Author Topic: Two viewpoints on academic research in the Philippines  (Read 21710 times)

Joe Carillo

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Two viewpoints on academic research in the Philippines
« on: June 30, 2010, 06:04:13 PM »
By Dr. Isagani R. Cruz

In “Academic research,” an article he wrote for his column in the June 24, 2010 issue of the Philippine Star, noted Filipino educator Isagani R. Cruz emphasized the need for Philippine universities to improve the journals they publish. In his column, he summarized the points he discussed in a paper he presented during the Philippine Association of Institutions for Research (PAIR)’s National Conference for Quality Assurance in International Journal Publications and Sustainable Research Management that was held recently at Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, Metro Manila.

Dr. Cruz said: “Because we live in an academic world of learned journals (more than a third of which are now online, by the way), we have to follow the standards required of the 16,000 journals listed by Thomson Reuters ISI or the 18,000 journals listed by Scopus. Otherwise, we will belong to the 25,000 other journals not taken seriously enough by scholars around the world to read them, much less cite them.”

Aside from strongly urging Philippine universities to follow these internationally accepted standards for research, Dr. Cruz recommended that they take the following actions to “get into the mainstream of international knowledge production”: (1) Put a link to Philippine E-Journals or Philippine Journals Online on their websites, (2) Ask their faculty members, not just the journal editors, to e-mail their colleagues outside the country about a journal issue when it comes out, and (3) Ask their journal editors to start a blog about the journal that focuses on the articles in the latest issue.

“Universities must step up and join the online world community of learned journals,” Dr. Cruz said.

Read Dr. Isagani Cruz’s column “Academic research” in full in the Philippine Star now!

Dr. Flor Lacanilao, retired professor of marine science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, sent to the Forum the following article in response to the above column of Dr. Isagani R. Cruz:

By Dr. Flor Lacanilao 

“There is nothing wrong with wanting heroes in science, but we should understand the criteria used to select those whom we are asked to revere.”—Robert Marc Friedman, professor of the history of science at the University of Oslo

Dr. Isagani R. Cruz discusses improving academic journals, saying these need scholars and specialists to manage and that we have some of the brilliant minds. He missed the importance of internationally accepted criteria in evaluating performance and deciding institutional leadership or assigning functions. Our usual practice is to rely on known personalities that we often refer to as scholars and specialists.

For example, he speaks of how to promote research by improving academic journals through (a) following international editing practices, (b) observing declared schedule of issues, (c) editorial board of scholars, who regularly attend conferences abroad and with history of publication citations, etc.

But Cruz fails to give the useful criteria to qualify for such functions.
Further, he supports his above views with, “We have some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Just think of Conrado Dayrit, who wrote in The Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine in 1992 about the benefits of virgin coconut oil. Because that journal had a very limited circulation, Dayrit was not credited worldwide with this discovery.”

Will these claims stand the test of established international standards, or simply the accepted measures of performance?

The absence of clear performance indicators, and the doubtful validity of proof, will just lead to another failed program. It takes properly published researchers to manage academic journals and review manuscripts. We don’t have enough of them in various major fields and specific disciplines. The best way to produce them is to publish in peer-reviewed international, journals, covered in widely-used indexes like Thomson ISI’s major indexes. They are the Science Citation Index (SCI), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), and Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI). (High-cited journals are covered here. The other ISI indexing products cover also low impact journals, which make up most of ISI-indexed journals, like our Philippine Agricultural Scientist.) 

The validity of the claimed proofs to support views can be verified through the number of publications and citations listed in such indexes. These have been widely used indicators for evaluating research and S&T performance when ranking nations, universities, and individuals. The results have been published in scholarly journals like the leading publications Science and Nature.

We have yet to catch up on the basics of how to improve academic research. We have first to learn how to publish properly; that is, adequate peer review of manuscripts and wide accessibility of published results for international verification. We don’t have enough capability for both. Hence, with their present state, we cannot rely on RP journals in learning how to write and publish valid papers. Only a few RP journals meet the criteria for coverage in the most respected indexes—none in SCI (with 3776 journals covered), only a few in SSCI (2876), and none that I know of in AHCI (1551).

The Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine mentioned above is not covered in SCI. Hence, the published paper on virgin coconut oil, which Cruz refers to above, is gray literature—not adequately peer reviewed, poorly accessible, hardly verifiable, and not taken seriously. How then can the discovery be credited worldwide? (The medical journal PJIM was dropped from SCI coverage in the early 1980s, and no Philippine journal has since met the coverage standard of SCI.)

