Ensuring science is available to everybody

opinion June 12, 2018 01:00

By Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asia News Network

Recently, the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology (DOST) made a welcome announcement on Facebook: The Philippine Journal of Science has been made an open-access journal, meaning anyone can read and download its articles for  free.

This is a significant first, because the journal, founded in 1906, is the oldest scientific peer-reviewed publication in the country, featuring articles on the natural sciences, engineering, mathematics and social sciences.

Usually, only university libraries subscribe to top academic journals, and access is restricted to the school’s students and faculty. If anyone wants access to the same journals, they will have to pay for it.

But now the work of Filipino scientists is within the reach of all Filipinos. This development is a good step in fostering more science knowledge and education among youth and general populace, especially given the woeful condition of science education in the country.

The Department of Budget and Management has said it intends for the Philippines to achieve “upper-middle income status” by 2040, and that this will be possible “by investing in Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) – the three crucial drivers in the economic development and social progress of a country”.

Yet the DOST will only receive a budget of 21.2 billion pesos (Bt12.8 billion) in 2018. This allocation is nowhere in the top 10 agency budgets for 2018

Filipino scientists have battled such meagre budgets and public apathy for years, but they’re not giving up. On June 20, the DOST and the University of the Philippines will hold the first “Agham Bayan”, a festival celebrating science, technology and innovation, at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay.

Highlighting 44 examples of groundbreaking research, Agham Bayan will show how science and technology can be applied to everyday problems. Among the projects featured will be a census of fish in the ocean, a device that warns of possible landslides in real time, technology that creates a hazard map for floods, a compact laboratory that can prevent dengue fever, and protein-rich copra that can become animal feed.

For the people

Agham Bayan will also focus attention on the yeoman’s work that Filipino scientists have been doing despite budgetary setbacks. In 2016, for instance, two of the scientists who worked on the visionary microsatellite Diawata-1 said they worked on the project from 2014 to 2016 without proper compensation, as they were classified as “students” instead of engineers.

“We were working, not studying. Yet we did not quit – not because of the imaginary contract, but because this is hope for the Filipino people and for the country,” engineer Julian Marvick Fua Oliveros said.

The University of the Philippines essentially saved Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) in 2016 by adopting the high-tech initiative credited with saving millions of lives through accurate and timely weather and flood forecasting, after the government funding for the program ran out.

Many Filipino scientists are forced to go abroad because of such lack of local support. The DOST has allocated 76 million pesos to entice them to return to the country.

It’s time to provide more than lip service to the idea of science and technology lifting up Filipinos. Surely these projects deserve more funding and support. At the same time, increasing the public’s access to Filipino scientific research through steps such as opening access to The Philippine Journal of Science allows science and technological education for younger Filipinos to take a step forward.

The achievements and successes of homegrown scientists also need to be widely told, to encourage more people to follow in their path.