By Flor Lacanilao, PhD*
(NOTE: This article has been previously published in Star Science, Philippine STAR, 19 May 2005. It is posted here with the author’s permission)
(First of two parts)
“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 to blame.
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. It 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 published results. The scientific method requires this.
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 published papers in important journals. From review articles, information is disseminated to the general public 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 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 have not 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. And 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, conference proceedings, and local journals. Papers in these publications are not taken seriously, and they don’t count in international assessments of 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. Such 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 -> SCIENCE -> TECHNOLOGY -> 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 PhDs 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 to industrialization.
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 commonly thought. Poor graduate training is a major cause.
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 properly 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. Faculty members who are unpublished in international journals produce unpublished PhDs, who, in turn, become graduate faculty, and repeat the process.
Most of our PhDs in science who got their degree abroad did not publish their thesis, knowing their home institutions would recognize the degree even without publications. Whereas new PhDs 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, most conference proceedings, and local journals. In the country, production of such papers continues because they entitle the authors to promotions, honorariums, or even awards.
But as has been shown elsewhere, such publications hardly contribute to the growth of science and technology, and they don’t count in ranking nations or universities based on research or S&T performance. Most of our science administrators and researchers forget that publishing 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 science in the Philippines. And science organizations should stop giving awards to papers published in them.
A worse practice is to use unpublished data for policy-making and development programs. This is common in the local implementation of projects 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.”
(To be concluded)
*Flor Lacanilao, PhD, is a retired professor of Marine Science at UP Diliman, a former chief of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center in the Philippines, and a former chancellor of the UP Visayas. E-mail at flor_lacanilao @ yahoo.com.