Friday, February 10, 2012

Matters of science students

1. In the last two weeks or so the alarming reduction of the number and also percentage of science students in schools were discussed in some newspapers and meetings and as a scientist I am compelled to say a few words.
2. The Science Chair of National Professor Council from USM who is a mathematcian suggested special monetary allowance be given to science students and this was arrogantly dismissed by an officer from the Ministry of Education who said the Ministry has other better ways to address this issue. I remember in the 1960s the good students were given some $20-$45 per month to motivate them to study better and the majority ended up doing science.
3. The VC of UM suggested the teachers to relook at the ways how science is taught and he recommended more IT oriented way and also more field-based. The Deputy Minister of Education wants to look holistically. Some suggested establishing more science residential schools. Jolly good that many people are interested to talk about this and the Ministry and its agencies to discuss this. It is fact that science students will one day become doctors, opticians, pharmacists, engineers, biotechnologists, zoologists, food scientists, geneticists microbiologists, IT specialists etc etc.
4. I just want to say these
(a) Do we have scientific institutions in the states where our natural resources are held?
(b) Do we encourage to establish scientific institutions in our beloved country like the Botanic Gardens, Herbarium, Natural History Museums, Science Centres etc?
(c) Do we have excellent and dedicated science teachers in schools like those of the 1960s?
(d) Do we have the school and university labs well equipped to make science teaching enjoyable?
(e) Do we ever look at the salary scheme of the science teachers and lecturers? Do we ever assess our science curricula?
Otherwise you people out there can talk and talk forever. After all this is NOT a new issue at all it is as old as our Independent Nation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rain Forest for Ransom

1. I would lke to share with my followers the gist of an article entitled "Rain Forest for ransom" written by Bryan Walsh that apperared in Time December 19, 2011. The article is about the rain forest in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador. This is obviously part of the world famous, the Amazonia.

2. The Yasuni National Park is ca. 10,000 sq. km in area situated on the western fringe of the Amazon basin, it is on the eastern border of Ecuador, south-west of Colombia and north-west of Peru. It has been considered by many scientists to be the single most diverse spot on the planet. However, the oil companies have found rich deposit beneath the park's forest of ca. 900 million barrels of crude worth billions of USD.

3. The Ecuadorian President is willing to forgo drilling and leave the National Park intact in exchange for international donations ca. USD3.6 billion over 13 years. This proposal not only will conserve the rich biodiversity but also prevent the emission of 800 million tons of carbon dioxide. This proposal appears like an environmental blackmail to some - pay the Ecuadorians or the forests and biodiversity will go.

4. According to the Ecuadorian biologist David Romo when you go to Yasuni you will find a new species and it would take 400 years just to name all the insect species out there. There is an estimated 100,000 insects per hectare, the highest concentration on earth. According to botanist Gorky Villa, there are 655 tree species per ha and there are 28 threatened or near threatened vertebrate species there, including the whiet-bellied spider monkey and the giant river otter. It is also a bird watchers' paradise as there are ca. 600 species. The park also harbours ca. 30% of the Amazon's amphibians and reptiles.

5. In future there will be more and more of our rain forests that are put to ransom ans more and more findings of non-biodiversity products. The Maliau Basin Conservation Area came to my mind as the basin is equally rich in forest biodiversity but the forests are sitting above a rich deposit of coal.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Kota Damansara Community Forest

