies among organisms and with the kind of change or pollution. The tolerance is widest for survival, less for growth, and least for reproduction.

A given level of water pollution, for instance, may prevent an organism to reproduce but will allow it to grow. A higher level may arrest growth but will allow it to survive. At the limit of tolerance for survival, any factor of environment, whether man-made (e.g. pollution) or natural (e.g. temperature), can trigger fish kill that affects all species with similar tolerance properties.

Let me tell a story on fish pens in Laguna Lake, which in the 1980s was the site of fish diseases and deaths. It shows how unregulated practice of aquaculture give rise to conflict of interest, causing serious ecological, social, economic, and political problems. 

In 1961-1964, when there were no fishpens at the Lake, the annual fish catch was 80,000-82,000 tons. In 1968, a survey showed that some 10,000 fishers used the Lake as a communal fishing ground. Harvest of shrimps and molluscs was about 240,000 tons; the bulk was used for animal feeds in the duck-raising industry.

There were 23 species of fish caught in Laguna Lake, with the goby (biyang puti) and perch (ayungin) as the dominant species. Carp, catfishes (hito and kanduli), snakehead (dalag), and tilapia were also caught in addition to migratory species from Manila Bay, through the once unpolluted Pasig River. 

In 1971, the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) introduced fishpen culture with a 38-hectare pilot project. Milkfish (bangus) was chosen because of its market value and because it feeds on phytoplankton, which was abundant in the lake. The project gave encouraging results, producing 3.5 times more fish per hectare over that in open waters. The potential of the Lake fishpen aquaculture was estimated at 20,000 hectares and annual production value of P320 million. This prompted businessmen and entrepreneurs into fishpen culture. Development expanded to 4,800 hectares by the end of 1973; gross annual value was P77 million.

Data in 1982 showed that fishpens—then 31,000-hectares or one-third of the Lake—produced 62,000 tons. And the small fishers’ harvest from the open waters dropped to only 19,000 tons. They added up to a total Lake harvest of 81,000 tons, same as the yearly catch of the small fishers in 1961-1964 without the fishpens. This result was easily predictable from the start because both the cultured milkfish and the wild fishes depended on the Lake’s natural food.

As would be expected (because of competition for natural food), the uncontrolled growth of the fishpen industry led to longer rearing time—stretching the 4 months to 8-15 months. This led to supplemental feeding, which also allowed increasing the fish stock. Note that water would circulate in and out of the fishpens, bringing in natural food and taking out fish feces and excess feed that would then pollute the open-waters or settle at the bottom.

The conflict was between the community of poor fisherfolk (in the 1980s, more than 15,000 families) and the group of a few hundred rich fishpen operators. In a report published in the newspapers, the LLDA identified an elite group of fishpen operators owning 10 of the largest fishpens that add up to over 4,000 hectares (despite the fact that the the law says that no person or corporation can own more than 50 hectares of fishpen concessions). The list showed members of prominent families, including politicians and ranking military officers.

What the fishpens industry did was rob the small fishers of their traditional rights—by reducing their fishing areas and navigation lanes, by competing over the Lake’s budget of natural food, by polluting the waters, and by reducing their fish catch. Further, they ruined the Lake as a resource, which is important not only for fisheries but also for such other uses as water supply, irrigation, and navigation.

In his essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin points out that “the Tragedy of the Commons is an example of the class of problems with no technical solution. . . Therefore, any solution requires that we, as a society, change our values of morality” (Hardin 1968).

1. Lacanilao F. 1987. Managing Laguna Lake for Small Fishers. SEAFDEC Asian Aquaculture 9(3): 3-4.
2. Davis J, Lacanilao F, & Santiago A. 1986. Laguna de Bay: Problems and Options. White Paper No.2, Haribon Foundation.
3. See also “Extensions of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons” by Garrett Hardin. 1998. Science 280:682-683.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Rejoinder to professor’s comments on my views on academic reform By Flor Lacanilao

In his commentary entitled “Strange phenomenon: A response to Lacanilao” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 11, 2011 issue), Dr. Ramon Guillermo disagreed with several points in my commentary, “Democratic governance impedes academic reform” (this Forum, 03/14/2011). I showed that the use of peer judgment has been a major cause of declining academic performance in the Philippines, but that this has been reversed by the use of objective measures. Guillermo challenged my article concerning the use of valid publication and citation counts (objective measures), but he discussed only their misuse instead of the useful information they provide. 

The assessment tools are the ISI-indexed journals and the ISI indexes (ISI is Institute for Scientific Information, later also known as Thomson ISI). These are internationally accepted and widely used indicators of research and S&T performance. But his objections centered on the misuse and abuse of ISI-indexed journals. The usefulness of a tool—like the kitchen knife or the gun—can only be as good or as bad as the purpose or the person using it. 

