Author Topic: Rejoinder to UP professor’s comments about my views on academic reform  (Read 5374 times)

florlaca

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Rejoinder to UP professor’s comments about 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” (posted in this Forum, March 12, 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 Index, Social 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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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.

ABOUT HIS FELLOW DISCUSSANT IN THIS POSTING:
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.