Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Iranian scientists at work: an observation

Yesterday, I was invited to present a lecture at the Faculty of Biological Sciences, Sharif Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran. The goal was to present the students some ideas of what I think are relevant issues regarding biodiversity. Since I had the experience of mentoring two students through their masters thesis during the last 1.5 year, I thought not to complement what I learned from them: Instead of talking about fieldwork, monitoring design and analyzes, to show them what the big, global issues in this domain are. Why is biodiversity monitoring important. The lecture "Monitoring and Measuring Biodiversity: Some Thoughts" has been attended by a large crowd in a full lecture lecture hall, including a delegation from the Tehran University.

There where interesting questions afterward and some time for catch-up in various settings.

One issue that came, and is always coming up in discussions, is the increasingly difficult situation active scientists are here in Tehran. One typical issue are deteriorating relationships between the Iranian scientists and their former, often close counterparts abroad. What they tell is, that for the last 4-6 years, their colleagues hardly reply to their emails, even in cases where the Iranian supplied tissue or other biological materials for analyses.

Similarly, local scientists complain, that publishers in the West would not even reply to submissions of their manuscripts, something that these colleagues have not been aware of until few years ago.

The feeling is that the foreign scientists complement the sanctions imposed as well as the very negative reports coming out of this country. This attitude is astonishing, since, like in the Bush-years, there were a lot of objections against an evil US government, which was always seen as something different than the US citizen or scientist. In the case of Iran, this seems not to work this way.

This is actually an observation by almost all the visitors that visit Iran for the first time: They are all very astonished how different the experience with the people they meet is, institutions they collaborate with, and in fact leave with a very positive experience.

It my humble view it would be wise to continue the relationships rather than punishing the colleagues for something they have in most cases nothing to do with; this especially in a place where those colleagues have a very high esteem for the West, very often with part of their career spent there and thus very familiar with that region of the world.


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