Dr. Guillermo favored the prevalent practice of peer judgment and democratic governance, instead of ISI measures, citing historical and emotional events of nationalist struggle for democracy and academic freedom. He failed to show how these relate to peer judgment or enhanced academic growth, like improved research and teaching. On the other hand, using hard data, I showed that the introduction of ISI measures improved research output after decades of decline.

Below are some important uses worldwide of ISI-indexed journals and ISI indexes. They will clarify the issues raised by Guillermo. They also give pointers on how to improve academic research and evaluate academic performance.

1. In developed countries, they supplement peer judgment of academic performance. In fast developing countries, for lack of experts, they are the reliable measures of evaluating research and S&T performance.

2. They are commonly used in ranking nations, universities, and scientists, which are published in leading journals like Science and Nature. The commonly used ISI indexes are the Science Citation IndexSocial Sciences Citation Index, and Arts & Humanities Citation Index.

3. The number of journals covered in each of these indexes is as follows: sciences (3,786), social sciences (2,876), and arts & humanities (1,603). They reflect the research output from each field group—75% average of journal content in the sciences, 50% in social sciences, and 25% in arts & humanities (ISI study). This disproves Guillermo's claim that ISI indexes are unfair to social sciences and humanities.

4. Guillermo's claim, that the dominance of US and UK in English-language journals is disadvantageous to non-English speaking countries, also has no basis. The top six countries with the highest number of ISI-indexed publications are dominated by non-English speaking countries—the US, China, Japan, UK, Germany, and France—with China increasing its number of publications twofold every five years in the last two decades, and predicted to overtake the US soon (Thomson ISI report and others).  

5. In addition to titles and authors of selected published papers and books, ISI indexes also give their citation data; hence, solving Guillermo's worry of ISI’s bias against books. The number of times a paper or book is cited is a recognized measure of quality. A correction factor is used to remove distortions due to different citation rates in different disciplines, solving another problem raised by Guillermo.  

6. Further, Fred Grinnell says in his book, Everyday Practice of Science, that the easiest way to assess if one has made any major contributions to one’s field is with the ISI data base called Web of Knowledge (showing authors, published titles, and citations). You can get the same information, but not quite as complete, from Google Scholar, he added.

7. The stature of top scientists in various fields is reflected by their scores in ISI indexes—for quantity and quality of published work. On the other hand, most of our prominent academics, scientists, so-called experts, and even National Scientists—selected by peer judgment—lack the number and citations of their publications. You can find out from Google Scholar (Item 6), Google or Yahoo search, and also from “Celebrating the UP Centennial.”

8. There is no question that the quality rather than the number of publications is a better indicator of research performance. Again, to remind Guillermo, we can only rely on the ISI citation indexes for valid citations because we lack experts to judge quality. For example, how can the quality of work done by a Filipino biogeographer be evaluated by his peers in the Philippines if he is the only well-published biogeographer in the country? 

9. It is true that in western countries, where all competent scientists publish in ISI-indexed journals, there is much discussion concerning the misuse and abuse of “numerology.”  This does not mean that numerical data are completely useless. Many who question the usefulness of the ISI-indexed journals or ISI indexes in measuring academic performance can be shown as poorly published.

10. The utility of numerical data can be seen, for example, in a recent paper ("Expert credibility in climate change" published in the Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA) on Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) that reports, "The relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced (deniers) of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

Finally, my call for visionary leadership should not be confused with preference or support for fascist rule. Guillermo's appeal to Philippine nationalism is misplaced. Mediocrity has never been a UP tradition.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

Dr. Ramon Guillermo is associate professor at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, University of the Philippines-Diliman. He received his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Hamburg, Germany.

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Democratic governance impedes academic reform
By Flor Lacanilao

Group decision has been a major problem in Philippine science and education. It is based on the common belief that two heads are better than one. But is this always true? How can it be improved? Is there a better alternative?

Solving problems together, as in democratic governance, has been a common practice in the Philippines. This is true in the University of the Philippines as far back as I can recall, 50 years ago, when I was an instructor in zoology. Today, democratic governance is often included in vision statements of candidates for top positions in the UP system.

The academic situation in UP and the country where democratic governance has been a normal practice, however, has shown more deterioration than improvement (see my preceding post in this Forum). Data on research performance of UP in the last 30 years have clearly shown this. After two decades of decline, improved research—the most important function of modern universities—was seen only at the start of this century. And this was largely brought about by cash rewards for publications that meet objective, internationally accepted criteria. UP as the national university is now aiming to be the first research university in the country.

