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Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One Absurd and unscientific

Absurd and unscientific

 

ANTONIO CONTRERAS

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo accepted the challenge and immersed himself in the misery and agony of enduring what many ordinary Filipinos have to go through. In social science research, we call this methodology participant observation. It is a data-gathering method used by qualitative researchers. While some people may claim that the method is prone to bias, it nevertheless provides the researcher with authentic data drawn from a naturalistic setting. Its power, however, rests on an openness on the part of the participant observer to base his or her insights on what was actually observed and experienced. In the case of Panelo, instead of using the experience as a basis for a fair assessment of what commuters have to endure, he gave it a spin to support his biases. He concluded that what we have is only a traffic crisis, and not a transport crisis.

Prior to his “field work,” Panelo already claimed that we do not have a transport crisis, considering that commuters still arrive at their destinations. All they have to do is to leave early. Well, Panelo did leave early from Marikina at 5 a.m. And it took him about four hours and multiple jeepney transfers to reach Malacañang at 8:45 a.m. Indeed, he arrived, albeit late. Panelo considered this as a validation of his claim that people do still arrive at their destinations. All they have to do is be patient.


Panelo misses an important point. He can afford to be late by 45 minutes. But not all commuters have that luxury. Workers paid by the hour get penalized with wage deductions. Students and teachers end up missing their first classes. Unlike for Panelo, there are consequences for most commuters. Besides, Panelo commuted only going to work and not going home, which would have required another four hours, even more. Panelo would prefer to split hairs and call the plight of people who would spend at least eight hours each day commuting as evidence of a traffic crisis, but not of a transport crisis, as if the label would matter.

It is plainly absurd to even try to differentiate a traffic crisis from a transport crisis, as if the former will make the suffering less important to be solved than the latter. Panelo’s attempt to split hairs here is obviously a spin to make it appear that a traffic crisis is less politically costly for the President than a transport crisis.

It is also absurd for Panelo to imply that it is not a problem if people are getting less time in quality sleep, as long as they are able to sleep. Hence, it is not a problem if one who arrives at his or her house at 10 p.m. would wake up at 3 a.m. to begin preparing for the day that would start at 4 a.m. Panelo obviously has no idea of the effects of sleep deprivation on a person’s health, productivity and well-being. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to sleep on their jobs and not get fired for it. Not everyone has the privilege of the President, who can afford to miss important meetings or events to catch some needed sleep and rest.

Panelo missed the opportunity to have an evidence-based conclusion. He had no intention to feel the pain of the commuters. His main agenda was to undermine their claim by turning his one-time experience as a contrapuntal to negate the criticisms and complaints.

But at least Panelo, to his credit, tried to enter the world of social science research and made an effort, albeit politically motivated, to gather experiential data. He went through the motions and did not let any claim to intelligence be his sole basis to make a conclusion.

The same is not the case with Sen. Cynthia Villar when she trashed the role of research in agricultural development. Villar scolded the Department of Agriculture for spending money on corn research. She derided the role of research in agricultural development and demanded that funds be spent instead to help the farmers. She made it appear that research and development (R&D) activities are simply fads that some were madly obsessed about.

Defenders of Villar on social media argue that the senator actually has a point. They see R&D activities as irrelevant endeavors that are purely academic, the results of which remain too technical and are not properly communicated in understandable format, and have not contributed that much to the lives of farmers.

Indeed, these criticisms have some grain of truth. But the solution is not to have less, but even more government funding. The value of R&D cannot be discounted. The agricultural sector of Thailand and Vietnam, among other countries, outgrew ours simply because their governments invested in R&D.

When state funds are not enough to finance researches in the agricultural sciences, research scientists run to private agrochemical companies for support. But these companies usually have their own agenda and priorities, some of which may not necessarily coincide with the interests of the farmers. It is only through government funding that a more balanced research agenda can be promoted.

It is most unfortunate that Villar fails to see the importance of state-funded research not only in corn in particular, but in agriculture in general. She should realize that agriculture is a science. The search for varieties that have higher yield and are more resistant to insect pests and diseases is a continuing work of discovery. In the age of climate change, this would also include searching for more climate-resilient technologies, farming systems and crop varieties. And in the face of creeping urbanization, it would also entail research on the adverse effects to agricultural productivity and food security of converting farmlands into malls and subdivisions, something that Villar must seriously consider. After all, she is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and food.

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Today’s Front Page February 26, 2020

Today’s Front Page February 26, 2020