A vote for science: More tips to improve Aquino's report card

by Flor Lacanilao

An editorial of the journal Nature (25 October 2012) is A vote for science  This is In support and recognition of Obama's concerns for science and environmental issues. It also says, it gives Obama a clear advantage over Mitt Romney. 

Earlier supports for Obama's science programs were also expressed by voters in Obama’s science report card (Scientist, October 1, 2012 ), and by 68 Nobel Prize winners in Obama Picks Up Nobel Endorsements (ScienceInsider, 18 October 2012).

Voters gave Obama grades for Environment (B+), Health (A), Science Education (A), and Energy (B). The laureates wrote in their letter, “President Obama understands the key role science has played in building a prosperous America.” 

Of course Obama's men and women in charge of his science-related programs -- and the over 20 in the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology -- are top scientists and Nobel laureates. In previous posts, I showed that so many Chinese leaders and some Indian Presidents & Prime Ministers have been/are trained scientists. Such selected people are also found managing science programs in fast developing neighbor countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea.

On the other hand, President Aquino would need more scientists in his cabinet -- urgently in need are in science and higher education -- if we are to catch up with some neighbor countries. They will strengthen the two scientist Secretaries he has now in his cabinet -- Arsenio Balisacan of NEDA and Enrique Ona of DOH.
Reviewing performance to improve Aquino's report card

In Crucial role of S&T, education in dev’t  (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 July 2011), I describe how to assess/select people to put in charge, using the established indicators, like peer-reviewed international journals, as minimum requirement. For some reasons, we have been ignoring it, and this to blame for the poor state of Philippine science and education, the root cause why we have been unable to sustain progress.  

For instance, in 2005, after nearly 50 years of our S&T agency (DOST) and nearly 30 years of our science academy (NAST), the total scientific publications of the Philippines were only 178. Whereas those of tiny Singapore, smaller Taiwan, and South Korea were, respectively, over 3,600, 10,800, and 16,400 (Data from WK Cummings, courtesy of Dr. Lawrence M. Liao, Filipino scientist at Hiroshima University). 

The Asian Development Bank has cited the Philippines as one of the few exceptional cases in terms of economic expansion, raising its growth outlook for the country from 4.8 to 5.5 percent for 2012 while it scaled down its forecasts for other developing countries in the region.
Meanwhile, Neeraj Jain, ADB country director for the Philippines, said, “Despite growth, poverty incidence in the Philippines rose from 2003 to 2009. That is a cause for concern,” Poverty rate stood at 24.9 % in 2003 and 26.5 % in 2009. 

2) PH ranking in doing business slips (PDI, 24 Oct 2012)
While positive developments have been happening to the country since the Aquino administration took over in 2010, the Philippines slipped two notches in the global rankings of the ease in doing business -- to 138th from 136th. This is due to the absence of significant reforms in dealings with various government agencies.
The “Doing Business 2013” report of the World Bank, released Tuesday, showed that the Philippines registered slightly poorer rankings in almost all categories of the ease in doing business in June 2011 to June 2012, compared with those recorded in the previous one-year. Other Asean countries show better ratings.

This can be seen in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) -- whether his programs and claimed achievements are sustainable, whether the programs are guided by the accepted basic prerequisites of growth, and whether the progress is measured by indicators of equitable well-being.
The two internationally proven prerequisites of sustainable prosperity are higher education and science. Measuring progress with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has proven to be faulty in some developed countries. It has not benefited our poor communities. How then would you rate the SONA along these lines?

4) Problems with media and scientists (The Philippine Star, July 27, 2006)   
The public will remain uninformed and uneducated in science until the media professionals decide otherwise, until they stop quoting charlatans and quacks, and until respected scientists speak up. –-  Scientist, 16 April 1990. 
Also posted at,

I hasten to say that science is not the only way of knowing things. Through religion, through literature, reflection, meditation, and any number of other approaches, we gain understanding and knowledge of our world. But the most reliable knowledge—that can be applied societally, to an entire community or country—is knowledge that has been tested empirically, that is based on the leveling effect of evidence. Evidence shouldn't depend on one’s socioeconomic status or one’s political affiliation. Evidence has a democratizing effect that is healthy for our country. It’s the most politically useful way of knowing things. (Rush Holt, Mixing Science and Politics)

Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science
University of the Philippines Diliman