EDITORIAL: Science for all

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Last week, the 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 the journal’s articles for free.

Last week, the 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 the journal’s articles for free.

This is a significant first, because the Philippine Journal of Science, 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, but that access is only available to the school’s students and faculty. If one wants access to the same journals, he or she 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 the Filipino 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 P21.2 billion in 2018. This allocation is nowhere in the top 10 agency budgets for 2018; the Department of Education is No. 1 with P672.4 billion, the Department of National Defense is fifth with P149.7 billion, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is 10th with P24.9 billion.

The DOST budget includes P4 billion for scholars, P1.7 billion for free Wi-Fi access in public areas, and P2 billion for the development of science and technology programs.

Filipino scientists have battled such meager budgets and public apathy for years, but they’re not giving up. On June 20, the DOST and the University of the Philippines (UP) System 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 S&T can be applied to everyday problems. Among the projects featured is 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 lab that can prevent dengue, and protein-rich copra that can become animal feed.

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,” Diwata-1 engineer Julian Marvick Fua Oliveros said.

Remember, too, how UP 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 P76 million to entice them to return to the country through its “Balik Scientist Program.”

It’s time to provide more than lip service to the idea of S&T 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 Filipinos to follow in their path.

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