The science and practice of herpetology in Southeast Asia has a long and rich history that is studded with interesting personalities and events.
Unfortunately, as with most modern sciences, the social and political history of the field is often ignored by, or otherwise largely remains unknown to,
many contemporary students.
Of course, "standing on shoulders of giants" is a practice that is not only encouraged, but actually demanded by the modern scientific process, in the form of the
ubiquitious literature review or the fundamental concept of backing up assertions (if not based on primary data, observations or conclusions) with reference to other works or authorities.
And so, through all stages of the research cycle, from the planning and preparation in the office (or deck chair), to the sampling and observation in the field, to the analysis
and the write-up in the laboratory afterwards, we are always (or should be) and recurrently made aware of the existence and work of our predecessors.
However, most of the time our recognition of our scientific heritage goes no more beyond that which is forced upon us by the requirements of this research cycle.
Yet, as is well known, social and political context and history strongly inform the development of science.
In fact, both science and scientists
are members of distinct intellectual lineages that
inform or have an influence (not always positive) on not only their world-views, theories and paradigms, but also the details of their day-to-day practice.
It is because of this intellectual lineage
(a lineage just as real as any species lineage, with memes as the basic unit of information as opposed to genes), that we look to lingual papilla and
webbing as important systematic characters while our neighbours on the Sahul Shelf, across the Great Divide, and of a parallel but nonetheless distinct
herpetological intellectual lineage might look to internal organ arrangements instead (for example).
But learning about the history of our calling does not merely better our understanding of why we do what we do the way we do; it is also makes for some thoroughly
enthralling stories. Edward H. Taylor, for example, is well-renowned as an important contributor to the foundations of Thai, Philippine and Costa Rican herpetology.
But he was also an accomplished intelligence officer, working for his government during both World Wars of the 20th Century And, perhaps the preminent of well-documented examples,
there is Tom Harrison - at least four movies can (and should!) be made of his life.
Unhappily, there is also an observed tendency among many (but not all) herpetologists working in Southeast Asia toward isolating themselves not only from
their historical predecessors, but from their contemprary colleagues as well. In some cases, this is inadvertent, with the herpetologists unaware of and simply taking no
effort to engage themsevles with the broader herpetological community. In other cases, this is deliberate, with the herpetologists striving to work in relative
secrecy, either out of protective jealousy (of their turf, data, etc.), or a general lack of regard or contempt for the importance of collaborative efforts. On both counts,
this isolation is lamentable, and maybe even deplorable. Southeast Asian herpetology is complex and fragmented puzzle sprawling across dozens of countries, hundreds
of languages, and thousands of islands. Only through broad collaboration can any of the interesting systematic and biogeographic questions be answered, simply because the
geographical and political context from which the required data must be drawn is so vast and heterogenous. While the vicious competition at the alpha-taxonomy level may
encourage secrecy (for fear of being "scooped", i.e., losing that all-important claim to primacy that is required by the ICZN), at the level of historical biogeography
and higher-level systematics - probably the most significant gap in Southeast Asian herpetology - a strong collaborative effort may easily accomplish more in a year than
any single person can achieve in a lifetime, simply, if nothing else, because of the synergy and the greatly increased capacity to assemble a large body of data (specimens and/or observations) from
a vast area in a short time.
But just as there is more to be gained in understanding our intellectual lineage and predecessors than simply increasing our understanding of our work, there is more to
be gained in getting to know our contemporaries than simply improving the efficiency of our work. As I can report from personal experience, the basic effort invested in
getting to know and communicate with other scientists working in the same field is often rewarded many, many, many times over by solid friendships that can greatly enrich
your personal as well as professional lives: I herp because I find it fascinating, exciting and fulfilling, but most of all,
I herp because it is fun ... and it is so much more fun herping with friends!
So, this resource is meant to help us engage ourselves with both the historical as well as the contemporary herpetological community. If you feel that
I should add someone to the listing (with the primary operating criteria being simply that the person has produced some work significant for Southeast Asian
herpetology), then please contact me with the relevant information.
If there are any corrections or modifications to be made to any
of the listings or the associated biographies, please let me know as well.