Tuesday, July 26, 2011

PNoy’s science policy insults scientists

By Flor Lacanilao

Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science and for 12 years was president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, says “Over the long run, any nation that makes crucial decisions while ignoring science is doomed.” It is critical that national legislation be based on what science knows about potential harm, he added

(“Policy-Making Needs Science).

It is therefore alarming that President Aquino’s science report in his SONA ignores the overwhelming consensus that scientific research is a prerequisite to technological development. With such practices, it will be difficult to make wise decisions, Alberts added. 

In his SONA, President Aquino said, "Creativity is in display with the innovations that are already being implemented. We have developed low-cost traps that kill mosquito larvae, probably contributing to the nearly fourteen percent decrease in dengue incidents; coconut coir fibers that are normally just disposed of have been used as a cost-effective way to strengthen our roads; we have landslide sensors that warn when soil erosion has reached dangerous levels; we have developed early flood warning systems for riverside communities. All of these are products of Filipino creativity.”

But we are already in the 21st century. Innovations like these are no longer done.

The President continued, “DOST and UP have even teamed up to develop a prototype monorail system, which could potentially provide a home grown mass transport solution that would cost us as little as 100 million pesos per kilometer, much cheaper than the current cost of similar mass transit systems. . . I am telling you now: We can dream about them, we are capable of achieving them, and we will achieve them.”

Can the DOST and UP personnel involved in this project show -- with properly-published studies -- the cost-effective, safety, capability claim, etc.?  

On the other hand, it can be showe that in its over 50 years of existence, the DOST has been funding and announcing inventions and innovations, which “are products of Filipino creativity.” These were not backed up with properly done research by published scientist. And during this period, the Philippines, from second only to Japan, has been left behind by no less than 12 Asian countries.

Further, our stunted growth of scientific capability has been shown by our S&T performance (this is measured by the number of scientific publications in peer-reviewed international journals). In 2005, our total scientific publications (in high-impact journals) were only 178, compared to those of Singapore’s 3,600-plus, Taiwan’s 10,800 and South Korea’s 16,400. China in 2009 produced 125,000.

“The environment in which decisions are made in a democracy will always be highly politicized, but it is crucial that both sides of any argument pay close attention both to what science knows and how that knowledge has been gained” Alberts concludes.

(Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained his Ph.D. (specialization in comparative endocrinology) from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman, chancellor of UP Visayas, and chief of SEAFDEC in Iloilo.)

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