(STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Eduardo A. Padlan, Ph.D. - We can learn from our children.

When my youngest daughter was in junior high, she competed in springboard diving. She was not very good; her best scores were in the low 2s (maximum of 10). The other divers were much better. In fact, among her competitors was a world-class diver, who usually scored in the middle 8s and who later became the junior diving champion of the country. The fact that she was competing against much better divers never fazed my daughter. One could tell from the way she was concentrating before each dive that she was going to try her best with every dive. Clearly, she was not competing with the other divers; she was doing her best — period.

There are various types of personalities when it comes to their reaction to competition. Among them are those who wilt under competition, those who do their best when there is competition, and those who do their best even when there is no competition. My daughter is obviously one of those who try to do their best regardless of whether there is competition or not. I am certain that there are many others who have the same attitude toward competition.

That, I believe, is the attitude that we should have in regard to our science.

At the moment, there are quite a few who bemoan the sad state of science in the Philippines — when compared to that in neighboring countries. The criterion often used is the number of scientific papers published in peer-reviewed, international journals. There is a persistent call to publish in such journals as proof that Philippine science is as good as our neighbors’. To this I ask the question that we often hear from our children: “Why?”

Why do we have to measure ourselves against others? Should we think less of ourselves because others are publishing a few more international papers than we do? Why don’t we just do our best regardless of what others are doing?

We know that Filipinos can compare with the best in the world. Many Filipinos abroad — in the US, for instance — are publishing as much as the locals there. It is not because Filipinos become smarter when they go to the US. (A person’s IQ does not change with change in domicile.) It is because the conditions in the US allow them to accomplish and publish more than if they were here.

Several Filipinos are distinguished professors in universities in the US and several are in the US national academies. One of our countrymen has just been voted Scientist of the Year by Harvard. We don’t need further proof that our best can compare with the best of the world.

And what is it about publishing in peer-reviewed, international journals anyway? The purpose of publishing scientific results is to share with others what we have learned from our studies. If the international science community can benefit from our work, we should publish in international journals. If our audience is primarily the local scientific community, we should publish in local journals.

And, very importantly, if our aim is to help in national development, we should work on locally relevant problems.

It is noble to want to help all of humankind and work only on globally relevant projects (and publish only in international journals). But are we training our scientists primarily to solve the problems of the world? Shouldn’t we help ourselves first before thinking of helping others? I say, let’s be concerned first about our science, not their science.

We should stop comparing ourselves to our neighbors. We should stop competing with them. Let us do what is best for us, regardless of what the others are doing.

Let us learn from our children.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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