By Flor Lacanilao, PhD*
(NOTE: This article has been previously published in Star Science, Philippine STAR, 26 May 2005. It is posted here with the author’s permission)
(Second of two parts)
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 the country’s research output, extension materials, and other publications consisted largely of gray literature, project reports, and institutional publications. They did not count in international assessments of research and S&T performance. They made up more than 95 percent of the total number of papers produced. Only 249 science papers were published in international journals in 1995, nearly half of which was from the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, 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 publications in international science journals (the standard measure of research and S&T performance), that of the Philippines increased by only 7 percent.
Nations with more scientists publishing in international journals are ahead of the Philippines in economic growth. Smaller Taiwan had 23 times and tiny Singapore, six times, more science publications in international journals than the Philippines in 1994-1995.
By 2000, the Philippines was still behind the seven countries. It has, however, made significant progress. The University of the Philippines has been giving cash incentives for articles published in international journals. For instance, since 1999, the UP 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-indexed journal). By 2002, the number of such publications (including social sciences) from UP increased twofold to 190, or 40 percent of the national total.
On the other hand, the combined publication output (all fields) of Ateneo, La Salle, UST, and San Carlos during the same period (1999-2002), increased from 7.8 to 8 percent only of the national total, which was 478.
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), UP can lead us 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 earlier. When our agricultural products are refused by importing countries for contaminants or diseases, we are often 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, local journals, 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. 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, honorariums, 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 UP 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-indexed journals (www.isinet.com). Publications in such journals (those covered by the Science Citation Index or Social Science Citation Index) should be required in (a) the granting of the PhD 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-indexed journal. A master’s degree may require only a publishable manuscript, but a PhD degree should require at least one publication from the PhD thesis. The researcher’s contribution to the development of science and education will come from such publications.
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 new funds. And if 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 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, 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.