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An empirical research life

By: Mahar Mangahas - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 24,2023 - 07:57 AM

I’ve been very lucky in my work life; never had to look for a job. I accepted an offer as research assistant at the University of the Philippines (UP), to start the day after graduation in April 1962; never had a summer vacation afterward. I didn’t graduate with Latin honors, but slightly below, due to a few bare passes from billiards-overtime. My cum laude classmates had also gotten job offers; happily, there was space left for me.

My first projects were for professor Agustin “Dodong” Kintanar Jr., public finance specialist. I helped him work on tax consciousness and on figuring out the sharing of the tax burden. We were sponsored by the Joint Legislative-Executive Tax Commission (now National Tax Research Center). I had to study the entire internal revenue code; I learned to use a survey of income and expenditures (probably it was the Philippine Statistical Survey of Households). I was pleased with all this fresh knowledge, never taken up in college economics.

Dodong let me work quite freely, with my common sense, for which I am grateful. My other teacher, Jose “Pepe” Encarnacion Jr., called my tax-burden allocation “ingenious,” but couldn’t see any economics in it—well, at that point, I wasn’t calling myself an economist yet.

Raising public consciousness. Another study I had with Dodong was on the welfare of Muslim Filipinos; it was sponsored by Enrique Zobel’s Filipinas Foundation. Secondary data showed that most Muslim communities lacked the basic necessities that our UP Diliman campus had—they had no post office, no police station, no fire department, no public school, no health service, etc.

The implications were too obvious: Muslims were being overlooked by the national and local governments; public officials, especially in Manila, were blind to them. An important function of research is to raise public consciousness about a problem.

Survey data don’t depreciate or “get old.” Research should not be thought of as just for the moment, or as a grist for mass media. Survey data should always be saved.

Social Weather Stations (SWS) once included, in a national survey, items commissioned by linguistics professor Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, on how many Filipinos understood English, read English, spoke English, and thought in English. Several years later, Brother Andrew’s survey was the baseline for an American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (AmCham) inquiry into whether the facility of Filipinos in English had deteriorated. A new SWS survey, revisiting Andrew’s items, verified the deterioration for AmCham.

Survey data, when gathered in a first-class manner, should be digitalized, deposited safely, and back-stopped in academic institutions. Don’t expect the government to do this; the survey archives at the universities of Chicago, Cornell, and Michigan are all nongovernment. The SWS survey archive is likewise nongovernment.

Survey findings don’t need to be newsworthy to be worthwhile. SWS had many small, localized commissions to survey attitudes on family planning. From experience, we readily anticipated that the findings would be very favorable, so why survey? The sponsor explained that what we and the scientific community already knew, the key politicians did not. Many congresspersons had to be convinced that their own constituents, who kept them in office by their votes, wanted freedom from the church-instigated restrictions on family planning.

Research competition is good to have. The standard 95 percent “significance” means that 19 out of 20 surveys on the same issue will give the same result. Trust the science. Many small surveys are more effective than one jumbo survey in getting at the truth. Challenge pesky unbelievers to commission their own research with an independent survey provider.

Confidential surveys have social value, too. There is a grapevine of private election specialists, and other ethical social analysts, who recognize and value scientific surveys.

Case 1. Candidate X patiently waited out two election contests, or six years, since his commissioned surveys did not show him as the leader. When he finally became favored to win in a third survey, nine years later, he entered the contest and won as predicted.

Case 2. A political party Z wanted to know which of their alternate candidates A, B, and C would be strongest in a coming election. The pre-election survey found the strongest to be A, but neither B nor C would accept the result. In the end, all three, plus D from another party (also included in the pre-election research), ran against each other. Result: A won.

In survey research, political customers are good for the bottom line. I cheerfully acknowledge that my economic research is indebted to them, too.


Contact: [email protected].

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TAGS: Social Weather Stations, survey

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