1. Somw years ago ca. 2003 the Malaysian Nature Society and the concerned Friends of Kota Damansara took the case of Kota Damansara Forest Reserve to the state government. At that time the communities were so much concerned with the physical development occurring around their residences within 6 km of the green lung. After a long social fights the Forest Department gazetted it as a permamament forest reserve in 2010 and designated it as a community forest.
2. In April 2010 the Forestry Department and MNS organised a 4-day scientific expedition to this fragmented island forest and more than 80 scientists and KD residents too part. The JMG staffs came to study the geology, the PERHILITAN staffs came to observe the small mammals and the young scientists from FRIM, UM, UPM, UKM, Putrajaya Botanic Garden and MNS came to study the various aspects of flora and fauna. And this week on 11-12 January 2012 we all met at SEGi University College KD campus to discuss the findings.
3. En. Awg. Shaffie of Selangor Forestry Department introduced the concept of community forest and showed us the slow and steady loss of the former Sungai Buloh FR to the current 321.7 ha of Kota Damansara FR. Dato' Shaharudin Mohd. Ismail ex Deputy DG of Forestry Dept. Semenanjung Malaysia gave us an excellent historical perspectives of forest management in Selangor beginning in 1896 to the present day. Dr. H F Lim also gave us the social perspectives and fate of Temuan of Bukit Lanjan.
4. Ms Phon of FRIM told us that there are records of 17% of the peninsula's butteflies are found here. And this was supported by Dr. Norela Sulaiman of UKM. Dr. C Y Choong reported 48 species of odonates and Mr. Daicus Belabut of UM reported 24 species of amphibians and 8 species of reptiles and Dr. Y F Ng reported three new records of thrips for Malaysia, 2 generic records (Priesneriola & Amarothrips) and 1 specific record (Phibalothrips longiceps).
5. Ms. Thi of FRIM and Dr. Y S Tan of UM briefed us on the diversity of macrofungi observed and collected in Kota Damansara FR.
6. En. Ahmed Zainuddin of Putrajaya reported more than 129 species of angiosperms oberved here and this was supported by the assessment done by Rafidah A. Rahman of FRIM. Rafidah addede that the populations of Orchidantha fimbriata and Cyrtandra cupulata are worth studying in details. Mr. Razali Jaman of UKM reported more than 24 species of ferns. Ms Y M Chan reported two begonia species endemic to the peninsula are found here, B. holttumii and B. aequalateralis.
7. Mr. Henry Goh of MNS reported 67 species of birds from 16 families including some migrants and this supported by Ms. Farah Shafawati who did some mist-nettings. Prof. MMaketab of MNS & UTM read the analyses on water quality. All in all it was a very successful seminar as the KD communities and SEGi were very supportive. Let us wait for more outcomes of this in some planned actions to show-case the KD Community Forest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the new postponed pay scheme

1. One afternoon I met my old classmate who had retired from government services a year after I did and complained about the new pay schemes that the PM announced postponed for a few days after the complaints from CEUPAC. He now did some odd jobs and spent more time with his grandchildren and also travel. He confessed he had a boring 30 years or so at the ministry and climbed the highest post and awarded a Datoship by a state and now the government is awarding 36 top-ranking officers a monthly pay of $50-60K.

2. I said I sympathised with him because at the university we have no boring time and we never complained of having low pay. I said he has no PhD but we have no choice but to slog 3-4 years to obtained that degree in order to be a lecturer and not respected by the likes of him at the Ministry. He asked me what did I do at the university and I said he surely remembered what his lecturers did in the 1970s at the University of Malaya then! Anyway i summarised to him.

3. I do teaching from Dec 1978 until yesterday, almost everyday except Friday all semester and all sessions. I was not bored as the cohorts are different. I do undergraduate and post-graduate courses. I set questions twice every semester and marked them. I supervised undergraduate students, MS and PhD students in their dissertaions. I read every line, paragraph and chapters before being examined.

4. I do research, applied for grants sometimes I didn't get in my chosen discipline which is botany and biodiversity. I prepared research reports, these are boring!. I prepared and published papers in journals, proceedings etc. I presented my research results in seminars and symposia, discussed with friends. I read and evaluated reserach papers sent to journals and I read and evaluated theses from UKM and also other universities as external examiner.

5. I do community services, scientific community I mean not like the convicts! I am active in the Academy of Sciences Malaysia in different capacities as Chair to Discipline Group, Chair the Expedition Task Force and attended various meetings. I am Chair and Trustee of WWF Malaysia, Pulau Banding Foundation and Trustees of Malaysian Timber Cerification Council, Orang Utan Island Foundation, Wildlife Protection Foundation.

6. I still have time for my children and grandchildren. What are you complaining about? I asked chose the the wrong job and you missed all the spices in life. My friend kept quiet and promised to meet me again and discuss the good old time of university days. I said cheerio and see him again soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Imbak Canyon Scientific Expedition

1. In late November to early December 2010 over a 100 scientists and their assistants including supporting staffs from Sabah Foundation took part in the Scientific Expedition to Imbak Canyon Conservation Area in Sabah. barely 4 months after the expedition, and especially when many reference collections were yet to be identified and analysed we met again this week to discuss the findings. The seminar was officially opened by ASM Secretary-General Academician Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr. Salleh Mohd. Noor.

