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Environmental assessment


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One of our difficulties in ascertaining the true state of our environment and natural resources is the failure of assessment agencies to adopt appropriate, standard methodologies of gathering the data. For example, many organizations conducting assessments use rapid methods with inadequate samples. These assessments are good only for showing a rough idea of the status of the resources. Reports on such assessments contain data that cannot be compared with those obtained by generally acceptable, standard methods. This state of affairs makes it difficult to make definite conclusions as to the real status of the environment or natural resources.

We must insist on the use of standard methods in all assessments for inter- comparability of data. It is not difficult to access these methods. They are the ones used by authors of papers that are published in the best journals in the various fields of science, the refereed journals. These published papers have passed the scrutiny of experts in any one of the scientific fields. In addition, it is usually safe to avail of the advice of reputable and well known scientists before deciding to adopt methods to be used in surveys.

Accurate and reliable data are needed to build databases, which are now considered essential for long term monitoring of the status of the environment for management purposes at various times in the future. The national government departments concerned with the environment as well as local government units should develop these databases that will serve as guides to making good decisions on the kinds of interventions required for good management.

Members of academic institutions are expected to know about methodology. Yet they commit gross mistakes in data gathering and data presentation. For example, I have just reviewed a report from a supposedly good university dealing with assessment of coastal resources. The data were presented in graphs without error bars and without mentioning the number of samples. What was unfortunate was the fact that the research activity was sponsored by a supposedly competent agency of government, indicating negligence in properly reviewing the report before publication. Such lapses give us a bad name in the community of researchers.

One way to remedy the deficiencies of researchers is to set up a system of mentoring those involved in conducting surveys or assessments from the first stages of the process, such as proposal writing, to the last stages of report writing and publication. Academic institutions have to institute this remedial process in order to produce reliable and accurate data and information.

The long-term solution lies in the training and mentoring of our students in the graduate schools. I have mentioned this idea a number of times in my advocacy for the reform of our graduate schools. Many, if not the majority, of our graduate students obtain their master’s and doctorate degrees without developing competence in writing research papers. What can be expected? They are taught by “professors” who do not practice research and writing. Philippine universities and colleges should insist that those who teach in the graduate schools are good examples for students to emulate.

In connection with foregoing comment, I think the Commission on Higher Education should take the lead in the reform of graduate schools. It should take a look at the status of graduate education in the country and institute changes in order to raise its standards, which, in my opinion, is not comparable to those of our neighboring countries like Singapore.

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