Author Topic: Philippine science: “Time for a fresh start”  (Read 3669 times)


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Philippine science: “Time for a fresh start”
« on: March 24, 2012, 11:41:09 AM »
Philippine science: “Time for a fresh start”
By Dr. Flor Lacanilao

This week’s Nature editorial (“A Russian renaissance?”) gives some ideas on how to reform Philippine science. Think of the Philippines while reading it.

Vladimir Putin’s promise to increase research spending is welcome — but his country’s scientific system needs a complete overhaul.

If science is to have a constructive role in shaping Russia’s future, Putin must tackle these problems as forcefully as possible. Economists say that a key test of his leadership will be how far he is prepared to go to reform the economy; his agenda should also include kick-starting overdue scientific reform. Rather than relying on the advice of an exclusive inner circle of buddies and dignitaries, as he has in the past, Putin should set up a truly independent scientific advisory council, ideally involving foreign scientists, to guide him through the necessary changes. Russia’s partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, which will help to set up a new research university in Skolkovo, near Moscow, is a first step in that direction. The creation of a well-funded granting agency for university research, with transparent and fair procedures, would be a perfect sequel.”
(Full text at Nature 15 March 2012)

In 2007, another editorial in Nature (4 Oct 2007, “Time for a fresh start”) describes the state of science in Russia. Reading it reminds one of the state of science in the Philippines. I paraphrased the editorial—inserting Philippine conditions where appropriate—and wrote a piece to describe the state and problems of science in the country. It was posted as “Philippine science: Time for a fresh start” in 2008.
Fifty years after putting up an S&T agency (DOST) and 30 years after putting up a national science academy (NAST), the Philippines has yet to find a scientific system that is anything close to meeting its twenty-first century needs.

The academy’s measurable scientific output is in decline, and yet many (perhaps most) of its members are stubbornly opposing all proposals for reform, whether they emanate from the academy itself or from outside. For example, the publications data of Filipino biologists in the attached table shows a clear picture of the serious problem (at links above).

Getting scientific papers published in international journals, for example, is essential for researchers from Boston to Beijing. But at most government science agencies and organizations they don’t care about publication lists and impact factors, and many researchers regard as impertinent the idea that research careers should depend on papers in “foreign” journals. The very notion of international peer review is still not accepted by the old guard.

All this must change. The academy needs to make sure that the limited funds are allocated, in a competitive and transparent way, to the best groups and projects in each field. This is even more important that public research spending is increasing. And with the absence of stringent quality-management, the extra money is likely to dissolve in nepotism and ill-reviewed projects.

A thorough evaluation of the entire science enterprise, to be done by respected scientists from here (many of them are listed in the table) and abroad, would be the best way to commence modernization. Further neglect of reform will cement only the academy’s decline into mediocrity or obsolescence, and foster yet more emigration of young talent.

See full text and table of Filipino scientists in biological sciences at links given above. Out of the 53 scientists that made the cutoff in biological sciences in 2008, 25 were from SEAFDEC Philippines and 11 from UP Marine Science Institute.  Nine National Scientists in biological and related fields did not make it to the list. (March 16, 2012)

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.