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« on: October 06, 2012, 07:17:57 AM »

The UP economists and the RH bill
By Dr. Flor Lacanilao

An important role—in fact, a social responsibility—of natural and social scientists is to help politicians to make useful policy decisions. One way is to actively participate in debates on national issues and to do more to bring the debate to a useful conclusion.

When a debate on a national issue drags for 13 years, as in the case of the Reproductive Health bill, it says a lot about the quality of the debate. Perhaps there has been a communication problem. Are the academic scientists doing their job? Are nonscientists dominating the discussions, and thus confusing the politicians and decision-makers?

Recently, two articles that appeared in the “Talk of the Town” page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer presented opposing views on the RH bill. One article is by 30 University of the Philippines economists: “Population, poverty, politics and RH bill” (July 29, 2012 issue). The other is by Bernardo Villegas, Evelina Atienza, Frank Padilla, Anthony Lumicao, and 15 others: “No need for an RH bill, now or ever” (September 16, 2012 issue).

Surely one would want to know which of the two groups of authors have more credible members to discuss the subject. This would not only help the politicians but also educate the media people and the general public. It should be noted that those without properly published work “lack the necessary expertise to evaluate information correctly.”

Says noted scientist Fred Grinnell in his book Everyday Practice of Science (2009): “The easiest way to assess whether someone has made any major contributions to one’s field is to check with the ISI database called Web of Knowledge. You can use that database to learn the number of publications done by a researcher and whether the published work has been cited by others. If you don’t have access to the Web of Knowledge database, then you can get similar information—albeit not quite as complete—from Google Scholar.”

From the citation information drawn from its Web of Knowledge database, Thomson Reuters determines the most influential researchers in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, and economics. Indeed, since inaugurating the Nobel predictions in 2002, 26 of the total of more than 160 Thomson Reuters ‘Citation Laureates’ have gone on to win actual prizes.”

These last few days, I have been doing a Google Scholar Advanced search on the members of the two groups and I found some interesting results (the data are freely accessible). I selected only publications in two peer-reviewed international journals, Thomson ISI’s Social Sciences Citation Index and Science Citation Index. These indexes are widely used indicators in evaluating research and S&T performance in the natural and social sciences; for instance, in ranking countries, universities, and researchers.

Such properly published studies—adequately peer-reviewed and widely accessible for verification—are also referred to as valid publications.

Among the 30 UP economists in the Inquirer article, 10 have 4 to 17 valid publications with an average total of 14.9 citations. They are RV Fabella, AM Balisacan, RL Clarete, JJ Capuno, RA Danao, EM Pernia, GP Sicat, SA Quimbo, OC Solon, and GM Ducanes. Of the remaining 20 authors from UP, 9 each have 1 to 3 publications, and 11 are unpublished (see attached Table of publication data).

On the other hand, among Dr. Bernardo Villegas’ group of 19 authors, only Villegas has valid publications—3 papers with an average of 9.0 citations. The 18 others have no ISI-indexed publications at all.

Note that in two earlier posts, I discussed the issues on the K-12 education program of the Philippines. Those who support it hardly have any valid publications, whereas those who oppose the Philippine K-12 have properly published work.

The above observations and information are crucial for government policy-makers in solving our national problems. They have been established from the experience of developed and fast developing countries. If we are to move forward, I think this issue on assessing expertise should be a major concern not only of our natural and social scientists but more so of our government.     
And for me, I repeat my call—It’s time for the Philippine Congress to Stop RH debate now!

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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