Under the Philippine condition of unpublished researchers, why do we have hundreds of academic journals? Why is CHED still promoting publication of new journals and encouraging researchers to publish in them? How can such managed journals help our researchers do research properly, teach better, and improve education in the country?

Note that, based on education reform studies in developed countries, Nobel laureate in physics Carl Wieman says, “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 tertiary level.”

Are the CHED officials familiar of this?

If you want to know the real score, find out by Google Scholar search, and know who among our journal editors, academic leaders, research and science administrators, and our “brilliant minds” have valid research publications. You will be disappointed to find not many of them, past and present.

The picture presented here shows the real crisis in our education and research, and explains why it has gotten worse. I think it is the social responsibility of every natural and social scientist to help overcome this crisis that’s largely in leadership. As Steven Wiley said in his article “Mind Your Manners” in, “Asking for manners is probably not the most effective way, even though the call may seem warranted in some cases.”


Dr. Isagani R. Cruz is a multi-awarded and prolific poet, playwright, short-story writer, critic, educator, publisher, and advocate of the Filipino language. A former Philippine undersecretary of education, he is currently professor emeritus, university fellow, and academic publications executive publisher of De La Salle University and director of the Teachers Academy of Far Eastern University. He has a BS in Physics from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, an MA in English Literature from the Ateneo de Manila University, and  a PhD in English Literature from the University of Maryland. Recognized for his outstanding contributions to Philippine literature, he has written more than 30 books. He became a member of the Hall of Fame of the Palanca Awards for Literature in 2004 for his award-winning plays, essays, and short stories in Filipino and English.

In a previous paper entitled “Challenging ISI Thomson Scientific’s Journal Citation Reports: Deconstructing ‘Objective,’ ‘Impact,’ and ‘Global’” published in the
Portal: Libraries and the Academy (Volume 8, Number 1, January 2008), Dr. Cruz has argued that publication in Thomson’s ISI is wrong as a crucial determinant of the quality of faculty and research.*
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. As chief of the Aquaculture Department of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center in Iloilo, Philippines, he encouraged publication in peer-reviewed international journals, providing incentives that propelled the output of the center’s 50 all-Filipino research staff to world-class level. After retirement from the Marine Science Institute at UP Diliman, Dr. Lacanilao went on a crusade to improve Philippine research publications in science.

*Isagani R. Cruz - Challenging ISI Thomson Scientific's Journal Citation Reports: Deconstructing “Objective,” “Impact,” and “Global” - portal: Libraries and the Academy 8:1 portal: Libraries and the Academy 8.1 (2008) 7-13 Muse Search Journals This Journal Contents Challenging ISI Thomson Scientific’s Journal Citation Reports: Deconstructing "Objective," "Impact," and "Global" Isagani R. Cruz The Thomson Scientific Database, still commonly and conveniently—though inaccurately—know by its former name ISI (short for Institute for Scientific Information), is generally considered the top arbiter of the quality of learned journals. Academics all over the world find it prestigious to have their articles published in the journals included in the master journal list of the ISI Web of Knowledge. Publishers of non-ISI journals often make it their objective to have their journals listed in ISI, not only because of the prestige but also because librarians usually make decisions on subscriptions based on ISI. International surveys of universities, such as the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings 2006, have taken ISI data as crucial determinants of the quality of faculty and research. In order to be ranked internationally and, thus, to attract both students and funding, universities urge their researchers to publish in ISI journals and to have their works cited by scholars writing in ISI journals. Intellectually and financially,...

Click this link to the Project Muse website for access details to Dr. Isagani R. Cruz’s full paper

« Last Edit: July 05, 2010, 04:22:33 PM by Joe Carillo »


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Re: Two viewpoints on academic research in the Philippines
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2010, 01:47:15 AM »

"Money is the root of all evil." This shortened version supposedly had its roots from Jesus, quoted by the apostle Paul. It ran, "The love of money is the root of all evil." Of course, I disagree with the first.

Whether or not we subscribe to this saying, despite the negative association, money is necessary, important and is the common denominator for academic research, education, and progress. If inadequate, we spiral down to nothingness.

Why money?

Decent research in any field, in order to be pursued fully, must have adequate funding. Funds are needed for references and other paraphernalia. References are expensive. To equip a university library with recent publications or international journals in various disciplines, is a major funding problem for those that aspire to provide current and new knowledge. Both cash-strapped but truly learning universities and those whose interests are in just making a business out of education (for
education is big business), will find this an expensive project to pursue, let alone maintain.

Can the lack of references be solved by internet connectivity? Having an internet connection will allow access to many free scientific articles but will not assure a researcher access to the most recent and relevant publications. He or she must pay for access. It is not enough nor acceptable to just cut and paste a citation. One must read and digest the contents of the manuscript to determine its relevance to a study. Costs can easily pile up for a credible bibliography of citations.

