Student - April 20, 2017

Column: Fact-free propaganda

Stijn van Gils

What am I to think of this? The ‘March for Science’ in the Netherlands. This demonstration on 22 April, which is supported by WUR, is a protest against the rise of anti-intellectual tendencies.

I’m sure it is well-intentioned but the main impact of their ‘statement’ on me is to make me sceptical. Every sentence I read makes me ask myself: oh really, is that so? Please don’t hold it against me; it must be my scientific tendencies.

Take the second sentence for instance: ‘It (science) does not serve particular interests.’ Is that true? Wasn’t the original idea of science precisely that it was practised purely out of a consuming interest? Of course, what the organizers mean here must be ‘vested interests’ rather than fascination. Their focus on science was so strong they lost sight of semantic nuances. Oh and incidentally, one of the organizers puts his scientific knowledge to work for an ‘oil and gas company’.

And a bit further on: ‘Anti-intellectual thinking has been subtly present for years but is now growing faster than ever and can no longer be ignored’. Further on again they imply with an example that this is the case in the Netherlands too. Interesting. So what is the situation, exactly? Are there any studies on this? Alas, the ‘statement’ offers no scientific evidence whatsoever.

Not what we should want as scientists, surely?

But with sentences like ‘Entire movements ignore (…) scientific evidence…’, the impression is created that anti-intellectualism is rife. A kind of enemy is created and we, as the supporters of science, must unite against it. This sounds to me like fact-free propaganda which exploits the prevailing sentiments among the supporters of science.

Not what we should want as scientists, surely?

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  • De verwarde man

    daarbij komt nog het aspect dat wetenschap volgens de organisatoren "waardevrij" is. Er is slechts een beperkte subset van alles dat wetenschap is waarin echt waardevrij gewerkt kan worden (wiskunde bijvoorbeeld), maar ook daar is er sprake van mensenwerk. Waardevrije wetenschap is een doel om naar te streven, niet de realiteit van de huidige wetenschappelijke praktijk. Transparantie over welke waarden en belangen er ten grondslag liggen aan het werk zou in veel gevallen een hele stap vooruit zijn.