Learning from Success Stories

by Prof. Raul Suarez
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology
University of California, Santa Barbara

When we examine success stories in Philippine science, we see common features.  For example, at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the National Institute of Physics and the Marine Sciences Institute have both embraced the culture of proper publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  At the International Rice Research Institute, highly productive Filipinos, working alongside and publishing with international scientists, have blurred the boundaries between basic and applied research concerning rice.  The Aquaculture Department of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center has become a publication-oriented institution that conducts international caliber research that benefits the country.

It is when people recognize what is wrong with certain practices and ways of thinking that institutions are able to change and make progress.  However, that change is required for progress to occur is a message that is not always welcome.  There are still those who believe that there should be PhD programs in the sciences, scientific journals, science institutes, academies, policy making bodies and funding agencies run by those who do not publish actively and never have.  There are those who believe that government investment in endeavors that generate MS and PhD degrees or “completed” research projects that do not yield peer-reviewed publications is a proper use of public funds.  The validity of research results generated by such an enterprise becomes a matter of faith, rather than a matter of empirical verification or the scrutiny of international experts.

To suggest that the narrow views or standards of a few are being unreasonably imposed on the majority is to ignore the fact that there are accepted ways of doing science, norms that have become part of and have benefited international science for more than half a century.  Many Asian countries, even ultra-nationalist ones, have learned this.  Those at the IRRI, SEAFDEC AQD, NIPS and MSI have learned this.  Although some may feel inclined to shoot the messenger, it would be more productive to focus on the essence of the message and on what can be learned from the success stories that exemplify the message.  It is up to the next generation: they can remain stuck in old ways of thinking and repeat mistakes that have led to failure, or they can reform Philippine science as they have seen it done by their fellow Filipinos and by their Asian neighbors.  The older generation faces the choice of either welcoming and facilitating change or becoming an obstacle to it.