Decent research is further hampered by the paucity of sponsors and difficulty in finding a willing one, unless one succumbs to being forever beholden to the sponsor. Poor Juan de la Cruz has no one to turn to, not even the government. If he wrangles some sponsorship from a politico, any benefits arising from the research must, by "default", also benefit the sponsor.

The same is true when one's sponsor is Big Pharma or big pharmaceutical companies. We know that Big Pharma sponsors many researchers and researches that will benefit them in the long run. Big Pharma does this primarily for profit, secondarily for social benefits, many times at the expense of society. We know that some researchers have disclosed their financial interests as major stockholders of companies and their research promotes the use of a patented product. The lucky guys can have their cake and eat it, too! Ah, but they had the funding and they got published!

As for education? Hmmm! How much of our national budget will be for education, according to Pnoy? 5%? This will probably just cover the backlog in school buildings and chairs. No safe water facilities nor toilets. Forget about the additional backlog of teachers and books. Will this be enough to cover all levels, most especially funding for research at the tertiary level where it counts the most? Most definitely not! We have a fairly good idea where the state of education in this country lies.

While we bewail the lack of accepted or acceptable publications in noteworthy and credible international journals, shouldn't we be thinking of credible boards in various disciplines that will serve as overseers for candidate publications? This board should have an international representation that includes well-known and published authors recognized in their fields of specialty. How many universities have this? Or should we just be dreaming of this status?

What about progress? Progress will not come easily. It will involve a lot of sacrifice, hard work and dedication by everyone working for common national goals. That means a dedicated government. Progress means credibility and acceptance in the international community. Progress allows the possibility of funding more and more relevant research that will benefit the nation and fuel more progress. It will also allow us to collaborate with international researchers that will further upgrade the quality of our researches. Progress means money. Lots of it.

To my simple mind, then, money is not evil. It is necessary for academic research, education and progress to go hand-in-hand in an upward spiral, or hopefully, in a shorter, straight and upward trajectory.



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Re: Two viewpoints on academic research in the Philippines
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2010, 12:18:01 AM »
I am posting the article below in reply to the comments of Forum member Tonybau to my response to Dr. Isagani R. Cruz’s column about the state of academic research in the Philippines. It was originally published in two parts in the May 19 and 26, 2005 issues of the Philippine Star.

Public understanding of science
By Flor Lacanilao, PhD

“Development goals that do not recognize the importance of science and technology in economic transformation are likely to fail, especially those aimed at reducing poverty and raising income levels” (Harvard Report: Meeting the needs of developing countries, 2001). Science in the Philippines, however, has hardly progressed to enable us to produce or adapt useful technologies for sustained development, and research is the culprit.

1. Research & development process

One way to improve the situation is to know first the R&D process. This consists of information production (research), information dissemination (extension work), and the use of information (development). Development depends on the quality of disseminated information, which relies on the way research is done. To do research properly, study results must be published in a research journal adequately peer-reviewed and accessible for international verification.

In science, the normal way of publishing results is the international refereed journal. Such published study is known as a scientific paper or valid publication. This is the scientist’s primary output, and is the source of information for the growth of scientific knowledge or science. The paper has to pass through adequate peer review before publication. It has to be accessible through indexes and normal library channels to enable international experts to do follow-up studies and verify the results. The scientific method requires this. But we have limited experts in various fields to do adequate peer review and verification studies. Still, most of our research papers are published locally. Therefore, they have doubtful validity and hardly contribute to the growth of science. These are the basic problems of research in the Philippines, the reasons we cannot sustain development.

The next phase of R&D is information dissemination. This usually starts with review articles, which are authored by respected scientists. Scientists are researchers who have published their studies in international journals. Those who have published enough papers on a given subject in such journals write review articles by gathering reliable information from important journals. From review articles, information is disseminated to the general public and the other users through various means – newspapers and magazines, newsletters, textbooks and manuals, radio and television, and the Internet.

Whatever is the means, the success of extension work depends on the information quality. This is the reason why doing research properly – including publication in adequately peer-reviewed and accessible journals – is important.

Writing review articles, and to some extent extension materials, is the scientist’s second role in R&D. They are addressed to the general public and the other users of information. This function differs from the scientist’s primary role of producing scientific papers, which are addressed mainly to other scientists for verification. Many fail to distinguish these two roles of scientists. They say, for instance, that research papers should be published locally to make them available to users. Since we do not have enough scientists in a given field to adequately review manuscripts, most locally published data are of poor quality, and using them for development programs is the common cause of R&D problems in the country.

