Some members of the Dutch parliament have been abusing their parliamentary immunity to run smear campaigns against scientists, say the rectors of 14 Dutch universities, including WUR rector Arthur Mol, and over 300 scientists in an open letter.
The letter was prompted by a contribution by Forum for Democracy to a debate in the Dutch House of Representatives about interference by the ministry in the recommendations of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). MP Gideon van Meijeren accused the OMT chairman Jaap van Dissel of lies and corruption and called for his resignation. The letter from the academics was written by microbiologist Marc Bonten and virologist Marion Koopmans and was published in the Volkskrant. The list of signatories can be found on the websites of the university medical centres.
‘Sadly, this was not an isolated incident, but the latest escalation in a series of insults to scientists from a certain group in parliament,’ says the letter, which warns that such accusations undermine trust in science and endanger the safety of scientists. Moreover, allegations of this sort led some people to refuse vaccines for the wrong reasons, as a result of which some of them died of Covid-19.
Van Meijeren also received rebuttals from the political parties VVD, CDA, D66, Omtzigt, SP and DENK. ‘As if the man would have taken a bribe from the Ministry or something,’ said DENK MP Tunahan Kuzu. ‘I categorically reject this kind of nonsense.’ Deputy Speaker of the House Martin Bosma (PVV) also tried to curb Van Meijeren: ‘You keep using very nasty, harsh language that is quite unnecessary, and that against someone who is not here to defend himself. I think that is very wrong.’ He ended up suspending the sitting. Bonten and Koopmans think the MPs and the media ‘should take an even stronger stand’. ‘Do not let anyone abuse parliamentary immunity in order to spread unfounded accusations and suspicions.’
WUR rector magnificus Arthur Mol was among the signatories to the letter. ‘It is primarily a signal that you cannot just say whatever you like. There has to be some basis for your statements. This letter is not just finger-wagging: we also want to stand up for our staff and scientists in general. And the content of the letter touches on the conviction under discussion at universities that we must be transparent, an important task for us. Will the letter achieve anything? Realistically, moments like this in parliament won’t stop happening. But it must be made clear that this kind of talk is not normal. I find it really hard to take. Of course, as a social scientist I know how mechanisms like this work in politics, but just because you understand something, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it.’
Text Higher Education Press Office / Willem Andrée