Sunday, March 28, 2010

Research Audit at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

1. Probably this is my last posting for the month of March as I'll leave for Hong Kong on Tuesday 30th to attend WWF Asia-Pacific Chair meeting. Incidently I just came back from Port Dickson where we did the 2009 research project appraisal. This is an annual affair, I missed the last year's evaluation at Seremban and I decided to attend this one.

2. UKM has some 7-8 research niches such as medical and health science research, regional sustainable heritage research, exploring biodiversity & biotechnology, ICT, Climate change, nanotechnology, renewable energy etc. I belong to niche on regional sustainable heritage which is headed by Lestari's Director Prof. Mazlin Mokhtar.

3. Overall the majority of niches, and the majority of clusters within the respective niche and the majority of research groups within the cluster did well. There was an improvement when compared using the same indicators to those of 2008. I always believe the majority of researchers worked very hard to fulfill the agreed targets, except for a few. Many research groups scored the maximum 5 when calculated using the inputs and outputs. In other words they received more than optimum grants, published more papers in journals, had more PhD and MS students graduated, did great networking etc.

4. The groups within the medical and health science niche and exploring biodiversity and biotechnology did well but not as good as the other niches. The reasons given was that research in these fields are more competitive and they need a longer duration to achieve. These are fair comments and the medical researchers need to do their ward rounds as well and be on-calls. Research in molecular biology in particular is highly competitive the time they had finished a couple of experiments their counterparts in Europe, Japan and US had already published their papers!

5. The number of patents are not easy to come by ....the number filed took a long period of time to produce results. The number of books based on R & D is also small. Talking about the number of papers published in journal I must say UKM is still far behind. It is now 0.8 per person, and it was 0.2 in 2007. Mind you there are hundreds of staffs are devoid of research grants and they did not publish in journals. I presumed there are also hundreds who didn't do research at all. Of course there are many who are prolific, producing more than 10-15 each. Congratulations to these carriers or surrogates of other junior staffs.

6. I foresee the year 2010 evaluation in march 2011 will see another incremental progress. Cheers

Friday, March 26, 2010

On Freedom

1. To quote Barrack Obama on page 375 of his "Audacity of Hope" who talked about freedom. According to him in 1945 Franklin D Roosevelt looked forward to a world founded upon four essential freedom.

2. The four essential freedom are freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I am sure since then there have been many interpretation of freedom and an equally amount of discussion on the subject. The various Prime Ministers and governments of Malaysia had talked about such freedom.

3. As far as freedom of speech is concerned much is desired as the government has many laws, regulations and acts that don't permit a full freedom of speech for fear of racial unrest and what-nots. Most newspapers reported what their masters wished to convey to the readers and not what the readers want to read and know. Many books have been banned from the public readership etc.

4. Freedom of worship is fulfilled without any hindrance except lately there were some people who capitalised on the controvery of the use of the name of Allah to gain sympathy from the Malaysian muslims. The Indonesians, Egyptians and Lebanese muslims and christians have been using the name of Allah. It is only those in Malaysia felt insecure.

5. In Malaysia there is so much poverty in rural areas, especially in the less developed states, including Kelantan. There are thousands whose monthly income is less than $300 per house-hold and yet they inspired for good water supply and food to eat, electricity to get uniform light to read and proper sanitation. Malaysia is a country of rich and diverse natural resources and very high GDP and annual growth. This is an irony.

6. In my past postings I discussed a certain degree of fear emancipated from the present government and the police in their quest to banish freedom of speech and expression that are not congruent from theirs. The government simply cannot except any views which are contrary to what they have wanted to hear and read. However, the present government under YAB Dato' Seri Najib is quite liberal in their thoughts and practice.

7. It is my wish that the four essential freedom is respected to the fullest as signs of independence and civilised society that Malaysians cherish.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Scientific Collections and Material Transfer Regulations

1. At the on-set of CBD there were some trivial conflicts between the North and the South. The former is presumed to represent the rich and industrialised countries which have the technology to enhance the sustainable utilisation of natural resources in the less-developed countries. The South is presumed to be poor countries but have rich natural resources, especially biodiversity. The negotiators who are mostly lawyers and scientists turned businessmen sat across the tables to discuss material and technological transfers but failed. Then these North and South countries did it in bilateral negotiations and cooperation.