Another use of information is for generating technologies. Some review articles are on technology production using scientific papers. As noted earlier, these contain the useful information that forms the raw material for the growth of science. Hence, science is the source of information for generating technologies. To be useful, technologies should also be made by scientists, who should not be mistaken with those who have published only in newsletters, institutional publications, and conference proceedings. Papers in these publications are not taken seriously, and they don’t count when assessing the science and technology (S&T) performance of nations.

If desired development continues to elude the Philippines, blame the technologies we claim to have. They used largely poor quality information from publications other than international journals. This information did not contribute to the growth of science. And no amount of extension effort will fully satisfy users of technologies made from information of doubtful validity.

The relation between R&D and S&T can then be illustrated as follows: RESEARCH to SCIENCE to TECHNOLOGY to DEVELOPMENT.

Development depends on technology, which depends on science, and ultimately on research. Thus, the basic component is research. If the country has development problems, one can predict a major cause if he or she knows the role of each component in the series. It can also be seen that development will hardly follow even if the funding or number of Ph.Ds is increased without the correct research output. This is evident in the Philippines.

Funding is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for research and development. It will only improve research if every funded study ends up with a scientific paper. The prescribed increase in R&D budget for developing nations assumes that, like in developed countries, research is done properly. This is what leads to national progress, which can support more research for more progress, and so on.

2. R&D problems in the Philippines

As noted above, problems holding back the growth of science in the Philippines are rooted in wrong research practices, not funding as is commonly thought of. Poor graduate training is a major cause. Or is it an effect?

An important requirement for an advanced degree in science is the thesis, which is meant to be training in research. And research is not completed until results are published. But in the country’s graduate schools, except some in UP, the end of graduate training is the bound thesis, rather than its publication. Hence, most holders of graduate degrees in the country don’t think of proper publication as part of research.

Many in the graduate faculty who avoid international publication failed to develop the needed research capability. Hence, they are unable to exploit scientific advances and to equip the country’s future researchers and technologists with useful skills. Unpublished faculty members produce unpublished Ph.Ds, who, in turn, become graduate faculty members and repeat the process.

Many of our Ph.Ds in science who got their degrees abroad did not publish their theses, knowing their home institutions would recognize the degrees even without publications. Whereas new Ph.Ds without publication experience in international journals don’t get faculty positions or research grants in developed countries, in the Philippines they are given automatic promotions. They include those in the graduate faculty, industry, and science administration.

Promotions, even to full professor, are given without justifiable indication of contributions to knowledge or consideration of valid publications. The common practice is to give more importance to promise (graduate degree) than performance (useful publications).

A research paper published without adequate peer review and not accessible through indexes and normal library channels, is gray literature. Examples are research papers in newsletters, institutional publications, and most conference proceedings. Production of papers continues for such publications because they entitle the authors to promotions, honoraria, or even awards. But as has been shown elsewhere, such publications hardly contribute to the growth of science and technology and do not count in ranking nations based on S&T performance. Most of our science administrators and researchers forget that publication in international journals can improve our capability to advance local science and technology.

We publish research journals without enough qualified researchers to manage them and adequately review manuscripts. We should review the intentions of Philippine journals. Obviously in their present state, they are not promoting Philippine science. And science organizations should stop giving awards to papers published in them (except the few that are now ISI journals).

A worse practice is to use unpublished data for policy-making, development programs and other purposes. This is common in the local implementation of projects. The practice is prevalent because of contractual demands from the government and international funding agencies, totally ignoring the established procedures of scientific research. It is an outcome of failure to make publication as the purpose of data gathering. Even those seeking high positions include in their achievements a long list of "unpublished research."

There were large increases in the budget of the Department of Science and Technology, particularly in 1991-1996. Increases in the DOST budget during this period had a yearly mean of 36 percent or from P854 million to P3.4 billion. But research output, extension materials, and other publications consisted largely of project reports, institutional publications, and other gray literature, which did not count in S&T assessments. They made up more than 95 percent of the total number of papers produced. Only 249 papers were published in international journals in 1995, half of which was from the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños and other international R&D organizations in the country, and about a fourth was from the University of the Philippines.

Further, among seven nations in the region, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the Philippines had the least progress in S&T between 1981 and 1995. Whereas its Asian neighbors had 37 to 300 percent increases in the number of international journal publications (the standard measure of S&T performance), that of the Philippines increased by only seven percent, and this was contributed largely by international R&D organizations in the country.

Nations with more productive scientists were ahead of the Philippines in economic growth. Smaller Taiwan had 23 times and tiny Singapore, six times more accredited publications in science than the Philippines in 1994-1995.

