by Flor Lacanilao
Retired Professor of Marine Science
University of the Philippines, Diliman
In previous posts, I discussed some reasons why we have not been able to move forward in the last 5 decades. During those years, every new administration has its development programs of reform and a new set of officials in-charge. Yet every succeeding administration inherited more problems from the previous one, and faced increasing global threats from terrorism, infectious diseases, and changing climate.
These problems include persistent poverty, population growth, poor basic education, resource overexploitation, environment degradation, graft and corruption, and common crimes. Global threats include national security, public health, and climate-related disasters.
I have discussed them as problems that are interrelated, forming vicious circles of cause-and-effect. Hence, since they form interrelated vicious circles, they constitute a complex national problem. This is one reason why every past administration has been trying but failed to solve. Further, the right people have not been put in charge (see how to choose the right people in Energy crisis and climate change).
With the right people in charge of each program, the common cause of the above problems -- poor state of higher education and science -- would have been identified and improved. Higher education and science are the two basics of national progress, which are recognized by all developed and fast developing countries.
In 2010, at the start of his term, I posted in the Philippine science forum, a reminder calling the attention of President Aquino on the above issues (see excerpts by columnist Domini Torrevillas in Cory, Ninoy and Noynoy, Philippine Star, 3 August 2010).
I said in that commentary,
Most Filipinos believe corruption is the cause of poverty; and that stopping corruption will eliminate poverty. It is now time to educate the public -- for the President to address the true causes of national problems. He should at least be able in 6 years to put in place the established essentials of sustainable progress. For these, he will need the help of experienced Filipino researchers. He must not fail.
President Aquino has still 4 years to make a difference, and start the real reform that eluded all past Philippine presidents.
Below are relevant short articles that will help the President and the right people he will put in charge of his crucial programs -- starting with higher education and science.
Retired professor of marine science
1) Pass the Books. Hold the Oil.
Education is a better economic driver than a country’s natural resources.
This is from Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat” and columnist of The New York Times. It was shared by Ben de Lumen, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley.
from: Ben O. de Lumen
to: Flor Lacanilao
date: Sun, Jun 24, 2012 at 8:52 AM
subject: [Fwd: An Article By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN]
Every so often someone asks me: “What’s your favorite country, other than your own?”
I’ve always had the same answer: Taiwan. “Taiwan? Why Taiwan?” people ask.
Very simple: Because Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources. It even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction. Yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence. I always tell my friends in Taiwan: “You’re the luckiest people in the world. You have no oil, no iron ore, no forests, no diamonds, no gold, just a few small deposits of coal and natural gas — and because of that you developed the habits and culture of honing your people’s skills, which turns out to be the most valuable and only truly renewable resource in the world today.
Moses arduously led the Jews for 40 years through the desert — just to bring them to the only country in the Middle East that had no oil. But Moses may have gotten it right, after all. Today, Israel has one of the most innovative economies, and its population enjoys a standard of living most of the oil-rich countries in the region are not able to offer.
in the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA scores and few natural resources, while Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil rents and the lowest PISA scores.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Syria stood out the same way in a similar 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or Timss, test, while students from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — also Middle East states with few natural resources — scored better.
In sum, knowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st-century economies, but there is no central bank that prints this currency. Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print. Sure, it’s great to have oil, gas, and diamonds; they can buy jobs. But they’ll weaken your society in the long run unless they’re used to build schools and a culture of lifelong learning. The thing that will keep you moving forward is always what you bring to the table yourself.”
Full text at,
03/11/opinion/sunday/friedman- pass-the-books-hold-the-oil. html?ref=thomaslfriedman>
2) Abandon GNP and GDP
It is time to abandon GNP and GDP as the measure of national progress. As an indicator of economic well-being, GNP does not consider sustainability. In the United States, "per capita GNP rose by 49% during 1976-98, whereas per capita ‘genuine progress’ (the economy's output with environmental and social costs subtracted and added weight given to education, health, etc.) declined by 30%” ("Sustainable consumption." Science 287:2419, 2000).
GDP is known also to be flawed as an indicator. For example, a developing country can speed up its GDP growth by over-logging its forests, a sustainable resource. “What we measure affects what we do. If we have the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things,” says economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, a Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank (Progressive thinking. Nature 463: 849-850, 2010)
When the strong GDP growth in the United States and other countries collapsed during the financial crisis, "much of the measured growth turned out to be a mirage."
3) Scientist heads of state
(a) New Egyptian President a Scientist
The Scientist, June 27, 2012
After the popular uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi narrowly defeated former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq in an election that captivated the Middle East region and the world. Morsi holds a PhD in material science from the University of Southern California (USC) and served as a professor of engineering at California State University at Northridge.
“My vision is for science to be the start of a renaissance in Egypt and for science research to be our weapon against the major problems that our country faces,” Morsi said in a statement.
(b) India's Scholar-Prime Minister Aims for Inclusive Development
Science 24 February 2012:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed last month to more than double the nation's R&D spending to $8 billion a year by 2017. Since taking office in May 2004, Singh has launched initiatives to entice overseas scientists to return home, create elite universities, and establish a grants agency modeled after the U.S. National Science Foundation (see p. 891).
(c) Indian president's strong scientific legacy
Source: SciDev.Net, 11 September 2007
Indian science has many reasons to be grateful to A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the country's recently retired president. He constantly reminded children, politicians and the general public that science and technology are crucial to national development and the fight against poverty. He was confident that the days of a 'developed' India were not a distant dream.
4) So many Chinese leaders are scientists
Science 7 December 2007
Chinese Science on the Move. As with all developing countries, recent progress in Chinese science has not always been smooth. Entire systems for local science and international cooperation had to be developed and are still evolving. But the rapid increase in R&D investment--with an annual growth rate of 18% over the past 5 years (the United States, Japan, and the European Union grew at a combined average rate of about 2.9%)--reflects a clear understanding by China's top political leadership that science and technology (S&T) are critical to their nation's future. This is not surprising because so many Chinese leaders are scientists and engineers by training. Educated as an engineer, Chinese leader Hu Jintao emphasizes the importance of investing in S&T in virtually every policy address. He included in his 2006 list of "do's and don'ts" for the Chinese populace: "Uphold science; don't be ignorant and unenlightened."