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Author Topic: Problems with higher education 10. Propagating errors  (Read 12472 times)
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« on: February 06, 2012, 02:09:20 AM »

Propagating errors, Perpetuating Mediocrity
By Dr. Flor Lacanilao

Our problem with errors in basic education textbooks is just one of the problems of basic education, which are still getting worse. The reason: they are just effects--symptoms--of the poor state of higher education.  This has been shown in many studies abroad on education reform, and posted in this forum. Let me show an example of a higher education problem, also with books,

Recently, my attention was called to an article by professor Michael Tan, a dean in UP Diliman and Inquirer columnist, about Filipino books (Inquirer, 25 Nov 2011). He says in part: 

“Paging professor emeritus and marine scientist Flor Lacanilao and his e-group, which has been complaining about the lack of scientific journal publications. I think something has to be done as well about writing natural science books for the public. Look at the awards given out for this category in recent years. In 2003 there was Fishes of the Philippines by Genevieve Broad. (It took a British Volunteer to produce that much-needed book.)  No awards were given in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 the winners were A Guide to Families of Common Flowering Plants in the Philippines and Introduction to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In 2007 it was Living with Nature in Our Times and in 2008 it was Diabetes is BitterSweet. After two years without awards, Grace Reyes’ Watersheds Sheltering Life made it this year.”

Further, Michael Tan says, that in medicine, “so far, only three books have received awards: 
The Healing Cut: Filipino Surgeons Write about Human Drama edited by Maria Socorro Naguit (2000), The Truth About Coconut Oil by Conrado Dayrit (2005), and Bone Tumors in Filipinos by Edward Wang and Ariel Vergel de Dios (2007).  There have been no National Book Awards for medicine since then.”

First, I am not a professor emeritus. 

Second, the problem pointed out is the lack of science books rather than their poor quality.

Third, we can’t promote “writing natural science books for the public” when there is “the lack of scientific journal publications” by our academics--in the same way, “It is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.” (Carl Wieman, Nobel laureate in physics.)

Fourth, the poor quality of the books says a lot about the authors and the award panels.

Fifth, book awards in science should be decided by a panel of academic scientists, following internationally accepted criteria.

Now, examine the 9 award-winning books.

First, the British Volunteer author of the first book mentioned does not have any valid published work in SCI-indexed journals.

Second, among the Filipino authors and editor of the remaining 8 books, you will hardly find anyone published in at least 3 different SCI-indexed journals, as sole and first author.

Third, only Edward Wang (University of Illinois, etc.), the lead author of Bone Tumors in Filipinos, is well published.

Finally, with Google Scholar or PubMed, find out the truth about the much-publicized virgin coconut oil, featured in Conrado Dayrit's book, The Truth About Coconut Oil (read, “Assessing the reliability of herbal products” and “Research on medicinal plants”).

The problems with Philippine science books are reflections of the country's system of higher education. In Reforming Philippines Science, we say: A culture has developed wherein improper practices are accepted as the norm. The CHED and DOST give grants to non-publishing researchers and do not expect peer-reviewed publications from them. Without significant track-records in research and proper publication, they train future scientists, evaluate research proposals, sit in awards committees, and become higher education and science administrators.

We also noted in the book that there are notable exceptions—individuals who have done world-class research and published books. They are from our leading R&D and academic institutions, in which research and proper publication have become part of the cultural norm. To us, it is not a triumph but a tragedy that they are so few. Below are examples.

Field guide and atlas of the seaweed resources of the Philippines: Volume 2, (2004). 261 p. Gavino Trono of the UP Mar Sci Inst

Handbook of the Mangroves of the Philippines – Panay (2004). 106 p.  Jurgenne H Primavera et al. of SEAFDEC Iloilo.

Nutrition in Tropical Aquaculture, (2002). 221 p.  Oseni Millamena et al., (eds.) of SEADEC Iloilo.

Selected Essays on Science and Technology for Securing a Better Philippines, (2008). Gisella Concepcion, Eduardo Padlan, and Caesar Saloma (eds.) of UP MSI and UP Nat'l Inst Phys.

There are many more science books by well-published scientists from SEAFDEC Iloilo (  and MSI (site unavailable now).

The quality and integrity of a science book depends on the authors track record in research. They also depend on the quality of the bibliography added to the book. Hence, a book or article by unpublished or poorly published author(s), and citing largely gray literature and unpublished papers/reports, are propagating errors rather than reliable information (see Continuing problems with gray literature).

Information produced from research is disseminated by academics to students and the public; and by the media people and the internet. The quality and validity of the information decide the state of education, public literacy, development programs, and policy-making—all of which in turn will determine the country’s development, or underdevelopment, through propagating errors and perpetuating mediocrity. (See also, Problems with media and scientists  or at,

Hence, the collaborative role of academic scientists and science-literate media people is crucial in promoting public understanding of science and reforming Philippine education system.
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