By 2000, the Philippines was still behind the seven countries. It has, however, made significant progress. And this is expected to continue since a few leading universities have been giving cash incentives for articles published in international journals. For instance, since 1999, the University of the Philippines has been giving an award of P50,000 (later raised to P55,000) for every paper published in an international journal (defined as journal covered in the indexes of the Institute for Scientific Information, or ISI journal). By 2003, the number of such publications from UP increased twofold, to 182. Although we still have a long way to go (China’s total publications were 58 times that of the Philippines in 2000; Japan’s, 160 times), we are on the right track.

Contrary to common claims and practices in the country, we have hardly generated, fully adapted, or transferred useful technologies. We should have realized this by now. When our agricultural products are refused by importing countries for contaminants or diseases, we are unable to take remedial action for scientific inability. As a former director of graduate studies in physics at Princeton said, "You need to know how to do research properly before you can begin to think about commercializing discoveries."

In local extension work, the quality of information is often ignored. Most extension materials contain information from project reports, newsletters, institutional publications, and conference proceedings. These are evident in the appended list of references. They are prepared largely by well-meaning but unqualified people forced to do a scientist’s job. Hence, the materials are of doubtful integrity.

Most users of information, like decision-makers, teachers, or the general public, rely on the information reaching them. They may not be able to judge the quality. If most of the information they get is substandard, as what often happens in the Philippines and other poor countries, errors are propagated and people hardly learn something useful. As a former chairperson of the US Atomic Energy Commission observed, "The public will remain uninformed and uneducated in science until the media professionals decide otherwise, until they stop quoting charlatans and quacks, and until respected scientists speak up."

3. Needed changes

The above problems are perpetuated by the indifference to reform so entrenched at all levels of research administration in the country. The vicious cause-and-effect cycle must be broken. It has wasted much time and resources. R&D funds have been spent to produce unpublished papers (graduate theses, project reports, lectures, etc.) and gray literature with the thought that the job has been done. While the practice has benefited the authors (promotions, honoraria, awards), it has hardly contributed to institutional growth and national progress in science and technology.

There is too much talk about technology and development, when attention should focus on changing our research practices. Evaluation should be in accordance with the established tradition of scientific publication and accepted measures of performance. International indicators of science and technology development, not publicity and claims of achievements, should be the standard measure of S&T performance in the country.

To continue the steps taken by some universities in improving research, nationwide changes are needed in graduate training, research practices, and performance evaluation. A simple way to speed up the development of science is to publish study results in ISI journals (see ISI website: Publications in such journals should be required in (a) the granting of the Ph.D. degree, (b) appointing members of the graduate faculty and journal editorial boards, (c) giving research grants, promotions, and awards, and (d) appointing research managers and science administrators. We must build up the competence at all levels of our research endeavor. This will enable us to develop the needed competitive ability.

Researchers should publish their studies, even if the funding agency wants only a final report. This applies also to the graduate thesis, even if the program requires only a bound thesis. To serve as training for writing and publishing research papers, the graduate thesis should be written as a publishable manuscript, ready for submission to an ISI journal. A master’s degree may require only a publishable manuscript, but a Ph.D. degree should require at least one publication from the Ph.D. thesis. The researcher’s contribution to the development of science and education will come from such publications.

Three guides in writing a manuscript are: (a) a good book on scientific writing and publishing, (b) a guide for authors of an ISI journal, and (c) sample articles from the journal. Robert Day’s How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 5th edition (1998), is an excellent book. The three writing guides improve chances of a manuscript in getting accepted in a good journal. Select journals that do not have page charges (there are enough of them in your field) if you don’t have funds for publication.

Changing the criteria for appointments, promotions, and awards will not be easy. The usual problems with incumbents, politics, and mediocrity have defied past attempts. For instance, graduate faculty often voted against changes because members are already enjoying benefits with only progress reports, and most of them don’t have publications in international journals. Eventually, however, only respected scientists will dominate positions in all ranks of our research enterprise. This is the situation that had facilitated advancement of science and technology in nations that achieved sustained economic growth and improved human condition.

Note that most of the proposed changes will not need added cost. And if a part of the DOST budget is used as cash incentives for research publications like what the UP is doing, we will see the dawn of scientific revolution in the country. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Science and Technology must be more active in policy debates related to science-based initiatives. It should play a major role in our economic reform and social transformation. Among its members are literate scientists who can promote science literacy, especially among government and industry leaders, and ensure that scientific research is incorporated into all of the country’s development strategies. There is no better alternative for industrialization than advanced science and technology.

Flor Lacanilao, Ph.D., is a retired professor of Marine Science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon city, and a former director of SEAFDEC (Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center).