One morning, Gregor Samsa, the main character in Franz Kafka’s The metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung), wakes up and finds that he has turned into a large insect. He doesn’t understand how this could have happened and when the story unfolds, he doesn’t find out either. His family continues to care about him, but this can’t stop him from eventually succumbing. When I think of Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf, a former director of Princeton University, I fall from one surprise to another. How is it possible that this man does not understand what happened to him? The resemblance to The metamorphosis is undeniable. Dijkgraaf wants to establish a centre for science communication which will communicate the truth (according to the government) about science and scientific developments.
In several posts on www.overnu.nl, attention has been paid to the communication of scientific findings, especially those of medical science. Recently, science communication seems to have degenerated into a war against independent science. This is the science that has no interest in the results of its research and is not sponsored by multinationals. Dutch minister Dijkgraaf and his officials play a central role in this war.
Below, I will show the communication I have had with him and his officials, after which I shall make a few remarks.
7 July 2022
To Prof. R. Dijkgraaf,
Minister for Education, Culture and Science
First of all, congratulations with your appointment as Minister of Education, Culture and Science!
However, I am approaching you for another reason. There is a lot going on in the world and especially in the world of science. It is difficult for many to make sense of the multitude of reports about the effects and side effects of vaccines and medicines. Social media only makes things more difficult in this regard.
I remember that in 2009 you spoke at a meeting of the Royal Dutch Academy of Science (KNAW) in Amsterdam on the development of independent science in particular. Mrs Dr Fiona Godlee, until recently the highly regarded editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, also spoke there. I was present in my capacity as editor-in-chief of the Dutch Drug Bulletin. At the time, you interfered because the very existence of that independent bulletin was in jeopardy once again.
Well, I am now president of the International Society of Drug Bulletins (ISDB). We follow and write about developments in drugs, vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry. For quite some time, we have been noticing aspects of science communication that may shed a different light on the problems posed. In my opinion, these are not being given sufficient attention. I would like to discuss this with you. Perhaps such a conversation contributes to better understanding and communication.
Awaiting your reply I stay,
On December 19, 2022, I received an email from the Ministry with the following text.
Dear Mr. Bijl,
On 7 July 2022, you sent a letter to Minister Dijkgraaf. He has asked me to answer you. I’m happy to do that. Unfortunately, the response to your letter has taken longer than desired. For this, I apologize.
You congratulate the Minister on his appointment. In addition, you write that you are president of the International Society of Drug Bulletins (ISDB), which follows developments in the field of drugs, vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry. You note that aspects of science communication may shed a different light on certain problems. You believe that too little attention is paid to this. You would like to discuss this with the Minister.
Thank you very much for your congratulations and for your invitation to an interview. Unfortunately, I cannot accede to your request for an interview with the Minister because of his busy schedule. I have forwarded your e-mail to the Research and Science Policy Department, which has indicated that it has taken note of your letter and will share its contents with the intendants who are involved in the establishment of the centre for science communication.
I assume that I have been of sufficient service to you.
The Minister for Education, Culture and Science,
On his behalf, the Head of Citizen Questions,
The minister is too busy, his officials said. But with what exactly?
Others also sent letters and emails to the minister and did not receive an invitation for an interview. Escalation is in the air and apparently this is what the minister, his officials and the neo-liberal party D66 are aiming for.
For some time now, one cannot find an independent assessment of science in major newspapers in the Netherlands. De Volkskrant in particular has become the ventriloquist doll of Big Pharma.
The minister is apparently unaware of the disastrous impact that financial conflicts of interest have on the results of sponsored research. Medicines, including vaccines, are now one of the leading causes of death, after cardiovascular disease and cancer. The conflicted doctors and conflicted researchers have not informed the minister about this.
Dijkgraaf’s reaction doesn’t come out of the blue either. The minister’s behaviour is in line with the profile of his party, D66. The former CEO of the Association for Innovative Medicines, the successor of Nefarma and the representative of the pharmaceutical industry, is the former Member of Parliament of D66 Gerard Schouw. Why investigate the effect of medicines in expensive, complicated and lengthy studies, if you can also simply examine them in real life, using citizens as guinea pigs? Surely the industry knows best how good their medicines are?
Is it any wonder that the new Dutch party Boer Burger Beweging (BBB) does not want to cooperate with D66 in any Dutch province? So much ignorance and lack of knowledge, it would still be repairable, but the boundless incitement is inimitable and very dangerous. It is counterproductive and puts citizens against each other.
Franz Kafka described the frightening transformation of Gregor Samsa a century before that of Robbert Dijkgraaf. From top scientist to warmonger, bullshit generator and general in the war on science!
Or is it the case that Dijkgraaf does not care that he is destroying independent science and that medicines have become a major cause of death? Of course, this might explain his behavior as well. This attitude would be in line with the profile of Dijkgraaf’s political party. However, it would show integrity if Dijkgraaf were transparent about this to the public.
The metamorphosis ends with the passage in which, after Gregor’s death, the family leaves the house and travels by tram to the outskirts of the city. “Leant back comfortably on their seats, they discussed their prospects and found that on closer examination they were not at all bad—until then they had never asked each other about their work but all three had jobs which were very good and held particularly good promise for the future.”