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Sad Reality About Philippine Science
« on: October 17, 2008, 01:39:37 AM »
Realities in RP science
By Raul Kamantigue Suarez, PhD
Published by the Philippine Star

During my recent Balik Scientist visit to the Philippines, a very dear scientist friend said she had gotten tired of reading articles such as this because, after issues have been debated and so many words exchanged, nothing ever changes.

But even Marx, who pointed out the need to change the world, analyzed it first. In my previous Star Science article entitled “Myths in Philippine Science,” I wrote about the apparent lack of clear understanding of what limits scientific productivity in the Philippines. Such understanding is necessary if problems are to be properly addressed. For example, if providing more funding for science is necessary, is this, by itself, sufficient? Or, given current conditions, should certain changes precede or accompany an increase in government funding for science? I think our dear friend would agree that such questions are worth asking, especially in a poor country where science competes for funding with education, health care, and other national programs that are starved of funds.

The importance of rejuvenating science in the Philippines cannot be underestimated. Kirk Hamilton’s work (Where Is The Wealth Of Nations?: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century, World Bank, 2006, http://go.worldbank.org/2QTH26ULQ0) reveals that about three-fourths of each country’s wealth lies not in natural resources or industrial production, but in “intangible capital” (quality of social institutions, education, skills and know-how, stable rule of law, honest elections, etc.).

The intangible capital available to each Filipino is worth about 10 times less than what is available to each Singaporean and 20 times less than what is available to each Japanese. Research, done by a healthy and productive scientific community, is an important component of the engines that drive the economies of all countries. So, let us consider the problems faced by those who do research and train scientists. Here are several problems identified by some accomplished Filipino scientists with whom I spoke:

The brain drain. Many scientists have left academia or left the country. Graduate students and young faculty members (at the UP) suffer from lack of mentors. Thus, although there is an abundance of raw talent among Filipinos, the national investment in manpower training is lost when scientists leave or give up doing science. In addition, the scarcity of highly published senior scientists, who can train students and serve as role models, creates new generations of scientists who are improperly trained in the culture and practice of science.

Low salaries. Researchers and scientist/professors who have trouble living on their salaries must find other ways to make ends meet and cannot do research with the commitment, passion and intensity required to be productive and to achieve excellence. This situation, along with other factors, contributes to the brain drain.

Too much teaching. University students refer to their professors as “teachers” and university administrators view teaching as the primary responsibility of their faculty. Research is considered an optional activity, done “on the side.” These are symptoms of the widespread failure to recognize that universities must contribute to the advancement of knowledge to be considered as true universities. Professors who write poetry teach poetry; those who teach science must do science.

* * *

Raul Kamantigue Suarez is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology of the University of California, Santa Barbara, California and an editor of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Cambridge, UK. E-mail him at suarez@lifesci.ucsb.edu.

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