How prepared is UP for a role as research university? Officials at all levels and faculties, system wide, have yet to improve their tract record in research. With a group dominated by poorly published members, democratic governance by group decision will not improve research performance. Studies by Chris Frith and coworkers have shown such group behavior in solving problems together; one, for example, is reported in Science,  Optimally Interacting Minds.

The study shows that working together successfully requires members to be competent on a subject. Joint decisions don’t work when half of the members are not competent. In the UP situation, only a low percentage of officials and faculty members are properly published in ISI-indexed journals. The great majority is poorly-published, or doesn’t have the technical knowledge possessed by the well-published minority. The group decision will therefore be worse than that would be made by the published members only. Two heads are not always better than one.

If democratic governance must continue, one way to improve group decisions in research is for the well-published minority to explain the importance of research to teaching and to human development. Adequate explanation would convince most of the poorly-published majority to trust the minority’s judgment. Since not all published researchers (in natural and social sciences) fully understand the importance of research to human development, they will have to start spending part (e.g., to “tithe” 10%) of their professional time and effort to reading and thinking about the benefits of research and S&T (see S&T for sustainable well-being). Our respected academic scientists have been too absorbed in research, and they have neglected their social responsibility. For example, they have been generally silent when their expertise is needed in debates on controversial national issues. The result: debates on science-based and science-related issues have been dominated by nonscientists and largely yields no useful conclusion.

To solve the crisis in science and education, a more effective alternative to democratic governance is to exert executive decision as is done in political and military crises. This needs a strong, visionary leader who is an accomplished scientist. The new chancellor of UP Diliman , the flagship campus of the UP system, is the top Filipino physicist in the country. (Most of the solvers of important problems in the world have been physical scientists.) If Chancellor Caesar Saloma is to succeed, he should assert his competence and not allow himself to be intimidated by superiors or powerful officials in high government positions who are science-incompetent. When a known reformer and physical chemist in China, Zhu Qingshi, was appointed president of a new Chinese university, he clearly and categorically insisted that he would be calling the shots (University Head Challenges Old Academic Ways).

To finish the job, outdated UP policies and practices entrenched by group decisions should be changed. Among them are those practices that are inconsistent with the innovative systems started during the last decade, such as obsolete policies in faculty hiring, in giving promotions, and in giving awards. These undesirable practices reduce the gains achieved by research incentives and objective criteria in performance evaluation.

Such a thorough review is necessary for UP to make the transition from a primarily-teaching university to the country’s first research university. As such, UP can truly become the national center for preparing qualified mentors in graduate schools, in post-secondary education, and in the primary and secondary levels. This should start real reform in the country’s educational system.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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In the beginning in this Forum...

Below are the postings previously being discussed in the Forum. You are most welcome to respond to any of the postings made so far or to post an entirely new topic of your own. Do share with us your thoughts on how honest-to-goodness education and teaching reforms might be achieved in our country.

Tonybau, a medical doctor and former PTA president, paints a bleak scenario of overcrowding, teacher overload and lack of qualified teachers, lack of basic facilities like clean water and libraries, and malnutrition among pupils in his city’s public high school. He then advocates a total overhaul of the educational system that “continues to churn out students, majority of [whom] are products of an environment where teachers are there only to earn their keep.”

Florlaca, a retired university professor and department head with a master’s in zoology and a doctorate in comparative endocrinology, vigorously proposes that improving research performance is essential to real academic reform. He says that publications that meet internationally accepted criteria are the best indicator of research performance and of competence to do other academic work as well. We still have to hear a response to this from academe or from education officials.

Arvin Ortiz, a student-writer, points out that while some professors consider Wikipedia as an unreliable source for students’ research papers and theses, some PhDs in the Philippines have actually cited Wikipedia as a source for the textbooks they have written. What gives?

Penmanila, creative writing institute director and English professor at the University of the Philippines, notes that teachers of English in the Philippines have such a weak command of the English language themselves, and wonders how their English can be improved. He asks: Do seminars and things of that sort really help?

Madgirl109, who describes herself as “just another struggling Filipino worker in Japan,” gives a first-hand view of the problems and opportunities of Filipinos working in Japan. For them to improve their job and income prospects in Japan, she says, they need to become more proficient not only in English but in Nihongo as well.

Meikah, who used to be a university instructor but now works as a web education professional, believes that education and teaching in the country have gotten from bad to worse. She says college students lack comprehension skills because their teachers in grade school and high school had made no effort at all to help them understand or teach them how to understand their lessons.

Maudionisio says that to foist the myth of “one nation, one language,” the Philippine government massively brainwashed elementary pupils in the 1960s to think that the national language was Pilipino, and that the other languages spoken by Filipinos in the other regions were simply dialects. He contends that this brainwashing has not been undone, so some of those pupils—now grown up—still erroneously refer to the various Philippine languages as “dialects.”

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