Sleeping Journals Lie. Science as the Waterloo of universities

clip_image001MANILA: On Tuesday, 22 January 2013, we were talking about our alma mater the University of the Philippines in relation to ranking in science, education, research and publications, and my friend cited what I didn't know about how world universities are ranked by one group:

30% teaching
30% research
30% citations

I googled and that list happens to be that of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings by Thomson Reuters (timeshighereducation.co.uk), with the remaining 10% divided between industry income (2.5%) and international outlook (7.5%).

I checked THE Rankings and I couldn't find the University of the Philippines System in the Top 400 of Asian universities (timeshighereducation.co.uk). Which to me is very easy to explain; I know that even if I give UP the maximum 30% for Teaching, I can only give UP 20% for Research and 10% for Citations, for a total of 60%. In the UP grading system, that's equivalent to a grade of 3, where 1 is Outstanding, 1.5 is Excellent, 2 is Very Good, 2.5 is Good, and 3 is Passing. And I think I'm generous at that! How can UP rank at the top in Asia when it's just average?

And why is UP just average in performance of its duties as the National University? Aside from lack of Research, it's mostly lack of Citations, which reflects lack of Published Papers, which reflects either poverty of Publishable Data from Research, or poverty in the Authorship of Technical Papers, or poverty in Technical Editing, or Poverty of Journals - or all of the above.

30% Teaching plus 30% Research plus 30% Citations equals Tops in World University rankings. You have to be good in teaching, which goes without saying. But to get the full value of Research and Citations, you have to be 100% serious with your Science. UP is not that serious.

Let us consider the most-research-conscious unit of the UP System, which is UP Los Baños; I got this list from its website 22 January 2013 (journals.uplb.edu.ph):

1. Philippine Journal of Biotechnology, semi-annually; last issue, 2001
2. Philippine Journal of Development Communication, semi-annual; last issue, 2008
3. The UPLB Journal, refereed, annual; last issue, 2008.
4. Agricultural and Applied Economics Research Bulletin, quarterly; last issue, 2008
5. Asia Life Sciences, refereed, semi-annually; last issue, 2012, up-to-date
6. Journal of Environmental Science and Management, semi-annual; last issue, 2012, up-to-date
7. The Philippine Agricultural Scientist, refereed, quarterly; last issue, 2012, up-to-date
8. Philippine Journal of Veterinary and Animal Science, refereed, semi-annual; last issue, 2012, up-to-date

Of the 8 journals, 4 have discontinued publication. Of the 4 remaining, 3 are semi-annual and 1 is quarterly - considering that there are 9 colleges and 2 schools of UP Los Baños that conduct research and naturally would like to publish their results in UPLB journals, how can those 4 journals cope with the demand from authors to publish?

At 10 issues of the 4 UPLB journals for a year with 10 papers each issue, they can accommodate 100 papers to publish yearly. Ridiculously few! The minimum for a University to be considered in THE Rankings is 200 papers published yearly. And that is only the minimum. As UP Los Baños is performing below even the minimum, it will never rank within the Top 100, much less the Top 10 in Asia. I'm 100% sure of this, because universities with less than 200 papers published a year are excluded from the rankings outright.

In fact, THE Rankings says that Citations is the single most influential of its 13 indicators, because this is a good measure of how the universities are sharing knowledge and ideas to the world (timeshighereducation.co.uk). If you have only the minimum 200 papers published within the year, how can you ever hope to garner enough number of citations to make it to the top of the list?! The citations show how much a University is contributing to world knowledge, and how the same have been acknowledged by others.

Isn't UP Los Baños embarrassed, to say the least? UP Los Baños is the bastion of research initiated by the American founders starting in 1909 yet, and it prides itself as the point in Asia where the highest density of PhDs can be found, and yet it cannot be the bastion of knowledge reaching out to the people (with popular articles), or to their colleagues at the very least (technical papers).

The idiomatic expression, "Let sleeping dogs lie" means, "Do not instigate trouble. Leave something alone if it might cause trouble" (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, 2002). I'm okay about the dogs, but as a crusader for knowledge and wisdom, I cannot let those sleeping journals lie - we have to wake them up!

UPLB comprises 9 colleges (Agriculture, Arts & Sciences, Development Communication, Economics & Management, Engineering & Agro-industrial Technology, Forestry & Natural Resources, Human Ecology, Public Affairs, and Veterinary Medicine), and 2 schools (Environmental Science & Management, and Graduate School). Those UP Los Baños units should establish their own publication teams to process their own progress reports into technical papers fit for publication - and give additional incentives to staff who are to pass the strict requirements that a manuscript must meet to deserve publication: substance, structure, and style.

One major problem, if not The Major Problem, with UPLB publications is that the journals are as fast as turtles in processing manuscripts from 1st to final draft. Often, it takes 1 year; sometimes it takes 2 years, a few times even longer. The bottlenecks are in the writing process, the review process, the editing-revision process, and the publishing process. Can not these processes be accelerated? They can, and I have proven it. In the case of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science, with Ted Mendoza, PhD, as Chair of the Editorial Board and me as Editor in Chief, we hastened those 4 processes, without sacrificing quality, that we made the PJCS up-to-date in 3 years - and ISI right after that. If your journal is not ISI, you're not world-class. This is a double publication record that nobody can beat. I'm a different animal.

That reminds me - UP Los Baños is a different animal altogether. This institution will never rise above its mediocre performance in terms of science, which could contribute greatly to its stature as an internationally respectable institution, unless it sheds off its Filipino-based (read, Tagalog-based) nationalism.

In fact, science is the Waterloo of universities in the Philippines because of their love of the Constitution-mandated Filipino language, which doesn't know anything about science! That is to say, the constitutionalists in our midst also don't know anything about science and its role in development. We Filipinos can live without science, yes, but our country can never move on from its "developing" to its "developed" stage without science. And UP Diliman or UP Los Baños can never rank among the Top 10 in Asia for as long as it refuses to think out of its nationalist box, Filipino.

Your nationalism is good, but we need English. Publish, or Perish, or Remain in Limbo?

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