The Dutch science agenda for 2015-2025: horror or opportunity ?

Listening to Marvin Gaye, What is going on?

The minister of Education, Culture and Science presented a Vision (November 2014 in Dutch) w.r.t. the science research agenda till 2025. This April 2015 all Dutch citizens and their organisations can send in research questions.

You only need a one-liner and a short explanation of max 200 words. If you have an idea or want to check ideas from others, check their website here.

Eric van Damme opposes the minister

Eric van Damme (1956), professor of game theory, market design and competition, – not to be confused with Jean-Claude van Damme, the muscles from Brussels – holds that the ministerial approach is counterproductive, see his 10 page verdict – indeed written in English so that the world might avoid the Dutch policy disaster:

“These [policy choices] all follow from one major consideration: the desire to steer science in such a way that it becomes (even) more useful for Dutch society and to the Dutch business sector in particular.

I think, and will motivate in this document, that this idea is narrow-minded and misconceived. I am strongly convinced that following up on this idea can only be counterproductive, i.e., that it will hurt Dutch science and also the competitiveness of the Dutch economy.

Dutch politeness implies that I will say something positive about this latest science policy document. The “Vision” indeed acknowledges that the Dutch science system currently is performing very well: with limited means (i.e. government expenditures at the EU and OECD average, but limited outlays from the private sector), it belongs to the top world-wide (p. 5). It proposes that research in schools of higher vocational training be given more emphasis and that more attention be devoted to science communication and the popularization of research. Personally, I believe that multidisciplinary research indeed should receive more attention, but I acknowledge that I am not completely sure. The last sentence of the “Vision” is the best one, it acknowledges that the essence of science is curiosity about why and how things are as they are.

However, Dutch frankness also insists that, for efficiency’s sake, I am open and honest about what I think about the document. In short, I find it very disappointing. Rather than showing an admiration for science, it shows distrust, and a belief that the government, by steering and controlling, can improve matters. There is no recognition of the fact that such measures may stifle curiosity or may induce young researchers to turn their back on the Netherlands. Even in areas where the Dutch government clearly could (and I think, should) make a difference, such as with respect to the very low numbers of women in science (where the Netherlands is at the bottom in Europe), it is just proposed to follow European initiatives (p. 72).” (Eric van Damme, THE DUTCH “WETENSCHAPSVISIE 2025”: ILL-INFORMED, NARROW MINDED AND MISCONCEIVED, 2014-12-04)

Van Damme’s main criticism is that the “Vision” discusses science but isn’t up to scientific standards and wouldn’t pass peer-review. It are bureaucrats who didn’t make it into professorships who judge about the professors and their future research topics.

My problem now is that I didn’t read that “Vision” while Van Damme’s rejection is not inviting to start reading. It requires some masochism to read an ill-informed, narrow minded and misconceived text, only to verify that it is ill-informed, narrow minded and misconceived.

Eric van Damme and his books (Me Judice TV 201), Jet Bussemaker (Flickr PvdA) and Jean-Claude van Damme (Wikimedia)

Eric van Damme and his books (Me Judice TV 2010), Jet Bussemaker (Flickr PvdA) and Jean-Claude van Damme (Wikimedia)

Who is minister Jet Bussemaker ?

The minister of Education, Culture and Science is Jet Bussemaker (1961) – pronounce “Yet Buhs-seh-mah-ker”. She has a doctorate in political theory, but apparently didn’t develop adequate respect for science, at least to make Eric van Damme happy.

Van Damme claims that writing a thesis may also be good preparation for non-scientific jobs, but perhaps he ought to make an exception for the minister herself.

As a member of Dutch Parliament in 1998-2007 for the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) Bussemaker specialized in “employment policy, health care and taxes”. A doctorate in political theory need not qualify for economics. Still, studying political theory might come with the lesson that one might have to be flexible.

In any case:

  • Bussemaker in dealing with employment and taxes didn’t do anything about the censorship of economic science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) on my analysis on emploment and taxes.
  • Remember that this session of Parliament after 1998 dealt with some decisions on the euro, like the entry of Greece into the Eurozone. Check the amendment in 2000 by former professor of economics and then parliamentarian Henk de Haan that Greece shouldn’t enter, while minister of Finance Gerrit Zalm claimed that Greece was making impressive progress – see this article in De Groene 2011-06-08.
  • In 1997-2000 Finance minister Gerrit Zalm (VVD) and underminister Willem Vermeend (PvdA) presented a tax plan, with a crucial lie w.r.t. tax exemption with quite an impact on employment, see here. Obviously Bussemaker didn’t have sufficient background to keep track of what Zalm & Vermeend were doing. I didn’t check whether she was modest enough to say so.
  • In 2013 there was tax fraud by Bulgarians so that underminister Frans Weekers had to resign – but the real problem had been created by Zalm & Vermeend, see this paper in English and this summary in Dutch.
  • When the economic crisis started in 2007, Bussemaker became underminister for Health, Welfare and Sport, so that it might have been fortunate for her that she didn’t have to think about the economic crisis and the consequences for employment.

I am just being critical about my own domain. Obviously Jet Bussemaker must have done some good things in other areas.

