Nonscientists run Philippine science academy

by Flor Lacanilao

There is no scientist or social scientist in the 7-member Executive Council of the country’s National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). Not one. The EC is composed of the organization’s president, vice-president, secretary, and four members. No one of them has enough properly published work in science or social sciences. The same is true of past officials. No wonder the state of science in the country is so bad. And no less than 12 Asian countries have in the last 50 years left us behind. The Department of Science and Technology is 50 years old.

This finally explains what I have been trying to point out in my papers (some of them the media would not print) – that the NAST is the major cause of the poor state of science in the country. This paper reviews what I have written about the state of Philippine science and reports the lack of valid publications among the NAST officials.

The stories have been published in The Philippine Star (1), the Philippine Daily Inquirer (2), posted in websites (3), and sent by email. After four articles in The Philippine Star, the column editor informed me that many of our respected scientists found my articles adversarial and counter-productive (my fifth paper was not printed), which I argued can come only from those who do not know their science (4). Their comments partly reinforced my doubts about those running our science agencies and organizations. They also made me realized what I was up against in the Philippine scientific community.

The papers discuss how science should be done, how science leads to national progress, how the Filipino scientific community has failed in its social responsibility, and explain the main causes of the stunted growth of Philippine science. A major culprit points to the national science academy, the NAST, but the crucial proof to support it was lacking. Still its shortcomings on the job have been evident. Unlike science academies in other countries, NAST failed to promote excellence within the scientific community, encourage informed public debate on science-related issues (e.g., biofuels, climate change, and population control), and provide policy-makers with sound advice for rational decision-making on such issues (5).

The conclusion above came after a series of hard and easy access to scientific publications, the established indicators in evaluating performance in the sciences. In my UP Centennial paper, I started showing why NAST has not been able to do its job (6). The paper reports that most of the members and all officials of NAST did not have enough scientific publications in 1981-1997 to be in a science academy. More developments in computer search allowed easy access to someone’s publications in international journals.

Hence, on 12 Sept 2008, I showed that only 3 of 8 new NAST members are scientists or published in international journals (7); the year before, 2 of 4 members elected are nonscientists. And the following week, I presented data showing that only 8 of the 27 Academicians and National Scientists in biology have each at least three publications in peer-reviewed international journals as sole or lead author. And only these 8 made it in a list of 58 Filipino biologists with at least three such publications (8). The list is dominated by scientists from SEAFDEC (Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center) in Iloilo and the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines, who are non-NAST members.

Who they are

“The general administration and direction of the affairs of the Academy are vested in seven members appointed by the President of the Philippines for a three-year term. They comprise the NAST Executive Council. The officers of the Academy are elected by the general membership from the members of the Executive Council consisting of the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary. They are referred to as the Executive Bureau. The Executive Council Meeting is held every second Thursday of the month. In between meetings, the Bureau meets to consider urgent matters which will be subsequently confirmed by the Executive Council.”

The 2005-2008 members of the NAST Executive Council (EC) are the following:

Academician Emil Q. Javier, as President
Academician Ledivina V. Cariño as Vice President
Academician Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza Secretary
National Scientist Dolores A. Ramirez, Academicians Mercedes B. Concepcion, Ceferino L. Follosco, Quintin L. Kintanar as members.

Their publications were obtain through Google Scholar, and only those covered in Science Citation Index (SCI) or Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) were selected to show their capability in science or social sciences (9).

Only two of the seven EC members have more than 6 publications, and the rest have each 0-2. All the seven are each sole or lead author of only 0-2 publications.

If one would look at such publication records of past officials of NAST, largely the same results would be obtained. The same situation is true for past and present officials of the DOST (department of science and technology).

Culprits or victims

Clearly, such capability of the officials of our national science academy and S&T department cannot be expected to debate on scientific issues, promote science literacy, and provide sound policy advice. These are evident in what has become of the NAST and science in the country (1 & 2). How then can we fight poverty and disease or move the country forward?