2. Malaysia is no exception. We claimed to be rich in biodiversity and moving towards becoming an industrialised country by 2020. But our human resources and scientific critical mass both in biodiversity and biotechnology is far behind countries like Cuba, Thailand, taiwan, not to mention Singapore and South Korea. To add salt to the wound we are yet to have a standard reference collections of our rich biodiversity to be housed in a Malaysian Natural History Museum.

3. In March 2010, Japan took an initiative to gather some scientists from South-east Asia, including Taiwan and met in Tokyo. We discussed scientific collections, modes of material transfer from country to country and also the national regulations. It must be emphasised that systematic study at a revisionary level can't be confined to a locality, state/province or even country for a taxon is widely distributed across a wide geographical range. We can't assume to do a revision, say of Vitaceae, without making specimen collections in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Thailsnd etc.

4. However, all countries claimed soverignity over their natural resources, including innocent specimens of corals, benthos, phytoplanktons, insects, beetles, birds, bats, grasses, weeds, mosses, ferns and other higher plants. All these countries believed they could find and harness richness from this biodiversity. I don't deny there is some money to be made in selling cut-flowers transported by Boeing 747 to Europe, smuggling Paphiopedilum, Nepenthes, fishes, turtles etc to the developed countries where ther are rich buyers. But these perceptions coupled with more stringent regulations, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines are hampering science, conservation and knowledge on biodiversity.

5. We met and we decided to approach ASEAN and other organisations to discuss on how to remedy these situations.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

On Ornamental Plants

1. Man is born to apprecaitae beautiful things, be it rural or mountain landscape, old but delipidated buildings, beautiful flowers, slim or large cars, gigantic animals etc. It is second nature for man to like and love beautiful things even though as some people declared beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me beauty is beauty.

2. Man loves to decorate his dwellings with beautiful landscape hence he planted and cultivated plants of all kinds of habit around him. He likes the aromatic smell of Cananga odorata or Michelia champaca; he likes the bracts of Bougainvillea glabra or Mussaenda philippica; he likes the ringed stems of Veitchia merrillii or Roytonea oleracea; he likes the petals of Hibiscur rosa-sinensis or Plumeria obtusa, etc

3. Hence he imported many more foreign plants which are supposed to be more exotic and put in the nurseries throughout the country. When the government agencies more plants to plant and when the housewives more herbs and shrubs to decorate their dwellings and building they buy from these nurseries.

4. Then the problem started as the local taxonomists like me have a lot of difficulties in identifying the foreign plants to species. At the most I could get to the family level period and to get to the genus and what more species took a lot of pain referring to the unavailable books. In Thailand and Singapore my counter-parts have less problems as the reference books are plenty. In addition, many exotic plant species came to Malaysia via Thailand.

5. Taxonomy is beautiful if you could impress the public with binomial nomenclature but when you are stuck with foreign plant species you were more like a fool. These plant species didn't come through the immigration channels for passport registration like we do. How nice if these species were to line up in the immigration channels with their passport in their branches where we can register their species names and origin, and sometimes their sex too, monoecious or dioecious or polygamous.

6. Malaysia needs more reference books with beautifully illustrated pictures of the ornamental plant resources.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On biopiracy

1. When I watched Pirates of the Caribbean, a few bioheritage issues cropped up. When the Portuguese were here in 1511, the Dutch in 1642 and the British in 1787, the Japanese in 1940 and the British came back in 1945, surely they did not come innocently. The textbooks they came for spices. However, I think they came for many other reasons ...spice was probably one of them.

2. After Independence in 1957 many more peoples came to Malaysia, Portugueses, Dutch, British, Japanese and others ....this time not for spice, but for our natural resources. They were looking for soil bacteria, leaf litter bacteria and other protistans. Many also came to screen our anthophytes for possible new chemicals to fight cancer and AID. Many came looking for exotics such as orchids, aroids, gingers etc.

3. Many came for exotic animals such as lizards, turtles, birds, insects to trade. Many came as tourists but they went home and biopirates. Many came through a proper channel via EPU and local counter-parts and went back as collaborators in R & D. In the case of the latter, after a couple of publications, the locals were satified but they kept the Malaysian specimens in their labs working further on new innovations.

4. So there are a few kinds of biopirates, those without license to rob and those with license to rob. In the epic films only the strong became the pirates and the weaks became the victims. Normally the strong won and became the hero until the end. The weaks normally forgot what they had lost because they were handicapped and too innocents.

5. I am suggesting let the pirates-to-be and the Malaysian scientists work together on equal terms in honesty and sincerity for humanity. After all the Malaysian resources are world's resources before polity was introduced and practiced in the name of socialism and democracy.