Friday, April 22, 2011

Misplaced rejoinder lacks support

By Flor Lacanilao

In his "Strange phenomenon: A response to Lacanilao" (Inquirer, 04/11/2011), Dr. Ramon Guillermo disagreed with several points in my commentary, "Democratic governance impedes academic reform" (03/14/2011). I showed that the use of peer judgment has been a major cause of declining academic performance in the Philippines; but this has been reversed by the use of objective measures. Guillermo challenged my article concerning the use of valid publication and citation counts (objective measures), but he discussed only their misuse instead of the useful information they provide.

The assessment tools are the ISI-indexed journals and the ISI indexes. These are internationally accepted indicators. They are widely used measures of research and S&T performance. His objections, however, centered on the misuse and abuse of data concerning publications in ISI-indexed journals. The usefulness of a tool -- like the kitchen knife or the gun -- can only be as good or as bad as the purpose or the person using it.

Dr. Guillermo favored the prevalent practice of peer judgment and democratic governance, instead of ISI measures, citing historical and emotional events of nationalist struggle for democracy and academic freedom. He failed to show how these relate to peer judgment or enhanced academic growth, like improved research and teaching. On the other hand, using hard data, I showed that the introduction of ISI measures improved research output after decades of decline.

Below are some important uses worldwide of ISI-indexed journals and ISI indexes. They will clarify the issues raised by Guillermo.

1. In developed countries, they supplement peer judgment of academic performance. In fast developing countries, they are the reliable measures of evaluating research and S&T performance.

2. They are commonly used in ranking nations, universities, and scientists, which are published in leading journals like Science and Nature.

3. The journal coverage of the three top ISI indexes are as follows: sciences (3,786), social sciences (2,876), and arts & humanisties (1603). The lower fraction of covered journals is a reflection of the research output from each major fields -- 75% average of journal content in the sciences, 50% in social sciences, and 25% in arts & humanities (ISI study). This disproves Guillermo's claim that ISI indexes are unfair to social sciences and humanities

4. Guillermo's claim that the dominance of US and UK in English-language journals is disadvantageous to non-English speaking countries has also no basis. The top six countries with the highest number of ISI-indexed publications are dominated by non-English speaking countries -- US, China, Japan, UK, Germany, and France -- with China increasing its number of publications twofold every 5 years in the last 2 decades, and predicted to overtake the US soon (Thomson ISI report and others).

5. In addition to titles and authors of published papers and books, ISI indexes also gives citation data, hence, solving Guillermo's worry of ISI's bias against books. The number of times a paper is cited is a recognized measure of quality. You can get the same information, but not quite as complete, from Google Scholar. A correction factor are used to remove distortions due to different citation rates in different disciplines, solving another problem raised by Guillermo.

6. Further, Fred Grinnell says in his book, Everyday Practice of Science, that the easiest way to assess if one has made any major contributions to one's field is with the ISI data base called Web of Knowledge.

7. The stature of top scientists in various fields is reflected by their scores in ISI indexes -- for quantity and quality of published work. On the other hand, most of our prominent academics, scientists, so-called experts, and even National Scientists -- selected by peer judgment -- lack the number and citations of their publications (click or Google search Celebrating the UP Centennial).

8. There is no question that the quality rather than the number of publications is a better indicator of research performance. Again, reminding Guillermo, we can only rely on the ISI citation indexes for valid citations because we lack experts to judge quality. For example, how can the quality of work done by a Filipino biogeographer be evaluated by his peers in the Philippines if he is the only well-published biogeographer in the country?

9. It is true that in western countries -- where all competent scientists publish in ISI-indexed journals -- there is much discussion concerning the misuse and abuse of “numerology.” This does not mean that numerical data are completely useless. Many who question the usefulness of the ISI-indexed journals or ISI indexes in measuring academic performance can be shown as poorly published.

10. The utility of numerical data can be seen, for example, in a recent paper ("Expert credibility in climate change") on Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) in the Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA that reports, "The relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

Finally, my call for visionary leadership should not be confused with preference or support for fascist rule. Guillermo's appeal to Philippine nationalism is misplaced. Mediocrity has never been a UP tradition.


(Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained his Ph.D. (specialization in comparative endocrinology) from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman, chancellor of UP Visayas, and chief of SEAFDEC in Iloilo. His email address is at: .)

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