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Sunday, November 9, 2008

PAASE Scientists Argue Coral Reefs

The blog is not a scientific discussion on coral reefs and global warming. I have already commented on the subject on my entry dated September 12, 2008 in this site
This is my personal interpretation( reading between the lines) of amor propio and personal jealousy among our members. My purpose in commenting is let all Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering(PAASE) members realized that this kind of discussion is not good for the organization. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth.However, this only show that scientists are indeed human beings. So readers who are not members of PAASE enjoy this very interesting interchange of ideas.

The lively discussion started when scientist # 1 wrote the following:

I just want to point out that one of the authors of the attached review article on coral reefs in the Dec 14 2007 issue of Science is Dr. E. Gomez of the Marine Science Institute at UP Diliman. The conclusion is sobering and has important implications for the Philippines which has one of the most diverse coral reefs in the world. Perhaps we should have some comments from coral reef ecologists in PAASE and how our members can help.

This e-mail received a response from Scientist 2 as follows:

For those who are not aware, Dr. Edgardo D. Gomez of UP Marine Science Institute is THE World Expert on Philippine coral reefs and one of the world experts on coral reefs and coral reef management. He is highly competent and well-respected internationally in his field, and thus deserves to be included as a co-author in this Science review article. I know Dr. Gomez personally especially since I started my science careeras a research assistant at UP MSI back in 1986-87, when he was still the Institute's Director.

I know that ( scientist #1) means well, but I got some feedback from a couple of members who think that it would be an "utter insult" to give Dr. Gomez unsolicited advice.

Scientist # 1 responded:

All I wanted to do is to point out with pride that Dr. Ed Gomez is one of the authors of this important article in a premier journal, on a topic which I believe is of crucial importance to the Philippines. If it sounded like I am giving "unsolicited advice", my sincere apology because that was never intended.

Scientist # 3 comments:

I don't want to add more tension to this issue but I think we should put a stop to these types of sensitivities especially at PAASE, since personally I think this is one of the problems of Philippine culture which has been hampering the science culture in the Philippines.
I don't know scientist #1 personally and just met Prof Gomez once but I have high respects to both of them with their professional achievements. Objectively, I did not see anything wrong or insulting with #1 comments and actually I thought it was a good idea on how we can bring minds together. As scientists, we should be open to any issues or challenges raised and if there is any misunderstanding or apparent contradiction try to bring it up in a mature and professional manner, rather than taking it as something personal. At least that is the science culture I think most of us have been trained. Creative tension and active engagement are always good. “batu bato sa langit, matamaan po huwag magagalit.”

Scientist #4 letter to #1

I thought I understood your first email well. We all take pride when a Filipino scientist is recognized for achievement. From my perspective, no apologies are necessary. Dr. Gomez, congratulations on the article!

Comments from Scientist #5

With all due respects to my colleagues, I cannot believe this discussion is going on. In all areas of science, final words are not yet or will never be given - there is always room for better understanding brought about by better methodologies, either theoretical or experimental and more importantly new generation of researchers. Imagine what would happen if the final word on Philippine coral reef is given. This means no more funding for this research!!

This reminds me of one time I asked a very brilliant, respected, and
well-established Filipino researcher on what drives the metabolic process of some higher physiological processes that he was presenting. I immediately got the feeling that he was insulted, and in turn I did not get the answer since perhaps the question was considered insulting deserving to be ignored. I do still think the question is very fundamental and is the root of understanding life's force. Any taker?

Response of #1 to # 3 and #$4

(#3, I met you at the Biotech Symposium organized by Maoi Arroyo about 2 years ago at United Labs where we both participated.) Another reason I brought up the article co-authored by Dr. Gomez which hopefully is not lost in the exchange of opinions is for PAASE members
to comment on the coral reef problem from their own perspectives. As achemist/ biochemist for instance, I learned how increased CO2 in the environment leads to acidification of sea water as CO2 dissolves which in turn leads to slower calcification in coral reefs. Can this acidification be minimized or reversed, chemically or biologically in a "green manner"?
#4, you asked a very fundamental question in biology that can only come from a non-biologist and that is healthy. I don't have the answer but you make me think in a fundamental way. In multidisciplinary projects, there is the beauty of people coming from varied experiences and perspectives.
This would be a very boring world if everybody thinks alike.

