Science - March 23, 2006

‘Research reliability is guaranteed’

Wageningen UR has good mechanisms in place that guarantee the reliability and openness of its research. ‘There is a standard clause in our contracts, which ensures that our researchers are allowed to publish within six months,’ says rector magnificus Professor Martin Kropff.

Kropff was responding to the report ‘He who pays, decides?’ that was presented to himself and the minister of agriculture by the Technology Assessment Steering Committee. One of the recommendations of the steering committee is that the code of conduct for researchers needs to be tightened up so that it is in line with the declaration of scientific independence of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

According to Kropff, the fact that the committee does not present any recent examples of Wageningen research being influenced by commercial clients, confirms his impression that scientists in Wageningen are not susceptible to outside influence. ‘I am proud that after three years of investigation no cases of abuse have been found. This is in line with my own experience. The commercial sector also wants results that are correct,’ said Kropff.

Nevertheless, he called on employees to ‘remain alert’. Should they run into problems with clients, they can ‘count on the unconditional support of the executive board’. The two confidential counsellors and the scientific advisory board provide sufficient opportunity to discuss problems that may arise, said Kropff.

In response to the criticism of the steering committee that Wageningen UR should make its ethical guidelines more clear and accessible, Kropff said he would raise the matter with the Directors of the Sciences Groups and the Scientific Advisory Board. The same goes for the recommendation that any potential conflicts of interest or relevant outside positions held by researchers should be published on the website. Employees are obliged to announce any potentially conflicting positions they hold under the current collective labour agreement.

The chair of the steering committee, Wouter van der Weijden, acknowledges that the publication terms are in order in the contracts used by both the DLO research institutes and the university. He is concerned, however, about the clause in the university contract that allows commercial clients the right not to be named in publications. ‘A university should always be transparent about its financiers,’ said Van der Weijden.

Kropff does not agree with the Committee’s criticism that the DLO research institutes are more protected from market competition ‘than is good for their quality, creativity and diversity’. ‘It is certainly not a question of a monopoly position. Science is too international for that.’ That the ministry of agriculture channels 95 percent of its research budget to the DLO institutes and only puts five percent out to public tender, Kropff regards as a matter for the ministry.

Ate Oostra, director-general of the ministry of agriculture, indicated at the presentation of the advisory report that he is very satisfied with the close relation between the ministry and Wageningen UR. ‘It is a good example for other ministries. We are proud to be able to contribute in this way to the continued existence of a top-level institute.’ / GvM

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