Monday, March 12, 2012

Climate change: What more can science organizations do?

By Flor Lacanilao

From global terrorism and the spread of disease to the dangers of global warming, we are increasingly facing the sorts of threats for which governments everywhere will need to turn to their scientists. (“The scientific impact of nations,” Nature, 15 July 2004.)

Perhaps no other problems in this century threaten us more, in magnitude of destruction and death. From impacts of climate change alone -- e.g., typhoons, floods, landslides -- we have seen samples of their increasing frequency and damages, with the government still unprepared. And to think that yet to come are impacts on food production systems (agriculture and fisheries), communicable diseases, displacement, migration, etc. Our underdevelopment, persistent poverty, and archipelagic conditions make the Philippines more vulnerable.

The scientists referred to are the researchers -- in natural and social sciences, engineering, technology, and math -- who produce information, which can be useful information -- knowledge -- if research is done properly. Hence, the importance of doing research properly (see Fig. 1 in Doing research for development)

In addition to producing information/knowledge, scientists also have the social responsibility to disseminate useful information (through community service), and to use it for development programs, education, policy-making, etc. Together with research, they are what we call R&D (Fig. 2 in Doing research for development).

An important role of science organizations is promoting R&D. Consider research first. In their annual scientific meetings or conferences, most of our science organizations are unaware that study results are presented for two reasons: to inform the audience and to invite respected scientists in the audience to comment on the presented paper (preliminary peer review). Comments improve the manuscript before submission to a chosen primary journal. This crucial step -- submitting research manuscript to peer-reviewed international journal -- insures proper publication. Such journals have two important features: adequate peer review of the manuscript and wide accessibility for peer verification of published results.

Otherwise, research is not completed; or if published elsewhere -- e.g., conference proceedings, Philippine journals, institutional reports, or newsletters -- which are not adequately peer reviewed, the research output is just a gray literature (as seen in Fig.1). This is the kind of research papers largely published in the country (see Continuing problems with gray literature).

Science or professional organizations have also an important role in disseminating and using scientific information, the second part of R&D or development phase (seen in Fig.2). An example is promoting public understanding of science or climate change. Program success will be easier the better the research track record of the organization's membership; that is, whether the majority of the members are properly published.

Recently, concerned members of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) have launched an “information caravan” on climate change to deliver relevant scientific information to local government units. Among our top scientists in the group are Helen Yap of UP Diliman Marine Science Institute and Jurgenne Primavera of SEAFDEC in Iloilo. Full text appears below and at, (Inquirer, March 7, 2012)

My only concern is that in many group activities in the country, a common practice is making group decision, majority rules, to settle opposing views (Democratic governance impedes academic reform).
A likely problem arises on how to agree with research and science issues, when the properly published scientists in the group are a minority. But confronted with the increasing threats of devastation from changing climate, I think it is possible for such a group discussing such issues to come to a useful conclusion. And insure program success. I trust Jurgenne, Helen, and the rest of TOWNS will see this through. And show the government leaders and media people the need to turn to scientists when dealing with important national problems.

(Dr. Flor Lacanilao is the former Chancellor of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas)

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