Friday, February 19, 2010

Science in the Philippine political arena

The discussion thread in the Philippine Association of Marine Science Yahoo group has become interesting. It first started when Professor Flor Lacanilao started about a few years back on what ails Philippine Science. While we may think that it is largely the lack of resources, Prof Lacanilao says it's more than that. It is political. The politics is from the university committee level (like the one the decides who gets academic tenure or not), to the department level (which allocates scarce resources and recommends promotions), the college (which confirms the recommendations), the university administration (which approves the promotion), to the Department of Science and Technology (which gives the grants), the National Academy of Science and Technology or NAST (which advises the President in conferring national awards) and ultimately ends on the President (who approves the awards).

Professor Lacanilao contends that "non-scientists" get recognized in this he means the science academics who don't publish (which implies they hardly do research) get appointed to the national academy and get the awards. This according to Lacanilao is contrary to universal acceptance of science meritocracy that characterizes developed economies . Scientists are promoted on the basis of their research productivity. The more productive get the grants and then get the awards.

We have read or heard the clear fact that science investments correlate to how advanced the national economy is. This has been the subject of numerous presentations by UP Science Dean Caesar Saloma to various fora, including congressional and Senate hearings. Investments have to be made to science education (especially at university and postgraduate levels), science infrastructure and science policy. Our science investment in terms of percent GDP has declined from 0.15 (when GMA began her presidency) to 0.12 in 2008. We have 1 scientist to 7978 Filipinos compared to 1 in 2248 Indonesians. Since Indonesia has a much larger population than we have, we can only conclude that the Philippines is producing not enough S&T professionals or are losing them at an alarming rate.

In contrast Japan has 1 in 180, Singapore, 1 in 183, USA 1 in 216, Taiwan 1 in 223 and China at 1 in 180.

Germany has the highest science PhD to population ratio 1 PhD to 3316 Germans. If the Philippines has to play catch up then it needs 26,508 practicing science PhDs. DOST says we just have 1374 in the country.

The key to economic advancement with respect to S&T development, according to Saloma is in four points

1. Mature venture-capital industry, 2. Close relations between universities and industry 3. Willingness of consumers to try new products 4. Open immigration policy

This requires that we have a science policy which the politicians understand and this is so tied up with a lack of meritocracy that Lacanilao bewails.

We cannot expect the President of the Philippines to be a scientist. But we should expect the him/her to be adequately advised on S&T and he/she should be aware that S&T is needed in advancing the economy.

Lacanilao's peeve is that the people that advise the President are not doing research themselves and thus have little to contribute. He zeroes in on the NAST, which is mandated by law to advise the President on S&T matters and policy.

Now he brings up the issue that a scientist partylist group AGHAM is running in the 2010 elections but is headed by a non-scientist.

The question is whether AGHAM can bring up to Congress concerns on science. The main constraint is that the science community is so small and hardly makes a political ripple. Scientists will have to work with non-scientists who they hope can articulate their concerns. The irony of it all is that Science is not a peripheral issue in the national life, but one of those in the center. If we value economic advancement, then we should value the importance of science and technology. In order to boost S&T's role in reducing poverty, a science policy can be designed with programs that can result in high value and high edge technologies that can be produced locally. This is what Brazil, Mexico and China did.

The first dean of the UP College of Science, Dr Roger Posadas compares the government investment driven "science push" approach and the private investment driven "market pull" approach. Posadas contends that this technoliberal approach has retarded S&T development in the Philippines. Our local companies are comfortable in importing technologies and reduced competitiveness. This policy started with the Cory Aquino administration.

These are some of the issues that NONE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES have ever said anything about. The closest candidate which has said something near these is Gibo piloting his jetplane. Now he should fly a Pinoy made jetplane to prove we have really taken off and caught up with Brazil.








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