Science - September 22, 2015

Among professors on Spitsbergen

Rob Ramaker

Combining science and tourism within one expedition causes tension. This was concluded by two social science researchers who recently joined the expedition to Spitsbergen.

Photo: Machiel Lamers and Linde van Bets

Machiel Lamers and Linde van Bets, both linked to the chair group Environmental policy, talked about their research in Impulse last Thursday. In mid-August the anthropologists joined the Dutch expedition to Spitsbergen. On the research boat, the Ortelius, a total of 50 scientists went to research topics such as the effects oil pollution and climate change. Additionally, a few famous Dutch people joined to promote the research and 40 tourists joined who paid for their own journey.

‘This combination of tourism and science, a public-private collaboration, is totally new’, says Lamers. He is curious how such an expedition differs in comparison to a pure touristic or scientific journey. On this journey to Spitsbergen he and Van Bets therefore joined as anthropologists to observe how the expedition proceeded. There are no definite results yet, but Van Bets and Lamers can highlight a few of their observations.

On the last day, when the group of researchers wanted to be photographed in their blue jackets, this suddenly caused tension.
Linde van Bets

The mixed expedition caused all sorts of practical problems. Scientists and tourists have different interests, and so they wanted to go to different places. Furthermore, they each have different permits, rules and norms. By mixing the group, the scientists had to behave according to the rules of the tourism industry. And when the tourists were helping out with the experiments, they would pick up equipment, which would usually bee taboo for them. This required extra care of the guides.

Additionally, the researchers noticed that at the beginning of the expedition a kind of hierarchy was formed. Scientific research, for example, received priority and the researchers were distinguishable by their blue jackets that they received beforehand. During the expedition the groups got acquainted. It was seen that tourists would help with the experiments, and researchers collected data during the tourist walks. ‘But during the last day, when the group of researchers wanted to be photographed in their blue jackets,’ says Van Bets, ‘this suddenly caused tension.’