KNAW in violation of academic freedom

KNAW in violation of academic freedom

Dutch scientists have been saying this for years: Our resources are very scarce. As long as government funding lags behind, many of them waver from project support to project support. For this, they are knocking on the door in large numbers from funders like NWO or ZonMW.

Money and space

But these budgets are largely devoted to strategic thematic research, as a committee of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences wrote published Wednesday. Transfer. Then as a scientist you cannot choose your research topic.

The KNAW warns that this has consequences for academic freedom. This understanding means that scientists can freely conduct research, share and teach their findings.

It is imperative that you be able to do “independent research,” which is the result of curiosity. So the government and institutions should also provide enough money and space for this, committee members emphasized. Early last year is over Another academic committee stated that the “balance” in the sciences has been completely lost.

Areas of tension

This does not mean that objective research is always wrong, but that there is an area of ​​tension, “between academic freedom on the one hand and the social responsibility of science on the other hand.” There are more areas of tension, for example because companies and other parties are often involved in strategic research. Consider, for example, cooperation with oil or pharmaceutical companies.

The report’s authors caution that the science should not be based too much on it. They fear not only unwanted influence on the research itself, but also on the scientific research agenda or curriculum.

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A committee of …

Another concern for committee members is the so-called “inclusion requirements” for applying for the Veni and Vidi Benefit. Scientists at present must have a statement from a research institution stating that they are permitted to use the facilities (Veni) or that they are entitled to a permanent contract (Vidi). It’s an idea for NWO and ZonMW, one way to stem the rush to fund research.

But the committee asks whether this does not make the scholars too dependent on the support of the institution in question. After all, these grants are intended for “talented and creative researchers to carry out their innovative line of research.” Hence, this requirement can be seen as a “restriction” of academic freedom.

The paradox

The report raises a number of difficult follow-up questions in its conclusion. For example: How can academic freedom be protected while cooperating with non-free countries? How can scientists resist self-censorship if the results of their research do not satisfy some of the public? What is the students ’responsibility to protect not only their academic freedom, but the freedom of their teacher as well?

In the near future, KNAW will discuss academic freedom more (online). For these discussions, the new report is a “start”.

“This is an ever-recurring topic, and will always have to be discussed in new contexts, and this is always subject to review,” KNAW Chair Ineke Sluiter said at Show Last Wednesday. She described it as the paradox that academic freedom “is the freedom that is often best protected by being there as a government.” Not Intervention ‘.

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Incidentally, this isn’t the first time an academic committee has examined the free exercise of science. It also happened in 2018, when the majority was in Parliament Feared Scholars suffer from self-censorship and a lack of diversity of views.

to conclusion Read at the time: It is a good thing in principle with the independence of Dutch scientists, but beware that the increasing importance of project financing does not lead to an “unwanted effect”.

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