Category: flor lacanilao

The RH bill: Resolving the controversy with science

Flor Lacanilao

Most published and posted commentaries on the RH bill show poor public understanding of science. I am sharing here a summary of my comments posted at the online forum on Philippine science. It is focused on the nature and role of science.

The objectives of science don’t include to find the truth. They are aimed to understand nature and the universe. Researchers do investigations to produce information — used for education, development programs, policy-making, developing technology etc. — for the people’s well-being.

Many studies are meant to build up or strengthen scientific consensus, as in evolution and climate change. These are factual conclusions — that is, supported by valid data. They are not the truth nor are they permanent; they can be changed by more studies. This is the progressive nature of science.

That nature of science explains why most harmful predictions — like Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” (1968) — did not happen. Continued research stopped the serious threats.

The same corrective actions of science can stop side effects or unexpected results — serendipitous nature of scientific research. The discovery of DDT for saving lives from malaria had unexpected by-product, which damage ecosystems.

On the other hand, the threats on the economyof demographic winter (or reduced, aging human population), peddled by nonscientists who are against the RH bill, are without scientific basis. I have yet to see properly published studies verifying the claims (find out with Advanced Google Scholar, by searching for publications covered in Science Citation Index or Social Sciences Citation Index. These are the internationally accepted criteria in evaluating research performance.

Hence, results of scientific research — that is, properly published — are reliable bases for resolving crucial, controversial issues, and making policy decisions. In the DDT case, for example, they influenced the decisions for its medical use and for its subsequent worldwide ban.

Scientists do not debate religious views. They try to explain science. “Science and religion are different ways of understanding. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of both to contribute to a better future.” (Read more in “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” <>).

CHED to blame for K-12?

By Flor Lacanilao

“To be sure, the need for more and better science education has not been entirely ignored. But little of this attention has been aimed at post-secondary science education, the only level for which there is data showing how to make substantial improvements without enormous costs. Moreover, it is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.” (Carl Wieman, a Nobel laureate, is director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia)

The controversial K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12) is not really controversial. All commentaries I have read by Filipino academic scientists are not in favor of the new k-12 program (For example, Science and K+12, !nquirer, 6 Feb 2012). On the other hand, Filipino authors supporting it are not natural or social scientists (without valid publications or properly published work), regardless of their position (e.g., Group launches program to save RP education, Inquirer, 28 Jan 2010). In particular, their views differ in the crucial science part of the K-12 curriculum.

Reasons of those against the K-12 include the following: (1) The new program should first under go a trial run at selected schools before nationwide adoption; (2) there are no valid studies of local problems to support the curricular changes and additional 2 years; (3) the new program components did not consider the relevant results of international research on science education; and (4) we have more urgent problems like teachers, classrooms, textbooks, dropouts, etc.

Recent developments in the teaching of science have shown the importance of early (kindergarten) exposure of students to science, and the changed ways of making them learn. These are not evident in the K-12 curriculum. Examples are reported by the Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, by Science editor and former president of the US National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts, and by Columbia physics professor Brian Greene. They have been involved in research on science education, whose innovative results have been tested or are undergoing pilot tests.

Their studies suggest a better way to improve basic education: (a) Put only the right people in charge, (b) program components should be based on tested studies abroad and on properly-published studies of local problems, and (c) undergo trial runs or verification at selected schools before nationwide implementation.

The best candidate for verification at selected sites or limited implementation (say one per Region) is the work of the husband-and-wife team of scientists — and recipients of the 2010 Ramon Magsaysay Award for education — Christopher and Ma Victoria Bernido (Poverty and scarcity are no barriers to quality education, Inquirer, 14 Oct 2010).

Their results included the following: (1) Bypassing the need for qualified teachers, (2) only one copy of textbook per class is needed, (3) no expensive lab equipment, (4) only 1/4 of the allotted class period is needed, and (5) students are not given homework.

Their students, under such learning conditions, have shown marked increase in proficiency levels, especially in science, math, and reading comprehension.

Based on the above information — and for lack of the necessary expertise to fully evaluate research information correctly on the part of those who prepared it — the new K-12 program is likely to fail, The phased implementation (starting with new Grade 1 and 1st year high in June) will not substitute for trial run. Why have we not learned in the last 5 decades from the failed programs in education?

Philippine higher education: Put the right people in charge

By Flor Lacanilao

This is a review of some issues I have discussed related to higher education. Although some have asked why I often repeat what is already said, I remind those in science that I repeat only what is important, for emphasis, like in a scientific article. Here, the principal result is often mentioned five times. It is usually made the Title of the article, stated in the Abstract, Introduction, and Results sections, and explained in the Discussion.

My concern is the ignored issues in Philippine education reform — which should start with higher education. Studies have shown, “It is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.”

Key to any reform is to put on top position the right person: in the CHED, universities, colleges, departments, and graduate programs. Violation of this widely accepted practice is prevalent in the country.

