Wetenschap - 20 juni 2011

Doubt cast on Wageningen probiotics research

In an article in the Volkskrant last Saturday, science journalist Hans van Maanen was very critical of a Wageningen press release about probiotics and pollen allergies. The conclusions had been inflated, he said.


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Probiotics can significantly reduce allergic symptoms, the press release claimed. Journalist Hans van Maanen fired some harsh criticism at this claim. He looked at Yvonne Visser’s thesis and cast serious doubt on her conclusions in Saturday’s Volkskrant: ‘You can find some interesting changes in groups of ten people, but if the groups differ among themselves so much, the question is how much the findings are worth’. Van Maanen believes that the conclusions in Visser’s thesis are far too positive and mentions in passing the financers of her research: Campina and the ministry of Economic Affairs.

Ruud van den Bos of the University of Utrecht seizes upon the Volkskrant article to speak out against the idea that valorization  is a core task of scientists in a  blog in which he writes (in Dutch) that a scientist can always find some evidence to support what the client wants to hear. ‘With a bit of creative tweaking, you can usually manage it, as the Wageningen research shows: if you look, you’ll always find something’, writes the blogger today.

Simon Vink, spokesperson for Wageningen UR, responds laconically to the debate. ‘All the facts in the thesis are verifiable’, he says. ‘A journalist can draw a different conclusion than the researcher on the basis of the same facts, and he has done that. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s all part of public and scientific debate.’ But Vink is adamant that research by Wageningen PhD researchers is absolutely scientifically independent. Á PhD researcher is supervised by professors. Most theses are based on peer-reviewed articles and are all assessed by a group of academics and by the doctoral board.’

 The doctoral board for Vissers consisted of seven scientists. Neither Vissers herself, nor her supervisor Huub Savelkoul wished to react. The Wageningen press release was an adapted version of an article by Resource.