Membership in the US National Academy of Sciences is a “widely recognized sign of excellence in scientific research” and where “each member should serve as a role model for defining excellence in science for the next generation of scientists in his or her field” (10).

Publication data, especially in international journals, of everybody are now available by computer search for the public use. Publications in peer-reviewed international journals are important objective indicators for assessing research performance. And this tells one’s range of capability in doing science-related functions — training graduate students, disseminating scientific information, writing books, evaluating research proposal and output (e.g., for giving grants and awards), evaluating medicinal products, science administration, science policy making, etc. All of them are important in advancing science for national progress. The data can tell if one can properly do the job. On a national scale, this is seen in a country’s state of development or underdevelopment (9).

Examine, for example, a Philippine book on Filipino great scientists or medicinal plants, but first check the publications or citations of the author. And you will find the same quality and integrity in the content.

But who are really to blame? The problem is complicated and has 50 years of degenerative history. I tried to explain some circumstances, the symptoms & causes, the culprits & victims (4 & 6) — the main suspect is the Filipino scientist. For how else could a science academy have non-scientist members and officials? But as in the nature of science, whatever problems scientists cause, can also be solved by scientists.

Time for a new start

The SCI covers over 3,750 journals and the SSCI, over 2,300. The SCI-indexed journals are the elite or best cited journals indexed by ISI (Institute for Scientific Information). ISI covers more than 8,000 journals, which are used in evaluating research or S&T performance that are published in the leading journals Nature and Science (e.g., 9).

In top universities like Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and Cambridge, scientists use peer review to rate research performance. And it has almost entirely been confirmed by the objective indicators — publications and citations — using Science Citation Index. Similar confirmation has also been shown for Nobel laureates in science.

Those who have run our academic institutions and national organizations and agencies in science in the last 50 years have also been using peer review or personal judgment for such evaluation. But this has always been refuted by the same SCI-indexed indicators, because it is done by nonscientists (6, 7, 8, and this paper). SCI-indexed publications are the minimum and best requirement for doing any science-related work mentioned above.

Perhaps our institutions aiming for excellence should consider shifting to SCI (publications and citations) in evaluating performance in science, engineering, and math; and for social and behavioral sciences, SSCI. They can never go wrong. No journals from the Philippines have yet met the SCI’s standards for coverage (I have seen four in SCI Expanded, which covers nearly twice as many journals). The Philippine Political Science Journal is covered in SSCI.

Using SCI as standard for evaluation will enable us to achieve the state of science we need for generating useful technologies. And together with technologies from developed countries, harness them for national progress (11). In university rankings, UP can then aim to make it in the first 100 in the Asia Pacific and in the world’s top 500 (12).

Whereas science alone cannot save the Philippines, the Philippines without science cannot be saved. This was also said of Africa. And African countries have since been establishing a strong research base through research universities and advancing science through science academies (5). If we don’t move fast, some African countries will follow Indonesia and Vietnam, which have left the Philippines behind in number of scientific publications, Vietnam in the last 2 years.

Media’s Role

When a noted scientist was once asked when scientists should take a stand on an issue, he said, “Correcting misleading information in the media would be a good start.” It isn’t enough to do good work in the lab or in the field only to have it distorted in the press, he added.

Media people can play an important role in helping disseminate scientific information to the public. Reliable sources of such information are available. Journalists have only to learn how to get them. For instance, they should start by knowing a scientific paper from a gray literature, a scientist from a charlatan. Differences between these are given above. The scientific paper or research publication in SCI-indexed journal, for example, separates the scientist from the nonscientist; it is not the doctoral degree.

Journalists who are not pressed for deadlines will have more time to search for important references (e.g., 5, 9-12). Such references, for example, will enable columnists in particular to distinguish between symptoms and causes of national problems. They can then include in their commentaries the needed “transition from a crisis/symptom mode to a prevention/cure mode” of problem solving (13), which can have a lasting influence on government leaders.

Or they can get information from review papers in international journals. Scientific review articles show which subjects have been adequately studied. They also tell which studies have been adequately verified. In science, only such verified studies are useful to the public.

