Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 19 June 15 - 21, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
the Ivory Tower
scientists today were brought into thinking that science is neutral and
scientists should keep out of politics and society in general, at some point,
they would have to face the fact that their science has a profound effect on the
people at large. As Einstein said once, 'Only when science can be made to truly
serve the interests of the people and not of the few can it be truly
By Ina Alleco R. Silverio
word "scientist" usually paints the image of a man or woman with wild,
unruly hair like Prof. Albert Einstein's, clad in dirty-white lab coat with
chemical burns and wearing Coke-bottle glasses. The adjectives usually attached
to the noun are also predictable, usually synonymous with either being a
“genius” or a "nerd." Mention Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and
the main characters in movies like “The Crazy Professor” or books like HG
Well's "The Island Of Dr. Moreau" and you quiver at the thought of
having them as your science icons.
are scientists really “crazy”?
in the sense that non-scientific minded people might find it difficult to
understand how scientists can stand and even enjoy cooped up inside smelly,
smoky laboratories for days neglecting food and hygiene," says Giovanni
Alarkon Tapang, 30, MS, Phd in Physics from the University of the Philippines
and chairman of the organization Agham or Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at
Teknolohiya Para sa Sambayanan (Advocates of Science and Technology for the
- or Gani to colleagues and friends - admits that the classical descriptions and
stereotypes of scientists are grounded in reality. According to him, members of
the scientific community have some quirks and eccentricities that set them apart
from any other social group.
get our kicks from mathematical formula and proofs,” he admits. “We also
don't give up easily when we're confronted with seemingly unsolvable
of Nobel Prize winner John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) without the schizophrenia.
Since 1997, Gani has been an assistant professor at the Instrumentation Physics
Laboratory in UP Diliman. He's written articles for journals, and gone to
various conferences all over the country. The subjects of these gatherings are
so incomprehensible to the average man or woman that one has to be a Mensa
member to understand: "Spatial Resolution in Photon Limited Confocal
Optical Microscopy", "Detection Statistics of Ultrafast Twin-Photon
Pulses", and "Self-organized Criticality in the Exit Dynamics of
Pedestrians Using a Two-Dimensional Cellular Automata."
shrugs, "Some conferences were fun, others so-so." But then Gani has
always been of a scientific turn.
a child, Gani couldn't be stopped from tinkering with and dismembering
appliances, from the oven, the
transistor radio, and one time even the TV set. He just wanted to know
"what was inside and how it works."
seems to sum up the spirit of scientific exploration: why things are and how
they work. "I suppose curiosity is one of the trademarks of scientists. The
urge to know things, if only for the sake of discovering," the UP physics
parents - mother is an optometrist and father an architect - were open-minded
and nurtured Gani's thirst for scientific knowledge. "When I was in the
second grade, they got me those Time Life Science books and encyclopedia with
glossy pictures. They got the books on installments and finished paying for them
when I reached grade four," he says.
the time Gani was in sixth grade, he had already begun getting bored in his
science classes. "Many of the stuff we were being taught I'd already read
about; and the books were more up-to-date than the materials the teachers
used," he said. Gani would sometimes doodle in his notebooks instead of
taking down lessons. The teacher
caught him one time, and he didn't know how to explain why he wasn't paying much
attention. "She probably would've thought me a conceited brat," he
didn't really mind that ever so often there would be small fires and even
explosions in the house (like when Gani plugged an appliance running on 110
volts into a 220 outlet to find out why the two weren't compatible). But they
did get worried they might one day come home to find the house a total wreck.
even with his young mind working full-time like the Cartoon Network's Dexter,
Gani never really wanted to go into the sciences. He rattles off career
ambitions he considered as a grade-schooler: carpenter, electrician, astronaut,
last because my parents wanted me to enroll in a seminary," he says. But
before Gani could be delivered to the monks and a life of celibacy, a thick
envelope addressed to him arrived. He got accepted to the Philippine Science
High School (PSHS or Pisay), arguably the best science school in the country.
Pisay, students went around making their own notebook computers from scratch, or
created their own motherboards. If Scott Adam's “Dilbert” went to high
school in the Philippines, he would've gone to Pisay. "Science is the
school's strongest suit, but it also tries for a well-rounded knowledge in its
students by encouraging those with a predilection for literature and the arts to
join clubs and associations. But mostly, there were a lot of nerds," he
most Pisay graduates, Gani went on to the University of the Philippines where he
signed up to become an applied physics major. His undergraduate thesis was
innocuously named "Non-Iterative Treatment of Brillouin-Wigner Perturbation
Theory" and his masteral thesis in 1999 was on the much misunderstood
"Complete Recovery of Weak Multifrequency Signals." Finally, he got
his doctorate of philosophy in physics in 2002 with a dissertation on the
popular issue "Noise in the Detection and Processing of Weak Signals:
Trade-offs and Benefits."
on state of science
would’ve most likely joined the ranks of the brilliant young men and women who
spent their time on experiments, doing research and attending international
symposia on topics less than two percent of the world population would
comprehend. A lecture on the state of science in the Philippines hosted by the
environmental group Kalikasan at UP Diliman’s College of Science changed all
lot of S&T advocates went to that lecture, and one of the results of the
discussion was the resolution that something should be done to change the
comparatively poor state of the S&T in the country,” Gani says. “We
thought of forming a group that will banner the interest of the sector of
scientists, and make S&T more responsive to local needs. Right then and
there we united on the argument that this is achievable only if we make S&T
serve the people. That's why ‘S&T for the people’ is the group's
what is the state of science and technology in the country?
shakes his head: "In the Philippines, personal computers with the latest
software is already considered hi-tech. That and lasers, and satellite feeds
that are only 5 to 10 seconds late. The government wants the people to believe
that just because there are computer-programming schools and so-called
e-commerce the country's already advancing in sci-tech. In truth? We're so
backward. We can do the research - we have the most brilliant minds in UP's
College of Science alone - but the experiments that are being conducted in UP
labs cannot be replicated on a national scale."
on the Technology Index of 1982, the S&T in the Philippines is defined to be
-0.1 compared to the United States, the world's technology leader, which is 100.