2. The geologists led by Prof. Felix Tongkul, Prof. Che Aziz and Sdra Khairul Azlan and soil scientist Dr. Baba Musta made us understand the genesis of the Imbak Canyon. Prior to the expedition we seemed not to know that there was a fault at its southern tip and also a granitic intrusion in between the sandstones and mudstones. The soils are however rich in As and Fe.

3. Dr Mohd Kamil informed us that the river water is of class I but contains a high concentration of Cd. Prof. Abu Hassan and his PhD student Ms Nurita studied the aquatic insects and Dr. A Hamid is still to unzipped the taxonomy of the Gastromyzon fishes.

4. The muscologist Dr. Monica Suleiman believed there were some new records for the Borneon and Sabah bryoflora. She also collected over a hundred specimens of liverworts. Mr. Shim believed there are at least tw new species from the genera Selliguea and Amphineuron (ferns). Mr. John Sugau reported the altitudinal distribution of dipterocarps and Dr. Nazip also mapped the general altitudinal distritribution of non-dipterocarps. There are some possibly new Begonia and orchids. Prof. Laily was disappointed that his lichen collections don't have secondary metabolites. However, all of us observed the beautiful regeneration of seedlings of Dryobalanops lanceolata and other timber species. The largest tree was Shorea johoriensis.

5. There were many reports on fauna. The beetle researchers are still struggling with the identification of the various beetle taxa; Dr. Faszly and his co-workers are also struggling with stick and leaf insects, daddylonglegs, and other invertebrates. Dr. Mahathevi had settled down with her termites; Dr. Norela and her students found both the moth and butterfly fauna not that diverse, while Dr C Y Choong collected a Protosticta sp. which happens to be a new species but awaits description by another specialist in Leiden. The mammalogists thought Imbak Canyon has become a refugia for the small, medium and large mammals as the adjacent areas were somewhat disturbed.

6. Ms. Rashidah M Rehman who successfully climbed Mt. Kuli informed us the Imbak Canyon has some ecotourism potential if packaged scientifically. It has diverse forest landscape, geomorphological landscape, rich flora and fauna including a rich ethno-culture just outside the consevartion area.

7. The social scientists who surveyed the communities of Orang Sungai and Murut took the stage to inform us of the timber-coffins and the rich socio-culture of the various subsects of the Orang Sungai. What intriged me was the fact that some of them decided to prepare their putative coffins when they are still kicking and healthy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Comments on Natural Sciences in Malaysia

1. On Friday Feb. 18th 2011 Prof. Emer. Dato' Dr. Zakri A. Hamid, the Science Adviser to the Prime Minister wrote an interesting viewpoint in his regular NST column "climbing an awesome mountain of stairs". This country of ours is awefully rich in natural sciences particularly the biodiversity (flora, fauna and geology) yet we don't witness a resurgence of R & D in these natural fields of science

2. When we were under the British, Malaya made a tremendous climb in these fields putting our neighbours particularly Indonesia and Thailand to shame as we had "the Flora of the Malay Peninsula" and 4 instalments of the Flora of Malaya (Orchids, gingers, grasses, ferns). Between 1972-89 we dished out the Tree Flora of Malaya. In addition, there are many other publications in zoology and geology, and yet we have yet to have a Museum of Natural History.

3. The bastion of our natural history was plenty to be seen not only in our protected areas in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and also in Sabah. The potential and opportunities afforded by the Maliau Basin CA, Danum Valley CA and the Imbak Canyon CA are just too many to portray and exhibit in our museum. The various species of plants and animals to be discovered and named as new are too many. Just to quote the revision of Hanguana malayana in Peninsular Malaysia had yielded 4 new forest species once lumped under the above taxon. I was informed there are manu more Hanguana in Sarawak and Sabah waiting to to collected and named new to science.

4. What had happened to our natural science after Independence? One obvious answer would be there was a significant research shift to applied sciences in particular biotechnology that promised monetary returns. I have yet to witness the by-products from these undertakings. In the meantime the "stamp-collecting" science suffers and our ecosystems degraded and species of plants, animals and microbes lost. The other answer would be due to our own fault, mine in particular as we had failed to address these issues more aggressively and positively to the policy makers who made the decision.

5. All is not lost and we still have the time and energy to rectify the wrongs. However, we can't depend on the "young generation" to bring back the past glory of natural science for most of them see applied science as the 21st century agenda for science and technology. To be a taxonomist and systematists would be a blunder for the family members who financed their university education.