Critique on DOST’s Future Plans Part I

Yesterday, the School of Science and Engineering presented a talk of Secretary Mario G. Montejo, one of the supposedly most outstanding engineers in our country. He bragged himself of his successes in the field of technopreneurship and was chosen by our Excellency, Benigno Aquino III, to be the current administration’s DOST Secretary in a span of about five to six years. Other speakers included in the program were scientific professionals from the university, who presented case studies or reports on the current situation in our country in terms of science and technology.

As to the extent of where my nationalism as well as passion for science and technology goes, the talk seemed a bit frustrating. I do not have any negative feedbacks about how our technological research has progressed in our Innovation Center. Engineering is indeed one of the key fields our country must develop. What disappointed me were not only the plans of our Secretary but also on his determination and overview on developing the theoretical points in science (i.e. pure sciences) as well as how the mandate of this department holds.

It seems right that the Department of Science and Technology is targeting the key issues of our country today such as dengue, flood monitoring system, rice shortage problems, malnutrition, weathering stations, mass transportations, and such. It rather disturbs me was to how the secretary responded to a couple of the questions during the open forum. One was on the opportunities for theoretical mathematicians and the other on extending theories on complex systems where he simply answered, “Well, it’s just numbers.” and “Complex systems is just complex mathematics.”

Secretary Mario Montejo painted a pretty picture to the Ateneo scientific crowd the areas that the Department of Science and Technology would be supporting in the years to come. To name a few would be genomics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, industrial control and automation, and industrial robotics. We’ve all seen their magic and progress for the past few months or maybe even years. In his plans, one would not see his support on theories but just applications. What’s the point of it all – in building frameworks and solutions if we hinder ourselves in progressing theoretical research?

Let us take for example, Quantum Mechanics. Who would even imagine that this would have led to numerous discoveries today? As physics undergraduates, we sometimes don’t see the point of studying it. It is just too abstract for some of us to grasp. So what, some would say. I guess this is where, as Dr. Queena Lee-Chua pointed out, excellent mentoring enters its role in shaping the students’ understanding on such lessons.

Amidst of it all, we now look at the mandate of the Department of Science and Technology. It mentions that it should provide central direction, leadership, and coordination of scientific and technological efforts and ensures that the results there from all geared and utilized in areas of maximum economic and social benefits for the people.

The beauty of it all in science does not only contain itself in our compacted gadgets today. Solving social problems and understanding the world can’t be done by solely applied science. We as future leaders in the field of science and technology cannot merely enclose ourselves in a perception that all good things happen in applied science. At this point, someone may ask, “So what? I still don’t get the point of utilizing the theories in real-life situations.” Well, you don’t need to, as Dr. Jerrold Garcia pointed out. You’d have to deal with it. Who even thought that Feynman’s integrals would work out in Polymer Science, Finance, and such?

Instead of creating a one-sided development in terms of applied science, we need to progress in the pure sciences too. If the department thinks that helping out the country means creating machines or programs to solve hunger, natural disasters, and such, then I’d be damned. What the country needs is not only trend setters but also researchers who aim for scientific excellence.

The Philippines needs a scientific revolution, not just a set of innovations.

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