Reputation and Validity: or Why being famous doesn’t mean you’re right

I received the following email from a retired UP professor:

UP economists and the RH bill

An important role — in fact, a social responsibility — of natural and social scientists is to help politicians to make useful policy decisions. One way is to actively participate in debates on national issues, and be able to do more for the debate’s useful conclusion.

When a debate on a national issue drags for 13 years, as with the RH bill, it says a lot about the debate’s quality. Perhaps there is communication problem. Are the academic scientists doing their job?  Are nonscientists dominating the discussions? Hence, confusing the politicians and decision-makers.

Recently, two articles in the “Talk of the Town” page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer have opposing views on the RH bill. One is  by 30 University of the Philippines economists:

Population, poverty, politics and RH bill (Inquirer, 29 July 2012).  The other is by Bernardo Villegas, Evelina Atienza, Frank Padilla, Anthony Lumicao, and 15 others: No need for an RH bill, now or ever (Inquirer, 16 September 2012).

Surely one would want to know which of the two groups of authors have more credible members to discuss the subject. This would not only help the politicians but also educate the media people and the general public. It should be noted that those without properly published work “lack the necessary expertise to evaluate information correctly.”

“The easiest way to assess whether someone has made any major contributions to one’s field is with the ISI database called Web of Knowledge. You can use that database to learn the number of publications by a researcher and whether the published work has been cited by others. If you do not have access to the Web of Knowledge database, then you can get similar information—albeit not quite as complete—from Google Scholar.”  says noted scientist Fred Grinnell in his book Everyday Practice of Science (2009).

From the citation information drawn from its Web of Knowledge database, Thomson Reuters determines the most influential researchers in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, and economics.  “Since inaugurating the Nobel predictions in 2002, 26 of the more than 160 total Thomson Reuters ‘Citation Laureates’  have gone on to win actual prizes.”

This last few days, I have been doing a Google Scholar Advanced search on the members of the two groups, and found some interesting results (data are freely accessible). Only publications in peer-reviewed international journals — covered in Thomson ISI’s Social Sciences Citation Index or Science Citation Index — were selected.  These indexes are the widely used indicators in evaluating research and S&T performance in the natural and social sciences; for instance, in ranking countries, universities, and researchers.

Such properly published studies — that is, adequately peer-reviewed and widely accessible for verification — are also referred to as valid publications.

Among the 30 UP economists in the Inquirer article, 10 have 4 – 17 valid publications, with a total average of 14.9 citations. They are RV Fabella, AM Balisacan, RL Clarete, JJ Capuno, RA Danao, EM Pernia, GP Sicat, SA Quimbo, OC Solon, and GM Ducanes.  Of the remaining 20 UP authors, 9 have each 1 – 3 publications, and 11 are unpublished (see attached Table of publication data).

On the other hand, among Dr. Bernardo Villegas’ group of 19 authors, only Villegas has valid publications — 3 papers with an average of 9.0 citations. The 18 others have no ISI-indexed publications.

Note that in two earlier posts, I discussed the issues on the K-12 education program of the Philippines. Those who support it hardly have any valid publications, whereas those with properly published work oppose the Philippine K-12.

The above observations and information are crucial for government policy-makers in solving our national problems. They have been established from experiences of developed and fast developing countries. I think this issue on assessing expertise should be a major concern not only of our natural and social scientists, but more so of our government, if we are to move forward.

And for me, I repeat my call, it is time for Congress to Stop RH debate now!

Flor Lacanilao

Retired professor of marine science

UP Diliman


This is the response I sent to him:


I would like to make a few comments on your message about UP economists and the RH Bill.

The way I understood your message is this: you are saying that the UP economists who wrote that position paper on the RH Bill are well published authors. They are also well cited by many other authors. In a word, they enjoy very good reputation as economists.

On the other hand, among the authors of the other position paper which opposed the RH Bill only B. M. Villegas has “valid publications”.

You did not draw any conclusions. You just said “The above observations and information are crucial for government policy-makers in solving our national problems.”

But from the looks of this argument, you want us to draw the conclusion that the paper of the UP economists is more credible or “valid”.

It may seem reasonable that a reputable scientist may make more credible statements because there usually is a real connection between one’s reputation and one’s work.

But any good scientist knows that it is not reputation that determines the validity of a statement or conclusion, but rather its agreement with reality.

Using reputation as a measure of the validity of one’s assertion is like giving way to a prejudice. The prejudice is: since your reputation is good your conclusions must be correct. Or: since your reputation is poor your conclusions must be incorrect. Giving in to prejudice is a mark of defective logic or thinking.

You might know the famous story. Einstein solved his field equations for the general theory of relativity. Since he had the preconceived idea that the universe is stable he introduced a variable in his equations so that the resulting solutions will indicate a stable universe, one that is neither expanding nor contracting. This variable he called “lambda”.

An unknown and unpublished physicist, a Catholic priest, Fr. Georges Lemaitre solved the Einstein equations but without the prejudice of Einstein. His findings were that the universe was expanding. Lemaitre published his paper in 1927 in an unknown publication, the Annals of the Scientific Society of Brussels. When Einstein learned about Lemaitre’s work he told him: “Your math is correct, but your physics is abominable.”

In the 1930s Edwin Hubble’s work with the Mount Wilson telescope showed that the universe was really expanding. Einstein went to Hubble to see the data for himself. Einstein eventually said that the “lambda” was his biggest blunder. Lemaitre was correct.

So much for reputation.

A lesson from history.



One comment

  1. Great story, solid point!

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