One suggestion for editors is not to routinely refuse papers from scientists (once these have been confirmed as such) for reasons of poor style. Instead, why not edit the language for the general audience? In science stories, accuracy of information is more important than literary elegance; education than entertainment. Section editors can invite scientists to submit papers on their research projects, which can then be edited to suit the general audience. This way, editors are assured of getting useful scientific information from scientists, rather than waiting for papers of doubtful quality from people of unknown skill.

“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.”

Final word

I have said enough about our problems in science (thanks for the support of many). Paulit-ulit, nakakamanhid, adversarial, counter-productive, sabi ng iba. From their comments, I can judge their value to Philippine science.

Let me close this (my last) by quoting Raul Suarez (14). Dr Suarez is a Fil-Canadian who is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an editor of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Cambridge, UK.

“We learned from Rizal’s life that it should not be considered a bad thing to write of darkness, foul air, and dirty water. Filipinos shot the messenger in 1896 and his message was censored for decades afterwards by the Church and banned in some of the best universities in the country. It is in this light that I view negative reactions to objective analyses of the state of Philippine science. How sadly counter-productive! How contrary such reactions are to the interests of the Filipino people! But for every Filipino in Rizal’s firing squad in 1896, there were thousands of others who joined the revolution. Today, for every person who does not want to read or hear of dysfunction in Philippine science, there are many more who realize that it is time for change.”

To our young students of science, I hope this review of the state of science in the Philippines will move you to think always of it as you pursue your career, and help the country to move forward.

To my former grad students, assistants, and colleagues at UP Institute of biology, UP Visayas, UP Marine Science Institute, and SEAFDEC, huwag kayong bibigay (don’t give up or go with the current).

Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science
University of the Philippines, Quezon City
florlaca @ gmail . com


1. Philippine Star

R&D process (19 May 2005 & 26 May 2005) (Part 1) (Part 2)

Research on medicinal plants (2 Feb 2006)

Training graduate students (16 March 2006)

Problems with media and scientists (27 July 2006)

2. Philippine Daily Inquirer

A scientist’s thoughts on the approaching UP Centennial (Part 1, 26 July 2007) (Part 2, 27 July 2007)

A Jolt from the true state of science in the Philippines (11 May 2007)

Only science can solve poverty (21 June 2007)

True cause of poor S&T (30 July 2007)

Key to real growth no longer a secret (19 Jan 2008)

No shortcut to progress (19 Feb 2008)

3. Websites

Straight Talk to Filipino Scientists (1 March 2007)

Measuring research performance (19 Mar 2007)

Research as principal criterion of faculty recruitment (16 June 2007)

Essentials of development and the UP Centennial (15 Dec 2007)

Straight talk 2: What more can scientists do? (15 Feb 2008)

Problems with writing science for the public (20 March 2008)

50 years of DOST, 30 Annual Meetings of NAST (5 July 2008)

Biofuels are as carbon-unfriendly as gasoline (13 July 2008)

The real issue in the botanic garden proposal or debate (25 July 2008)

More on UP as a research university (15 Aug 2008)

4. RP scientists to blame for poor science (19 Mar 2007)

5. Africa’s academies. Nature, 6 December 2007)

6. Celebrating the UP Centennial (20 July 2007)

7. Only 3 of 8 new Academicians are scientists (12 Sept 2008)

8. Philippine science: Time for a new start (19 Sept 2008)

9. The scientific impact of nations, Nature, 15 July 2004.

India’s R&D: Reaching for the top, Science, 4 March 2005

Free journal-ranking tool enters citation market, Nature, 2 January 2008

10. Election to the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS 102: 7405-7406, 2005

11. S&T for Sustainable Well-Being, Science, 25 January 2008:

12. Academic Ranking of World Universities 2007

13. A Populist Movement for Health, Science, 3 October 2008

14. International Science: Function, Dysfunction and Flowers in a Grassy Field, Philippine Star, 5 & 12 April 2007 (Part 1) (Part 2)