The technology index is defined as the average of the sum of the number of
patents and registration of new designs, technology trade, value added in
manufacturing and the export of technology-intensive goods.
Philippines also ranks low in technological capacity. Reason: An acute shortage
in the number of scientists and engineers doing R&D, and of the inadequate
resources and budget devoted to it. All these factors translate to the minimal
invention patents granted in the Philippines, which likewise indicates little or
no economic significance.
when it comes to the type of basic technologies-materials technology, precision
equipment, energy technologies, information technologies, life technologies and
management technologies, we have only what's known as pre-operative
capability,” the Agham chair says. “Neither is there significant research
and development in the country. There's a low number of personnel involved in
R&D, a lack of adequate research laboratories and facilities, low output of
scientific research publications, lack of funding and lack of government support
for science education. There's also a low quality of science and mathematics
education in the country. The
UP Institute of Science and Mathematics Education itself says that ‘many
teachers do not have the content background required to teach the subjects they
to Gani, students, the budding scientists, technologists and engineers of the
country are already at a disadvantage. He says that students find themselves
with unqualified teachers, inadequate books, shabby laboratory conditions and
the high cost of education.
misemployment and the lack of available jobs hound college graduates. As
professionals, our S&T practitioners receive low salaries and are deprived
of the opportunity to improve their skills and hone further their technological
knowledge,” he adds. “Basic industries such as pulp & paper, cement and
steel should be the main beneficiaries of science graduates of a country. But
given the absence of such basic industries, and the lack of government interest
in truly industrializing the country, our engineers are forced to become mere
technicians and supervisors in assembly lines and our scientists and researchers
mere teachers at universities."
this is where Agham comes in. Gani says that the main unity of Agham members is
to promote science and technology
that genuinely serves the interest of the Filipino people, especially the poor.
"We want to encourage S&T professionals and workers to share their
knowledge and expertise through direct community service. You know, come up with
basic studies that can help improve the community's economic well-being. Also,
we're campaigning for the betterment of science and technology in the country
through various forms, including, but not limited to research, advocacy, forums,
and discussion groups."
explains that Agham's advocacies are centered on five issues 1) food security
and self-sufficiency ("This
mainly means developing agricultural productivity and helping farmers"); 2)
issues concerning public utilities such as electricity, telecommunications, and
information technology; 3) developing scientific and mass culture; 4)
campaigning for national industrialization; and 5) environmental protection.
pretty tall agenda for a fledgling organization - but Gani and fellow sci-teachers
are unfazed. "It's the dreamer in me, in us. We want to make science less
alien to the common people, to make it serve an immediate, practical
purpose," he points out.
he became an advocate of science for the people, Gani says he was fired up by
the idea of making scientific discoveries. "But now the real challenge is
how to make the discoveries and advances in science more accessible for ordinary
people," he says.
are not really known for being critical thinkers. They accept cold, hard facts
backed by in-depth research, tested in experiments and case studies. The social
context of these facts is not really of much interest to them. It's the ivory
tower syndrome, " he says.
socially-aware was part of Gani's transformation from a laboratory denizen to
activist scientist. When he ran for college representative in 1991which he won
by a landslide (there weren't any other candidates), Gani handled the volunteer
corps which was among the University Student Council's committees in charge of
rallies. It was the height of the anti-U.S. bases protests, and demonstrations
wasn't an expert on what I was doing, but what I understood about the issue was
enough to push me to convince other science students to join the protests,” he
recalls. “We campaigned on the toxic waste issue and how the bases produce and
leave them behind in host countries. We also agitated against the presence of
nuclear weapons within the American military installations. I read up on these
things so I could explain the issues better."
days, Agham sponsors educational discussions and workshops on various topics.
One day they're holding a workshop on electronic lay-out, making power-point
presentations and putting up websites for people's groups like Anakbayan and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY).
The next they're helping consumer groups like People Opposed to Warrantless
Electricity Rates (POWER) compute how much incredible profits the independent
power producers (IPPs) and their sister companies through overcharging.
farmers from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog launched a campaign against the
controversial genetically- modified organisms (GMOs), Agham came up with a
comprehensive paper detailing why GMOs are bad for the environment and for
people. "We keep wracking our brains on how we can contribute more to
people's campaigns,” he explains.
can't help but take pride in one of Agham's greatest achievements. During the
height of People Power II, Agham managed to mobilize 700 science and math
students, academics and professionals from both public and private agencies to
join the rallies in EDSA and the historic march to Mendiola to oust former
President Joseph Estrada.
the most creative posters, websites and text message-networks during that time
were put up by Agham members and allies. "Who says nerds aren't
creative?" he says.
there's one thing that Gani hates about the scientific mind, it's the weakness
of neutrality. "Many scientists all over the world are too engrossed in
their own discoveries,” he says. “While they are so responsible when it
comes to monitoring developments in the scientific field, they are often
neglectful of the social responsibilities that come with their creation. Sure it
was scientists who invented the nuclear bomb as well as other weapons of
destruction; but it's the military and their governments who unleashed these
horrors on the world. The problem with scientists is that many of us choose to
"Although scientists today were brought into thinking that science is neutral and scientists should keep out of politics and society in general, at some point, they would have to face the fact that their science has a profound effect on the people at large. As Einstein said once, 'Only when science can be made to truly serve the interests of the people and not of the few can it be truly meaningful.'" Bulatlat.com