Critique of DOST Secretary Mario Montejo’s talk: Holistic scientific revolution and the plight of Filipino Overseas Scientists (OFS)

CRITIQUE OF DOST SECRETARY MARIO G. MONTEJO’S TALK

by Angelique Lusuan (5 BS Ps-MSE)

I. Holistic Scientific Revolution

Last 31 January 2011, the School of Science and Engineering presented a talk of one of the most outstanding engineers of our country: Secretary Mario G. Montejo. In his talk, Sec. Montejo described his successes in the field of technopreneurship, which led to his appointment by Pres. Benigno Aquino III to be the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary for the coming five to six years. Sec. Montejo said that under his leadership, DOST shall target dengue, flood monitoring system, rice shortage problems, malnutrition, weathering stations, mass transportations, etc. He also listed the areas that DOST would be supporting in the years to come: genomics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, industrial control and automation, industrial robotics, etc. According to Sec. Montejo, the mandate of DOST is to provide central direction, leadership, and coordination of scientific and technological efforts and ensure that the results would be utilized in certain areas to maximize economic and social benefits.

Other speakers included in the program were scientific professionals from the university, such as from Ateneo Innovation Center, who presented case studies or reports on our country’s current situation in science and technology. Engineering is indeed one of the key fields our country must develop.

But during the open forum, some mathematicians asked about the opportunities for mathematical research, such as in the field of complex systems.

“Well, it’s just numbers,” Sec. Montejo replied. “And Complex Systems is just complex mathematics.”

Disturbing. What is the point of building frameworks and solutions if we do not progress in theoretical research? Science is not only confined in today’s gadgets. Solving social problems and understanding the world cannot be done solely by applied science. We as future leaders in the field of science and technology cannot simply think that all good things happen in applied science.

Let us take, for example, Quantum Mechanics. “Who would have imagined that Feynman’s integrals in Quantum Mechanics would have led to numerous discoveries such as in Polymer Science and Finance?” Dr. Jerrold Garcia of the Physics Department once said. As physics undergraduates, we sometimes do not see the point of studying Quantum Mechanics because it is too abstract. This is where our mentors can step in, according to Dr. Queena Lee-Chua of the Mathematics Department. Our mentors can help us understand the importance of such lessons.

Instead of creating a one-sided development in terms of applied science, we also need to progress in the pure sciences, too. If DOST thinks that helping out the country means creating machines or programs to solve hunger and minimize the destruction of natural disasters, then it is the end for us. What our country needs is not only technological trend setters but also trailblazers in scientific thought. The Philippines needs a holistic scientific revolution.

II. The Overseas Filipino Scients (OFS)

For several years, DOST has funded the Balik Scientist Programs and science scholarships in the undergraduate and graduate level, in order to to lure the great scientific minds back to the country and strengthen our scientific critical mass. But would these help our country’s recovery for sustainable growth?

One theory that is proposed to explain our our slow scientific development is brain drain—the migration of many knowledge professionals in our community, especially our scientists. So to solve this problem, DOST created service bonds and perks to both the students and the professionals. But what DOST is doing actually create shackles to future scientists, which impedes their initiatives to excel in their respective fields.

Another theory is underemployment. What is there to expect for us in the future when not everyone under the science field would be supported? Shall we say to the science minority, “We cannot support you. But we can offer you publicity back in your home country”? Our media glamorizes Filipino scientists who obtain international achievements abroad, yet we also expect them to economically help our country. How many alumni in the Ateneo Physics or Chemistry Department have gone out of our country through foreign research grants and were able to publish in the world’s most popular scientific journals? There are really not enough jobs or domestic support for scientists in our country even though our policy makers knows that science and technology are keys to economic development.

Last week, I participated in one of the DOST tours. We looked at the different equipments in the Material Science Division. Almost 90% of the tools dated back to the 1970s and were donated by the Japanese. Aside from research grants and scholarships, there is also the need to budget research facilities. What bothers me is DOST’s lack of initiative to find creative ways improve our the country’s science and technology infrastructure compared to other countries.

Why would DOST wants us to be both nationalistic and globally competitive at the same time? Is not globalization one of our country’s Millennium Development Goals? Past presidents praise the economic contribution of Oversees Filipino Workers (OFWs) and the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries in our country, because these industries have a huge impact in our economic growth. So why not Overseas Filipino Scientists (OFS)?

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

5 Responses to Critique of DOST Secretary Mario Montejo’s talk: Holistic scientific revolution and the plight of Filipino Overseas Scientists (OFS)

  1. Pingback: Critique of DOST Secretary Mario Montejo's talk: Holistic … | P'NOY - Noynoy Aquino News

  2. Malou Luy-on says:

    There are really not enough jobs or domestic support for scientists in our country even though our policy makers knows that science and technology are keys to economic development.

    Are you sure? Can you give me a specific figure/evidence that can and would support your line.

  3. Kit says:

    I think that the DOST-SEI scholarship program is an excellent enabler. However, the job market doesn’t encourage much advancement through basic research. It’s sad to see many engineers take on jobs that require only a very small subset of what they studied for 5 years. And that small subset isn’t even given much opportunity to advance into patent-producing knowledge.

    And about mathematics:
    Here’s an article from PhysOrg: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-03-stanford-damper-aeroelastic-flutter.html

    At the end of the video, we’ll see that industries are pouncing on the laboratory-developed method. My point here is that the article makes several references to mathematics as a pure science, developed independently of its applications. And they say “It’s just numbers”?

    Very sad. I once attended a renewable energy summit this month. I talked to one of the government’s authorities on energy about research. What really struck me is that he said, “We don’t do research for the sake of research”. Yes, he does have a point about bringing technologies to market quickly. But surely that won’t stand for the long term goal of producing homegrown technologies.

  4. I agree with the crtique on the statement of Sec montejo on “numbers”. Sad, very sad to have been utterred by the DOST Secretary. Mathematcis or numbers is not part of DOST’s field of responsibility. Perhaps he thought the Departments of Mathematics are the ones responsible for the ‘numbers” and the “numberers”?

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