Terence Callaghan on purposes of studying Siberia
14.11.2016

Research on Siberia is one of the most important areas in which TSU has chosen to work. Some time ago, TSU founded the new international research network SecNET. Three TSU research stations – Aktru, Kaybasovo, and Khanymey – entered the International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic (INTERACT). At the end of October, the TSU research centre TSSW gathered scientists from all over the world to participate in a forum on the influence of climate change on the environment and the people of Siberia. Professor Terence Callaghan (scientific director of INTERACT, TSU professor; professor at Sheffield University, Great Britain) told us about collaboration with TSU and the purposes of studying Siberia.

Research on Siberia is one of the most important areas in which TSU has chosen to work. Recently, TSU founded the new international research network SecNET. Three TSU research stations – Aktru, Kaybasovo, and Khanymey – entered the International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic (INTERACT). At the end of October, the TSU research centre TSSW gathered scientists from all over the world to participate in a forum on the influence of climate change on the environment and the people of Siberia. Professor Terry Callaghan (scientific director of INTERACT, TSU professor; professor at Sheffield University, Great Britain) told us about collaboration with TSU and the purposes of studying Siberia.

I first came to Siberia in 1994. I was on an icebreaker, which went along the coastline of Siberia and I got a pretty good understanding of the Far North. Later I came here to TSU and went to Aktru and drove through the taiga. Therefore, I had a very good impression of variability in Siberian environments and the vastness of Siberia. As for Tomsk State University, first I came as a very welcome visitor five years ago. At that time, I was on the outside. Then I became a professor, then I became a member of the International Advisory Board,  and now I am really working to support TSU.  It is fantastic that the Rector and the senior staff actually acted on the recommendations of the Board. It may be very mean of me, so I apologize, but when I was first asked, I was a bit hesitant because I thought that someone from the Ministry told TSU they needed an Advisory Board so they appointed the Board and would say, “Thank you very much and we meet together next year”. But it was not like that. They really wanted to listen to what we had to say and they acted We had a very good feeling about that because it means we are contributing: we are not wasting our time. We have seen the University improve and make big advances and changes in accordance with what the Board recommended. There are their own initiatives as well. I cannot say that the Board was responsible for all the good changes here!

Of course, there are problems that need attention in the near future. One of the major suggestions is that there should be much more extensive use of English. You have to publish in western journals, you need to attract people from the West, and that is much easier, if there is a culture of doing science in English at the University. There is a tradition of publishing in Russian literature, in Russian. That means that no outsider knows what happens here even though  there is excellent work going on and  only people in Russia know about it. The big challenge is to internationalize. Partly this problem is connected with the language, but there is another side too. Even today, I hear people in Britain say, “Would it be a good idea to spend some money on translating scientific papers?”
My answer is usually “No” because the problem with publishing in the western journals is not language. It is the culture of writing that needs to change. The same applies to some presentations. It is very easy to ask a question or make a comment and the answer lasts half an hour! Also,  it is very academic and, very abstract or indirect. In other countries answers and discussions are usually very focused. Maybe this observation is out of date now, but I know that when I first started to work  in Russia, there was a strong hierarchy and points assumed by young researchers and remarks made in papers were based on what professors had said rather than citations to data and published papers as in the West. This situation is improving 
as Russian researchers, particularly younger ones, travel more, to westernize and internationalize. You can see it already but there is a long way to go.

The first goal of the SecNET project is to improve the quality of life that people who live in Siberia, Russia, and the rest of the world.  To do that we need to break down barriers between different nations and between different science disciplines. The second goal is to bring people together. We have succeeded in that already because participants have met each other. We normally do not meet the type of scientists that are sitting around the table today and they do not meet us because we tend to work within specific disciplines. There are many outcomes of the project, but the ultimate for me is to tell people in Siberia what will most likely happen to them in the future. What I missed in these meeting was the local people. We need to talk to them, because scientists like me, tend to be arrogant. We think we know what those people want. The people, on the other hand, overestimate what science can do. Sometimes they do not like science. Therefore, if you bring scientists and local people together, then you get the communication, and the scientists begin to understand – “I did not know they needed that type of information!”.

I know from my personal experience that when I give  high-level talks, for example to members of the Russian Academy of Science, there are many senior isscientists  in Russia who do not accept that  climate change is man-made. I remember being involved in a radio programme on BBC and I had a similar sceptical comment that Britain is not going to be heavily impacted by climate change. I replied, “Ok. Think of this. About 140 million people will be displaced by sea level rise within the next hundred years. If England is going to be ok, where are all those people going to go?” I would say the same for Russia. We have mentioned past human migrations today in our meeting. If there will be so many people displaced by sea level rise and increasing deserts, while Russia, has lots of water resources, lots of forests, and lots of agricultural lands, where are those people going to go? In Siberia, there will be many changes, some of which will be beneficial for Siberia. But you also have lots of resources and few people. On the other side of your border, in contrasts, you have a country which has billions of people and very few resources. What is going to happen in 50 to 100 years’ time? Are those people going to stay where they are? Will there be a peaceful movement of people? Will there be an aggressive movement of people? The same might apply to the US. The US could run out of energy and, water, but many resources including water will be in Canada.  So what is going to happen to the border? You cannot assume the direct beneficial impacts of climate change will be good as you do not know all the side effects that might happen.

The SecNET project is very important for Siberia and. TSU plays a key role in carrying it out. Your University is progressive, open, and friendly. To succeed in networking and in bringing people together, you need all those qualities. You have to be socially competent, you have to be friendly; you have to be outward looking. People communicate very nicely within the University. It has an atmosphere of high culture combined with friendliness, and a team spirit. Because of the large size of, the projects and the medium size of the University, the project receives visibility. Our network is not one of the numerous invisible projectsmillion in a huge university. TSU also has got imagination to actually formulate what they need to do and encourages such developments. Also, it was great that people came from different European countries and from all over Siberia, because they all recognize that. if it is TSU organising the project, then it is going to be of really good standing, and therefore, it is likely to be successful.  

TSU and TSSW will benefit from carrying out the project because they will increase their visibility, their competence, and their knowledge base. They can make more significant developments in science, because they are not just using their own capacity to think and do science - they are attracting other ideas and other methodologies. Instead of being one group, they are a huge group now with lot of different experiences and knowledge, ideas, and possibilities. So the science here should improve dramatically.

The SecNET project is putting us on a fast track of doing research. At the round-table, the participant from Italy came and said, “I want to take some information to my research council in Italy. I think Italy should be playing a big role in trying to help in Siberia.” We also have the British participants who were helped to come here by the British Embassy.  This is the highest level you can imagine for support from Britain . and they Embassy and participants see the importance of working within Siberia and working together with Siberian scientists. That is why we have a big British delegation. When they go home, they are going to talk to their colleagues about the wonderful experience they had here. The comments that come across to us are how friendly the people are here. How can you know that from Britain? All you know from outside Siberia are political problems, but when you come and meet the people it changes all those perceptions.  One more time, TSU showed us its hospitality and openness to the world.

The interview was conducted by Snezhana Nosova, Senior Lecturer at the TSU Department of Social Communication  


Tags: TSSW