Comments from Scientist# 6
Dear #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and fellow PAASE members,

I feel that all of us are immensely proud and happy of the achievements of our fellow Filipino scientists and engineers and I believe that we share this sentiment for Dr. Edgardo Gomez, whose reputation as a world's expert on coral reefs is unchallenged. As I am, in general, unaware and uneducated of the literature outside of my own field of research I am grateful to Scientist #1 for sharing with us this article that was co-authored by Dr. Gomez. That's why #2 note indicating that some (I prefer not to know who they are) have interpreted #1 email in a very negative way was a complete surprise! In my opinion, that response does not even rise to level of us being thin-skinned or prickly but simply a misinterpretation.

It would have been easy for me to ignore this incident but I feel that it is important to voice my opinion, that is, I agree with #3,#4 and $5. We all know that progress in scientific research is propelled by the creativity and combined dedicated effort of many different players: the experts, professors, assistant & associate professors, senior researchers, post docs, students at various levels, technical assistants, etc.. Everyone has a contribution to make.

Science evolves because of competing ideas and diverse approaches. It continues to be renewed, as with every inch of progress or every little answer a manifold of questions follows. If we stopped at the signal event when the DNA structure was elucidated by Watson & Crick in 1950s, then we would not have the sequence of the human genome and those of many organisms!

Importantly, let's applaud the creativity, effort, dedication and perseverance of all Filipino scientists!

Comment Scientist #7

I am the one who thought that offering to help Ed Gomez deal with the problem of Philippine coral reefs would be an "utter insult" to Ed.I am a PAASE oldtimer and I am witness to many plans, some fulfilled, many unfulfilled, to help Philippine science. It is how some of those plans - and the intentions behind them - were expressed that had bothered me (and is still bothering me).

On several occasions, I have heard PAASE members talk about saving Philippine science. Yes, the word "save" was used. It would appear that those members think of themselves as messiahs who have the expertise and are duty-bound to save Philippine science. And it would appear that they think that the scientists in the Philippines are incapable of doing it themselves.

I do not agree with them. I think Philippine science has undergone a tremendous improvement in the last few decades. And I think it should be made clear to the messiahs among us that we should not be thinking of SAVING the Philippines but of
HELPING it. Moreover, I think those of us who are on the outside should never think we know Philippine science better than the scientists in the Philippines.

To wish to help Philippine science is a noble thought, but we should think very
carefully about how to do it. It is not simple. Two entities are involved in any "helping" situation: the helper and the "helpee" (this word is not in my dictionary, but I'm using it here for convenience).

In an ideal world, the helper always has good intentions and the helpee is always receptive and grateful. Sadly,this is not an ideal world.

The messiahs among us may have only good intentions (let's assume that that is true), but we all know that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions", i.e., good intentions do not always achieve good results. Many factors affect the results. One of the most important is the helpee - in particular, how the helpee
feels about the help being given and about the helper.

The helpee may feel that the help being offered is not needed.
(Personally, I hate being offered help). I feel insulted. An offer of help makes me feel I have been judged incapable of doing things on my own. "I am not handicapped!", is my unverbalized reaction to such offers.) How do the Philippine scientists feel about the help being offered?

Do the helpers bother to find out? The helpee may even feel that the helper is being arrogant - offering to help somebody of lesser abilities. (I think of myself as a typical Filipino - proud of what I am, proud of what I am capable of doing,proud of what I have done. I will find it very insulting if somebody,Filipino or other, will offer to help me in my thinking, in what I am doing. "How dare them think they know better than me in what I'm doing?", would be my reaction.) How do the scientists in the Philippines feel about the helpers? "Amor propio" is very strong among Filipinos. We are naturally humble, but we don't think of ourselves as inferior to others. Let us try to remember that when we offer to help Philippine science. Sincere offers of help are always good, but those offers have to be made "quietly" and "softly" in my opinion. Sadly, this is not an ideal world.

Reading between the lines Scientist# 7 is probably jealous of Scientist #1
I will appreciate comments from any one on the subject. The technical aspect of this discussion was detailed in the attachment sent by Scientist #1. If you are interested I will be glad to send you a copy.

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