Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's about time! Philippines Plans Research Revival

Science Magazine has featured the "Balik Scientist" program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) (Dennis Normile, Science 5 December 2008 322: 1459 [DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5907.1459).

The article starts with the question: "The Philippines government is hoping to reinvigorate its science base by improving science education, expanding scholarship programs, and raising research spending. But will it be enough to lure back expatriate scientists?"

Photo from Science Magazine with the caption: Uncommonly good.
This rice genetics lab in Manila is a rare hot spot of top science in the Philippines .

CREDIT: DUNG VO TRUNG/CORBIS
Note: I used to work in this lab at IRRI! It is so cool that my former colleages (Tita Miner!) have their picture in Science!

Will it? Actually, for me the question really is, will the government really do this? Even the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, picture above) which gets funding from abroad (US, Japan etc) has a problem paying for cutting edge research. My point is, competitive research is expensive, so I just hope the government knows what it is getting into. It will be a shame for our world-class scientists to go home and then realize that they have no money to do anything.

It's nice to know though that the government knows that it needs to reverse the brain drain. That's one of the reasons why I didn't finish my PhD (my official excuse, at least =)). I thought, if I get so qualified, how can I come back home to the Philippines? There is no job for me. I will be jobless like all the other students I know who got their PhDs from Japan, and the US. They had no choice but to go back abroad or take a stupid job in the Philippines.

If the Philippines really want to get out of the rut, then the government must invest in research. It may seem absurd at first, to channel so much money into research projects no one understands (or eat) but it will prove to be worthwhile in the long run. Why do you think the Thais are so ahead of us? Because in the 80s they sent students to UP Los Banos to learn about Agriculture. They followed through, invested a lot of money in research, and now we are importing rice from them. Why do you think Switzerland is so rich? It is country without any important natural resource, they only have rocks (the Alps)! It is because they invest a lot in research. Imagine, country of only about 7,000,000 people has produced 27 Nobel prize winners! The most famous awardee is Albert Einstein himself. Switzerland constantly funnels a lot of money into research, enabling them to have the brains and the technology for companies like Novartis, Roche, and even Nestle. The ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich), the most prestigious university in Switzerland, gets a lot of money from patents developed by its scientists funding even more profitable science.

If we really want cutting edge science, we have no shortage of cutting edge scientists! One of them is Baldomero Olivera, a UP alumni who is working on cone snail toxins important for neuroscience. He was awarded by Harvard in 2007 as "Scientist of the Year". Maybe a Nobel prize is even not so far away. Cone snails are found in our coral reefs . They are very poisonous, actually they are one of the most poisonous animals on earth. Dr. Olivera found that cone snail poison can be used to cure neurological diseases. You can read more about his work here.

Imagine this: cutting edge scientists doing cutting edge science working with our vast natural resources. If our government can make this happen, we will for sure get out of the rut.

Read the Inquirer news article here


PS
Science Magazine
(and Nature Magazine, if I may add) is like The Oscars of the entertainment industry or Vogue of the fashion industry.

4 comments :

Joe said...

Hi Cathy!

It has been a long while, huh? Well, just to let you know, i've decided to stop posting entries on Spoon Lagoon. I haven't got the time to maintain it so I decided to stop. But, I'll still try to read your blog from time to time.

On-topic: The Philippines has bright students but we lack facilities and funds. UP & La Salle are currently the country's leading research universities and as compared to our neighbors from SEA, we are so left behind. I think it is good news that the Government is doing this but just like you, I'm hoping that they would put up through this til the very end. I don't want this to be a promise that they will keep only in the earlier phases of the project. Here's hoping for their success!

side note: there's is this blog that is telling everybody that the Philippines didn't teach SEA to plant rice or to research on rice. I don't know If you have heard of BISEAN. You should check it out.

Cathy said...

Hi Joe (okay, you have too many names)!

I just read his post. Well obviously he doesn't know what he is saying. Too emotional... He was not there when there was a whole town of Thai (even Japanese!) students in UPLB studying not only about planting rice but other agricultural sciences (and it's not only because of IRRI). My family were somehow part of this community since we rented rooms to the Thai students.

I am not talking about 4000 years ago but the fact is until a few decades ago, UP was one of the best (if not the best) university in Asia. We were quite good then! That's the reason people from all over Asia came to UPLB to study. Obviously, the Thais already knew how to plant rice from a few thousand years ago! That's not the issue.

Cheers!
Cathy

Pedro Pen said...

Oh come on, Cathy. You can do better than that.

You obviously read Bisean's post with your eyes closed. And you already had your opinion before reading it.

It was there, point by point. They are good bloggers, emotional? Read the context.

Time had changed, baby. Rubbing our nationalistic egos is not acceptable anymore.

And what has you family renting out rooms to Asian student gotta do with the issue?

Go past the your emotions and obsolete nationalism then Read the post again.

Point by point. Napakaliwanag. Tama na ang ating pagyayabang -- naiwan na tayo.

Cathy said...

Hi Pedro,

Kaya tayo naiiwan dahil sa mga taong kagaya mo na kontento ng maiwan. Eh ano, kung naiwan tayo? Hindi ba tayo puedeng humabol? Feeling mo ba, wala na tayong pag-asa? Obviously, you have a loser mentality. A bit more nationalism won't hurt. Why is it not acceptable? I don't get your point.

I will read the post again anyway (maybe my jet lag will help me to understand it from your point of view.

Cheers!
Cathy

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