Kudos to Filipino artists, shame on Filipino scientists

by Flor Lacanilao

Whereas Filipino artists are not only busy with their artistic work but also advance national art and defend its institutions, Filipino scientists have been largely concerned only with doing research to advance their name in science. Perhaps Jose Rizal was thinking of our scientists when he said, “Our talented men have died bequeathing to us nothing more than the fame of their name.”

The naming of National Artists and National Scientists in the Philippines has been continually threatened or beset with fake artists and scientists. Surprisingly, however, our respected artists have always protested such farce that dishonors art; but at all times that such fraud is done on science, our scientists have been silent.

The past and recent uproar in the selection of National Artists is a healthy sign of our artists’ concern for art. It happens when the selection did not meet the agreed process, or the candidate did not deserve the title, or both. It is an admirable demonstration of defending the profession and its national institutions.

Recent media commentaries from the artist community, editorials, and opinion columns show the lack of established selection process, definition of art, or criteria for judging artistic work. Whereas disputes with the selection process may be resolved in time because these are local procedural problems, perhaps it is more difficult for artists to agree on a definition of art. This may be true also in establishing an accepted procedure for judging art work.

For example, computer search will give you various definitions of art and a lot of disagreement. A recent legal review shows arguments why judges should not judge art. And evaluation studies by educators in Europe doubt the reliability of art teachers judging works of art. Despite these obstacles, however, respected Filipino artists have always shown not only their dedication to their trade but also their vigilance and united opposition against any actions making a travesty of Philippine art.

On the other hand, Filipino scientists have remained mute when nonscientists are named National Scientists, which happens every time the Award is given. There have been no protests from the science community or media commentaries from editorial and opinion columns. Unlike in the case of art and artists, the criteria for defining science and judging a research output — the work of a scientist — are well established. Yet over 30 National Scientists have been named, but most of whom are nonscientists or second-rate scientists.

The scientists’ silence is the main reason for a situation like that — increasing number of nonscientist National Scientists. In addition, their failure to promote the public’s understanding of science has made the media people incapable of making commentaries on anomalies in science. This situation is unfortunate because despite the importance of some fields to national progress, only science is essential in saving the Philippines. These two — the scientists’ silence and media’s incapability to report science anomalies — enable nonscientists to escape public criticism and to continue holding important science positions to the detriment of Philippine science and education.

Why are columnists allowed to criticize politicians with bad words, but media would not print valid criticisms of fake scientists? The reason is public ignorance of science, which is the fault of scientists. Hence, Filipino scientists are the root or basic cause of our national problems.

Who the real scientists are can easily be determined by their research publications that meet internationally accepted criteria, or published in journals covered in the major indexes of Thomson ISI. Number of publications in these journals is used in ranking nations (e.g., evaluation studies published in the leading journals Science and Nature) and ranking universities (e.g., Academic Ranking of World Universities, http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2008.html). But these widely-used, 50-year old criteria have been ignored in selecting National Scientists.

How can nonscientist National Scientists serve as role models or mentors for the next generation of Filipino scientists? The younger generation of Filipino researchers is the only hope to strengthen our science institutions, which have been undermined by the past and present generations of Filipino scientists.

(Fortunately, unlike before, today’s graduate students, by search engines now available, can find out whom among their teachers and officials are scientists — have properly published research papers. This sends a message to the faculty and institution to insure that graduate students get the proper training they deserve. With the information accessible in the internet, they are by themselves learning about research and development — the meaning of scientific publications and their importance to national progress.)

All developed countries recognize the importance of science in reducing poverty, raising income levels, and economic transformation. And the poor state of Philippine science is the main reason why an increasing number of neighbor countries have been leaving us behind. When will our scientists take a stand to save the country or set an example for the next generation of scientists?

They can learn a lesson or two from Filipino artists.

Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science
University of the Philippines, Quezon City