Some friends ask me where I get the passion, or the energy, or the motivation. After all, I have tons of work as a researcher already.
The quick answers to these questions are: 1) I don’t write because I’m passionate about writing, in general, or writing about science, in particular; 2) I eat a lot (my wife cooks wonderful meals); and 3) I don’t need to be motivated. I roll that way.
I am not a writer; I dread writing actually. Grammar always works against me, I’m bad at spelling (thank God for spell checker!), and I have a nonlinear thinking process. My non-science major students can attest to these.
Most of you will know that I am a Physicist. I go to the lab, write research papers, and then go to the lab some more. If you think that the reason I write is that I’m bored with the routine, then you’re wrong. Being a researcher is exciting. When even a small glimpse of the inner workings of the universe is finally revealed, that moment is priceless!
The real reason I blog is related to my love for reading science news and feature articles. That’s on top of my penchant for reading good scholarly articles that may or may not be related to my field. You might call me a voracious science reader.
This is where I saw a major problem. I find out that even as Filipinos in general are appreciative and believe in much of the work of scientists, the media which reports science, slaps the face of the Filipino with mostly *******. The information are cluttered, and the real science is being masked by whatever slant the writer/editor wants. This is a disservice to the public and to the real scientist, Filipino or otherwise.
If I have to categorize Science news/ features in the Philippines, it will be of 5 types. A story may be of a single type or a combination of each.
1) The people/invention-centric type. This type is very common since news and feature writers want to put a face or an object in their stories. This is not really bad if the real point is the scientist or the inventions. What is actually disturbing is that some writers think that science news is ONLY about the scientists or the inventions and not the actual science, and that the scientists are put as demigods (which is related to #4), and their inventions are the solution to the world’s problem (which is related to #3).
2) The based-on-my-experience type. This is the usual route of most science columnists. You will read in their opening paragraphs how they wonder about a thing related to their life, and then suddenly connects it to a science article they read somewhere. It could be good but most of the time it looks like the parts are spliced awkwardly. Do you really believe someone can have all that experience? Even with Blackholes?
3) The shockers/media hungry topics. This type usually talks about sex, chocolates, stroke or diabetes, a cure for cancer, or the end of the world. Need I say more?
4) The uber fan. Usually related to #1, the uber fan type over hypes the Philippines or the Filipino. Think something in the lines of “proud-to-be-pinoy” comments in Youtube. You could tell stories are in this type when they connect everything to the Philippines (even if the study didn’t say so or is only remotely related to the country) or that when the Filipino becomes the leader of the team even though s/he is not the Principal Investigator or the head of the group. This last one makes me hide under my desk. Just to be clear to my non-scientist readers, a lead authorship doesn’t mean group leadership.
5) The rants/praises. This last type is mostly authored by scientists themselves. However most of the time, they talk about the state of science, that there is no money to do research, and the lack of science culture in the country. I get their point but would ranting about the lack of science culture (which is debatable by the way) matter to people who wants to know real science happening in the Islands? Instead of writing just rants, would it be more constructive if we write our research in a manner more people will understand and save and send the policy essays to our favorite congressmen? Developing a scientific culture does not happen with blah blah, it happens when people are well-and properly informed and educated. Who are in the best position to do this? The scientists themselves.
I’m not saying that my writing has no faults. Some of my work actually fall on one or so categories above. I’m just aware of what I don’t want to read.
There. My solution is to write my own content. A little selfish but at least I’m sharing them with you.
And so I know the problem and I have a solution. But the real kick happened when I noticed that there were plenty of interesting research whose affiliation address was the Philippines and that these were not getting mileage from traditional media. Case in point: this, this, this, and this and many more.
Having worked in the Philippine research environment, I could empathized with the hardship a Filipino scientist goes through from conceptualizing a research to having it published. If in the more advanced countries research is a product of sweat, blood, and tears figuratively, it’s literally that in the Philippines. You have to have a lot of water so that you will not get dehydrated, a constant supply of malunggay, and the thickest skin possible.
It is not enough that you’re good. You need to be more determined, and to have more endurance than your counterpart in more developed countries.
And then your research will not have any mention in the country that matters to you most. The saddest part actually is not that. It is when your research has been highlighted outside the Philippines, but is largely ignored in your ‘home’ turf.
I write to try in my own humble way, to highlight the Filipino scientist’s spirit. I want to put the spotlight on their science. And this scares me most. What if I fail communicating their work? I would then give them more harm. Thankfully, most of the authors respond to my feedback requests and I have angels of all sizes helping me out.
A good research from anywhere is actually a collective triumph of humanity. Everybody in some form or another contributed to the shared knowledge. Everybody in some form or another will benefit from the shared knowledge. It’s just how we humans roll.
A good research in the Philippines in addition, is also an example of the triumph of the Filipino spirit, of its optimism and its strength. It should never be drowned down neither by fad, nor of noise.
This is the reason why I write what I write.