Monday, September 15, 2008

Only 3 of 8 new Academicians are scientists

Received this in my mailbox this afternoon. I'm not in the habit of reposting such messages but this piqued my interest because of its subject, its provenance, and its content.

The subject, of course, are the newly inducted Academicians of the National Academy of Science and Technology, which I didn't know we had. That I didn't know already signals the sorry state of science promotion in the country.

The message was sent by Flor Lacanilao, who is herself a scientist and a sometime contributor to the national dailies.

And it's content is mildly controversial as it points to a lack of qualification in some of the people elevated to the position.

Here's the message:

The Philippine Star reports yesterday (11 Sept) the 8 new members of NAST. It says, "Academician is a title given to Filipino scientists whose significant scientific works have considerably contributed to the progress of the country and the Filipino people."

Six are from UP and the two others, from the Department of Agriculture (Philippine Carabao Center) and De La Salle University. Those from UP are Arsenio Balisacan, Carmencita Padilla, Jaime Montoya, Jose Maria Balmaceda, Gavino Trono, and Gisela Concepcion.

The two others are DA/PCC executive director Libertado Cruz and Alvin Culaba of DSLU.

See the full report.

To find out if there was an improvement in electing new members to NAST, I made a search of their publications through the Google Scholar and selected only publications in journals indexed by Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index.

Only 3 of the 8 new NAST members are scientists -- Balisacan, Trono, and Concepcion (see attached Table 1). Of the other five, my search showed that two have only 3 publications each and the last three have no publication each as sole or lead author in SCI-indexed journals. As I have mentioned elsewhere, in 2007, only two of the four elected to NAST membership are scientists.

For comparison, I also attached Table 2 to show a partial list of our leading biologists, who are non-NAST members, and their publications. You will note that the top 3 of the 8 new Academicians have publication performance comparable to the lower third of the 18 non-NAST biologists. All these clearly show the continuing problems with electing new members to NAST discussed in my UP Centennial paper (note importance of Science Citation Index to developing countries) posted here and here.

They again emphasize why it is important for our science administrators and media people to know the relation between scientific work and national progress. This requires understanding how scientific work leads to national progress. Crucial is technology development, the capability for which is determined by the state of science, and this in turn is measured by the number of scientific publications, the output of research if properly done. Hence, the important role of SCI as an objective indicator in measuring research performance, especially in poor and developing countries.

Let me close this by quoting again Bruce Alberts, former president of US National Academy of Sciences and now editor-in-chief of Science, "Membership in the NAS is a widely recognized sign of excellence in scientific research" and where "each member should serve as a role model for defining excellence in science for the next generation of scientists in his or her field" (PNAS 102: 7405-7406, 2005).

Which leads me to another point, I suppose: I have wanted to pursue further studies in a science field (though some might say that, at 38, I'm too old) but what's kept me from doing so are the lack of information on what's available locally, the costs involved without a scholarship, and my transcript of records being stuck somewhere in the limbo called the University of San Carlos.

Oh, yes, and if the scholarship involves any hassle in processing travel documents later on, then forget it. (You will not believe the *ss-brained policies concerning travel for scholarship recipients in the Philippines.)


  1. Firstly, it's never too late. I don't know about scholarships, but Ateneo has a PhD program in Computer Science now. You can come to the US for it, too.

    Secondly, alarm bells ring when a person takes it upon herself to define who is or is not a scientist.

    I don't disagree that these things tend to be god old boy networks, but I do disagree about how people should be judged as scientists or not. The criteria of "sole or lead author in SCI-indexed journals" is a very bad one for determining who is a good scientist:

    * it undercounts scientists whose discipline emphasizes conference papers rather than journal papers. MIT's Michael Ernst has good advice on why computer scientists should prefer conferences over journals.

    * It undercounts researchers who are in their best element when collaborating with other scientists (and thus may not be always the first author)

    * It encourages gaming of the system, where people with power but little research input insisting they be the first author for everything.

    Etc. etc. I don't know anything about these people who were inducted into the NAS, but a quick read of the google scholar pages for some of them show that they qualify as scientists--people who do (or did) scientific research.

    Whether these scientists have actually made a significant contribution--I don't have the information to judge that; but by simply counting journal publications, neither does Flor Lacanilao.

  2. Thanks for point these out, Roy. I wasn't too sure what to make of the claims (or its ultimate relevance) hence I posted with only a general caveat.

  3. SCIindexed journal is now standard measure of any persons "value", just like the attached PH.D's after their name.

    And yes, somethings amiss in the selection as it usually happen here.The old boy network is working, but interestingly UP is also guilty of this old boy group.

    At 38, you are already missing the boat. Japanese scholarship's age limit is at 35, Fulbright and other american scholarship is at 40. You have to apply two years before the target year, have to undergo some qualigying processes, your research papers, the admittance and approval, so at 38 you will have a very slim chance of getting one. Maybe in local universities it is still possible.


  4. Thanks for that brutally frank assessment, LuvinB. Never was much for life abroad, so I'm happy with what's available locally.

    But yeah, I'm old.