Excellence in Science Communication

Article excerpt

Byline: Gelia T. Castillo, Ph.D.

SCIENCE must serve a human purpose" seems like a straightforward statement but in practice, such questions as "what purposeaa and "whose purpose" do not have simple answers. Science, therefore, is an unending quest for ways to know more about the unknown; to understand more about the complex and incomprehensible; to solve problems that beset humanity in an increasingly borderless world; to address the conditions of those who have less in life; to create new biophysical possibilities and better social and economic opportunities; and to bring about sustainability, peace and human security in our common future.

It is no secret that science and scientists are not highly valued in Philippine society. They have no political constituency and even carry precious little entertainment value. If we were to go by the content of everyday media (print and broadcast), science is but a tiny blip in our national consciousness even if some products of science permeate our daily lives. It has often been argued that science is not salient because scientists do not communicate well to non-scientists. They do better in internationally refereed journals which mean communicating to other scientists of their own kind. While this is a time-honored and time-tested way of subjecting oneas science to the scrutiny of peers, it leaves out the many publics who nowadays claim: "We have the right to know."

The days of splendid independence of scientists to pursue their chosen field or subject of study are probably no longer true today. The relationship between science and society is changing. Society wants some "say" not only on what scientists should do or not do but also on what science products society should use or not use. Agricultural biotechnology and stem cell research are two obvious examples of these phenomena. Not all that is science is regarded as a boon to humanity. The controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms even as they come in corn, rice, soy beans, etc. are considerable and questions about their safety for human consumption and environmental protection seem to be endless. But the politics and international trade issues behind them are not always up front. On the other hand, organic products are becoming more popular even if the science behind them may not be as robust.

All of the above tell us that science and technology are not the exclusive domain of ministries of science and technology. Practically all aspects of human life such as health, education, agriculture, governance, economics, international relations, finance, trade and industry, transportation and communication, labor and employment, social work, human development, environment and natural resources, etc. have or should have research functions to provide rigor and relevance to their actions, policies, and programs. Unlike in the distant past, when science was defined as the bio-physical sciences, the social sciences at present are as much science as the biophysical sciences. As a matter of fact, there is hardly any science issue which does not have human implications.

While the canons of science dictate how research proceeds, the subject matter of the research is determined by many other factors. Social science research has even ventured into studies of armed conflicts in the Philippines, corruption, etc. An excellent example of how even the issue of partisan politics and political dynasties is researchable is shown in Arsenio Balisacanas analysis of poverty and inequality which concludes that:

"The local political dynasty variable is highly significant and has a negative sign, indicating that the welfare of the poor tends to be lower in provinces governed by political dynasties than in provinces characterized by competitive politics, other things being equal. This is consistent with the view that dynasty in local politics inhibits economic performance a" through its negative effects on economic efficiency a" and restricts the access of the poor to basic services. …