The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology

History of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology

old issues of rbzA growing museum needs an organ to publish its findings. On this rationale, plans were prepared in 1928 by the Raffles Museum for the publication of a journal of Malayan zoology in 1928.  On September 1928, the first issue of the BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM made its debut with papers on both Anthropology and Zoology forming the backbone of the bulletin.

It has been about 80 years since that fateful moment.  The journal has undergone several changes in name, survived a destructive war and many years of neglect.  The BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM continued under this name, through the Second World War, until 1960.  During these 32 years, 29 numbers (= volumes) were published.  In 1961, the journal underwent a change in name to become the BULLETIN OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM.  This was in line with Singapore state government becoming independent from the British and becoming part of Malaysia.  Only three numbers, however, were published before Singapore achieved full independence.  With nationhood, the journal's name changed again, albeit only slightly - it was now known as the BULLETIN OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM SINGAPORE.  Again, only three numbers were published before the museum itself was revamped in 1970, and zoology was removed from the it's responsibility.  The zoological collections were eventually transferred to the National University of Singapore (NUS), and for all effective purposes, the journal, with volume 35, died, or so it was thought. 

In 1987, Dennis H. Murphy (aka Paddy), then a senior lecturer of the National University of Singapore, obtained funds from the Turf Club to resurrect the BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM.  As the Raffles Museum was now defunct, Paddy changed the name of the journal to the RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY.  The journal, now published by NUS, was not to be a de novo venture.  It was to carry on with the philosophy, spirit and numbering of its famed predecessor.  In 1988, the first issue of the journal, presenting a catalogue of the primates in the collection, was published. 

The chronology of this famous journal over the years, in summary (publisher in parenthesis), is as follows:

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Singapore, Straits Settlements, 1928-1941) (Volumes 1-17)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Colony of Singapore, 1947, 1949) (Volumes 18, 19)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Singapore, 1949) (Volume 20)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Colony of Singapore, 1950) (Volume 21)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Singapore, 1950) (Volume 22)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Colony of Singapore, 1950, 1952, 1954) (Volumes 23-25)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (State of Singapore, 1961) (Volumes 26)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (Colony of Singapore, 1956) (Volumes 27-28)

BULLETIN OF THE RAFFLES MUSEUM (State of Singapore, 1960) (Volume 29)

BULLETIN OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM (State of Singapore, 1961-1963) (Volumes 30-32)

BULLETIN OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM (Republic of Singapore, 1966) (Volume 34)

BULLETIN OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM SINGAPORE (Singapore, 1965-1970) (Volumes 33-35)

THE RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY (National University of Singapore, 1988- present) (Volumes 36-present)

The Growing Years

The concept of the RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY, as originally conceived and managed by D. H. Murphy in 1988, was to rapidly publish papers on Southeast Asian natural history and what he defined as "whole-animal zoology".  Due to various problems, the first two volumes (equivalent to the numbers of the old series), were monographs, dealing with only one group of animals each.  Peter K. L. Ng was co-opted as en editor in late 1988 to help run the journal.  Through persuasion of various taxonomists, the two editors finally managed to obtain 18 papers to publish a volume in 1989.  The new era of the RAFFLES BULLETIN had begun.  In 1990, the plan for two numbers (parts) a year (per volume) was realised, with the publication of 19 separate scientific papers.

In 1991, Peter Ng "inherited" the journal from Paddy Murphy on his retirement.  By this time, the original funds from the Turf Club had been exhausted, and the Department of Zoology took over financial responsibility for the journal.  In line with the department's (i.e. the head, T. J. Lam) hope to publish a top quality international scientific journal, the editorial board was revamped and the policy of peer review by international experts was made mandatory. 

For the next five years, the editorial structure was regularly reviewed and an international body of experts was eventually co-opted to sit on the board.  By 1996, the board included top men in their field like Edward O. Wilson (biodiversity), Daniel Simberloff (ecology), Herbert Fernando (limnology), J. E. Randall (fish), L. B. Holthuis (crustacea and nomenclature) and Brian Morton (malacology and marine biology).  All papers were also reviewed by at least two international experts in their field.  The practice of two numbers a year was made the standard, with each number always coming out on time.  As far as possible, all papers were also published within six months of acceptance.  In addition, single-issue monographs were still published, but now as special supplements.  The quality of the journal was also gradually upgraded.  This modus operandi has certainly paid dividends, and the number of quality papers submitted to the RAFFLES BULLETIN increased year by year.  By 1993, having enough quality papers to publish annually was no longer a problem.  The journal also catered for the research activities of the staff and students in the department, with a good proportion of papers being derived this way. 

In 1995, the RAFFLES BULLETIN was formally accepted by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) for inclusion in CURRENT CONTENTS - AGRICULTURE, BIOLOGY & ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES, the top indexing journal in the market.  The contents of the RAFFLES BULLETIN can now be disseminated to a very wide, international audience.  Inclusion into CURRENT CONTENTS was no mean task, as a scientific journal must have demonstrated its scientific quality, regularity of publication and international value over time. 

The Next Phase

Today, the titles in the RAFFLES BULLETIN are captured not only in CURRENT CONTENTS, but also in SCISEARCH, CAMBRIDGE SCIENTIFIC ABSTRACTS, BIOLOGICAL ABSTRACTS, AQUATIC SCIENCES & FISHERIES ABSTRACTS and RESEARCH ALERT.  It is also exchanged with or subscribed by over 100 institutions throughout Asia, Europe, America and Australasia.  It is therefore widely known by all researchers in biodiversity.  It was now generally acknowledged by scholars of biodiversity as the best journal of its research scope in the region and one of the best in the world. 

In 1996, Navjot Sodhi took over the helm of the RAFFLES BULLETIN, with a new mandate - to bring the journal to an even more professional level.  With his ecology background, the RAFFLES BULLETIN was also poised to attract more ecology papers to the journal, which during earlier years, had a strong taxonomic slant.  The local members of the editorial board was also reorganised, with selected members becoming associate editors responsible for specific groups of animals.  This was in view of the sharp increase in the number of submitted manuscripts. A one- or two-man show as in the days of old was simply no longer possible.  Darren Yeo took over the reins of the RAFFLES BULLETIN in 2001 and the pushed the journal to greater heights in terms of quality and scope of the papers published. Tan Swee Hee took over the Managing Editor's post from Darren Yeo in the beginning of 2005 and made the change from a traditional printed journal and transformed it into an electronic journal with an online presence. Tan Heok Hui took over as Managing Editor on 1 September 2010.

The RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY, now in its 22th year under this name, has certainly come a long way. After 82 years in publication, 58 volumes and with over 1,000 papers published, the RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY, can now only go forward.

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