News - January 26, 2017

Column: Conspiracy

Stijn van Gils

I sigh, adjust my blanket and close my eyes. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. Shouldn’t have written that my bosses at the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) were naïve and arrogant.

But I did write it. And then I didn’t hesitate to send it to the paper. And I don’t even hate my bosses. Our opinions even overlap. How am I going to explain this to my supervisor? ‘Hi, by the way, I’ve also written a KNAW-grumbles piece. It might be in the NRC tomorrow.’ I try to convince myself that they won’t publish it. I roll over and squeeze my eyes tightly shut.

Wait a minute, I think suddenly. I mean it, don’t I? Surely I do think the KNAW should improve its scientific practice instead of accusing the general public of a lack of trust? And I do think their piece is naïve, or at least arrogant, don’t I? I meant what I said. And I’m still a proud KNAW PhD student. I fall asleep.

My letter is published. It’s very small but it doesn’t go unnoticed. I receive angry responses as well as furtive expressions of support. ‘I wouldn’t have dared.’ At work I am told that some big shot somewhere said a Wageningen PhD student has shot himself in the foot. That would be me.

It is getting dizzying. Maybe this is behind all the dissatisfaction that’s in the air. All kinds of institutes full of highly educated people – the elite – do what they want and any of their staff who do not agree with it just keep quiet. They don’t dare. But for the outside world the image is still one of a united elitist front which gets to decide what the man in the street should do. That looks like a conspiracy. No, I mustn’t have doubts about critical articles. More discerning opposition is precisely what is needed.