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.

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