In a previous post, I mentioned that in UP Diliman, the country’s premier university, only 2 of its 22 deans are adequately published in leading ISI-indexed journals; 12 have no such publications, so too are the five top officials of CHED.

Of the seven autonomous universities of the UP System, only chancellor Caesar Saloma of UP Diliman is well published — with over 100 SCI-indexed papers. Three chancellors have each only 1 or 2 such publications, and the three others have no published papers indexed in SCI, SSCI, or AHCI (defined below).

Only those who have made major contributions to one’s field deserve top academic positions. To assess if one has such a record, search with Google Scholar for a list of published works and number of citations (which measure their quality and impact). Count only the papers published in respected ISI-indexed journals — that is, those covered in Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, or Arts & Humanities Citation Index

You can get the same data easier and faster with the ISI database called Web of Knowledge, but this requires subscription. This database gives already-selected journal papers as described above.

Such journals are accepted worldwide as sources of reliable information. They contain valid publications or properly published studies, which define the persons to trust for academic and other functions.

Failure to observe a performance-based evaluation process is the reason for the deteriorating condition of our educational system. I have reviewed the problems in Philippine higher education (Google search or click Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education), and it can be summarized thus:

Putting in more money has been the usual answer to address problems. A review, however, does not point to the lack of funding as the reason. It is the failure to attend to the basic causes and needs — like putting the right people in charge.

Data show that, whereas billions of pesos were spent on various “innovative” programs, and have increased the country’s researchers to 7,500 in the last 3 decades, the overall research output has become worse — increased number but lower quality. The programs also produced increasing number of poor mentors and decreasing overall quality of graduates.

What can be done with the present situation?

(a) Review Democratic governance

This is based on the idea that two heads are better than one. But In research, for example, only a minority of researchers is properly published and fully understand how research affects human development. It is therefore advisable for published researchers to spend part of their professional time and effort to reading and thinking about the benefits of research.

Such extra effort would enable them to be more convincing in discussions and influence group decisions for academic reform. Further, it would also make them more confident to use their expertise in debates on national issues.

As it is, debates on science-related issues and education in the country have been dominated by nonscientists — giving personal opinion rather than study-based comments — and usually without any useful conclusions for policy-maling .

All these partly explain why increasing number of neighbor countries have been leaving us behind, in education, S&T, and national progress.

(b) A related concern is to focus on Problems preventing academic reforms

“America’s huge economic success comes from innovation, which is fueled by its research enterprise. And this in turn is driven by graduate education.” This reminds us of a university’s role in social and economic transformations. It will require developing few universities into research universities. The University of the Philippines Diliman is the best candidate to be the first in the country.

It is important for properly published faculty members to have majority control of decision-making bodies. Opposition to this kind of change will come largely from those unpublished in ISI-indexed journals. Such resistance has reduced the gains in some activities and has delayed overall reform,

Strong, visionary leadership and bold actions will decide UP’s development into a research university, to live up to its name as the National University, and to assert its leadership in producing new knowledge, reforming education in the country, and building a nation.

UP can still aim to be in the top 100 universities in Asia and the world’s top 500 (see Academic Ranking of World Universities). And we can hope to hear again that Centennial catchphrase — this time not as propaganda, but an honest, well-deserved acknowledgment from the entire nation — UP, ang galing mo!




By Flor Lacanilao

After retiring from UP over 10 years ago, reading obituaries has become a daily habit. When I come across a death notice on somebody who died at 50 or 60, I am thankful to be healthy at 70 and, mind you, with my hair still mostly black. Obituaries of people who die at the age of 80 or 90 make me wish I would live as long.

My interest in obituaries led me to conduct a survey of the death notices published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer from March to December in 2004. The survey covered 1,075 death notices, 620 of which were for men and 455, for women. Though not based on random sampling, the “survey” came up with some interesting findings.

On the average, men died much younger than women—71 against 78 years old. In 230, or 21 percent, of the obituaries, the profession of the deceased was shown. Nuns had the longest lifespan, averaging 85 years. The priests came next with an average of 80 years, followed by the medical doctors with 75 years, the military officers with 73, lawyers with 72, and engineers with 70.

Doctors, who are supposed to have studied the human body, die younger than priests by an average of five years. The 67 doctors in the obituaries even included women who, on the average, live longer than men.

Our obituaries, unlike in other countries, greatly vary in size, suggesting social status (117 were large: one-fourth page and bigger; and 319 were small: the size of a calling card). The average age of the dead in the large obituaries was 75; in the small ones, 72.

Many death notices and those who announce the death anniversaries of their loved ones request readers to pray for the eternal repose of the souls of the departed, never mind if they have been dead for years. I wonder how many readers heed their call for prayers. And I doubt if one could appeal the fate of a soul denied of eternal rest on Judgment Day.

I think we should have valid reasons for doing things, if we are to move forward. Common practice and tradition are reasons hardly good enough to justify our actions.

Excerpted from “Highblood: Obituaries and reasons”
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 January 2005