Loss of trust in science: a Europe-wide approach

President José van Dijck

Three weeks have passed since Wim and I presented our essay Science in the Netherlands during a well-attended Academy Afternoon at Amsterdam Public Library. We were pleasantly surprised by the many positive responses, some of which went into great detail.

We also received word that officials in The Hague are reading and appreciating our analysis of the Dutch science system. An English translation is due to appear shortly, both in print and as a PDF.

The next question is both obvious and warranted: what does the Academy intend to do with the analysis? Our argument will, in any event, help explain to the new Dutch Government why science requires an injection of 500 million euros in basic funding.

The many positive responses we have received also strengthen us in our resolve to get the world beyond science to discuss and address a number of other worrisome developments.

In addition, we will see many of the essay’s elements reappear in discussions or advisory reports over the course of the coming year. For example, we expect the Academy to issue an advisory report this autumn on the attractiveness of the Netherlands as a centre of research. And we will join the Domain and advisory council chairpersons in considering which elements of the essay we will address in the Academy's role as a forum and advisory body. Any suggestions are most welcome.

Increasingly, the Academy has been working to align its advisory role with subjects that we are examining in cooperation with our sister organisations in Europe. The annual meeting of the All European Academies or ALLEA (representing 59 national academies of science) took place in Budapest from 4 to 7 September 2017.

This year, the event coincided with the meeting of the Academia Europaea and the Young Academy of Europe. Our own Academy was well represented. One of the subjects that ALLEA will be advising on this year is the alleged loss of trust in scientific expertise – a discussion recently conducted within our own Academy. A working group has been set up to examine the problem, headed by co-chairs Onora O’Neill and Ed Noort and consisting of representatives of Leopoldina (the German national academy of science) and the British Academy, and myself on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Academy. 'The alleged loss of trust in science and evidence, its underlying causes, the way different disciplines are dealing with it, and questions on how valid knowledge can and should be acquired’ is a topic of discussion worldwide, according to The Times Higher Education. It is a good idea for academics to articulate their views on this highly relevant subject.

And once again, any input or responses are more than welcome!

José van Dijck