Poverty is just a symptom, poor science is the cause

Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science, UP Diliman
Our common approach to solve problems is to address the symptoms rather than the causes. Examples are problems with poverty and overpopulation, as in a letter to the Inquirer (6/18/07). These are symptoms of underdevelopment, forming a vicious circle, and making economic growth more difficult. Dealing with symptoms is like giving medicine for easing the pain instead of curing the disease. We must address the cause to achieve the objective.
The basic cause of our underdevelopment is poor science and technology. While controlling population growth may facilitate economic progress, this cannot be achieved without S&T. We should learn from densely populated countries that have left us behind and the sparsely populated African countries, which have remained poor.
When Singapore was developing its industrial base in the ‘60s and ‘70s, its population density was 6 times than that of the Philippines today, and it had only human resources. But its government relied much on the country’s scientists and focused on advancing science and technology. By 1995, the scientific publications (the established measure of S&T performance) of tiny Singapore were 6 times that of the Philippines .
India’s economic growth is in rapid progress despite its 1 billion people and high population density (368 persons per sq km against our 300). “Signs are accumulating that India is on course to becoming one of the world’s scientific and technological leaders. . . . more and more young scientists now are opting to stay or at least return to India . Not only are living conditions improving, but opportunities for exciting work are exploding owing to a growing roster of research and development centers that multinational companies have been establishing there in recent years.”
African countries, on the other hand, have very low population densities but have remained poor. For example, Zimbabwe , Congo , Mozambique , Sudan , Zambia , and Angola have only 10 to 32 persons per sq km. And it was said, “Whereas science alone cannot save Africa, Africa without science cannot be saved.”
While our government, by its pronouncements, has long recognized the importance of S&T to economic growth, it failed to institute programs to improve science (see link below for discussions). Poor science has been our major obstacle to economic growth. And it led to the public’s failure to distinguish between causes and symptoms of national problems.
Mainly to blame is the National Academy of Science and Technology, which is mandated “to advise the President and the Cabinet on matters related to science and technology.”
Corruption in government and common crimes are also symptoms of underdevelopment. So are poor education and environment degradation. Like poverty and overpopulation problems, they largely disappear as a nation achieves real growth through S&T. The few crooks that remain in developed countries are for sociologists to explain. They are not development related.
“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)
For more on S&T, see my series of articles on public understanding of science published in a major daily and now posted at www.philippinestoday.net  (under SciTech Update). They discuss how science should be done and how the Filipino scientific community has failed in its social responsibility.