The ideas will be judged by Alexander Rinnooy Kan and Beatrice de Graaf

The ideas submitted for the agenda will be judged by Alexander Rinnooy Kan (1949) and Beatrice de Graaf (1976).

Rinnooy Kan has a background in mathematics and econometrics, was professor in operations research in Rotterdam, and became a pillar in Dutch society as rector magnificus, chairman of the employers union, member of the board of ING, chairman of the Social Economic Council (SER), and has now returned to a professorship in Amsterdam. Obviously he didn’t do anything about the censorship of science by the directorate of the CPB, but perhaps I should have tried to speak with him about that longer.

Rinnooy Kan was instrumental in getting his co-author and fellow operations research mathematician Jan Karel Lenstra to do something about the education in mathematics and arithmetic. Professor Lenstra however has no background in didactics of mathematics, so this became a disaster, and of course it is a breach in research integrity since scientists should not claim expertise which they do not have, see my protest.

Beatrice de Graaf grew up in Putten, where her grandfather managed to escape the German razzia in 1944 that deported more than 600 men of which only 48 returned. As a junior highschool student Beatrice watched with her father the TV series Tour of Duty (USA 1987-1990) about the Vietnam war, and that had a great impact on her. Her focus now is on terrorism, with lone wolves and methods for deradicalisation. One of her findings is that the “Dutch success” in preventing radicalisation like in Ireland (IRA), Germany (RAF) and Italy (Red Brigade) was a result of perhaps luck but at least incompentence by the Dutch counterintelligence (BVD, now AIVD).The German police approach was tough and repressive, which forced the RAF sympathizers underground with more group-think and radicalisation. The BVD / AIVD intended to copy the German approach, but were amateurs, which allowed Dutch radicals (Rode Jeugd, Krakers, RaRa) to have rather normal lives and deradicalise themselves. Dutch views on the situation in Germany affected the internal discussions however too, thus, the stick and carrot still apply.

For professor De Graaf I have these questions:

  • What good is it when those people in Putten were killed for defending freedom of thought, when the Dutch government censors economic scientific freedom since 1990 ?
  • How are you going to tackle terrorism when so many of the disadvantaged are locked in unemployment and poverty, caused by economic policies based upon censorship of science ?
  • How are you going to tackle terrorism that either seeks justification in religion or abuses religious ideas, when Dutch society is rife with closed minds on new insights on the relation between religion and mathematics ? (And with people perhaps not taking me seriously since my work on unemployment is censored anyway ?)

Let us compare, for the sake of clarity, the mental frame of terrorists with the (“autistic”) mathematical mind like of professors Hans Freudenthal (1905-1990) or Jan Karel Lenstra (1947) who presume that they know plenty about didactics of mathematics simply because they are professors of mathematics, or, indeed with the minds of the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau, who think that they already know enough so that they can censor stuff that they perhaps don’t understand themselves since they don’t feel like they have to ask questions or permit others to ask questions ? Perhaps psychologists can explain to us how these minds work, how they block contrary views, and how these ego’s can terrorize the rest of humanity – either with bombs or just plain old bureaucracy ?

Alexander Rinnooy Kan and Beatrice de Graaf (Source: wikimedia)

Alexander Rinnooy Kan and Beatrice de Graaf (Source: wikimedia)

Some criticism for Eric van Damme

Who is free of sins may cast the first stone. It must be said that there might be some criticism for Eric himself too.

I did inform professor Van Damme about the censorship of economic science by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau since 1990 – and he didn’t do anything about it.

I also informed Van Damme that one of the issues that is being censored is my paper on the 1951  Impossibility Theorem by Kenneth Arrow. See this weblog’s About page, on my book “Voting Theory for Democracy” (VTFD).

(1) This mathematical theorem on the aggregation of preferences actually falls in the field that Van Damme teaches about. He could have checked my result and have judged that the directorate of the CPB shouldn’t have censored my paper on this topic – or in Van Damme’s words they were and are perhaps ill-informed, narrow minded and misconceived – whence he could have supported my suggestion for a parliamentarian enquiry and a boycott of Holland till the issue is resolved. However, none of this.

(2) Van Damme’s inactivity on this hits himself with a vengeance. Namely, Arrow’s theorem that democracy would be mathematically impossible and that always some dictatorship would be required, has been feeding into the minds of the Western intelligentia since 1951. Importantly also into the minds of politicians and bureaucrats. Often also into the minds of students of political theory, for who this is a basic theorem, perhaps also those political theorists who become ministers of Science. Think of Jet Bussemaker. Thus, Van Damme had the opportunity to change those minds, didn’t do it, and now suffers the consequences – perhaps unaware how he helped cause his own misery.

Concluding: Could this be an opportunity for my own proposals ?

While I probably may well agree with Eric van Damme on his criticism on the Bussemaker report, I still did not read this. I am also inclined to optimism. People deserve a chance to change their minds.

When Alexander Rinnooy Kan and Beatrice de Graaf suggest that they are open to new ideas, and indicate that they are going to study those, then this might also be an opportunity. Such an opportunity may be lacking in Russia or North Korea.

The Appendix contains the research questions that I have submitted till now to the Dutch science research agenda till 2025. The links are to their website, in Dutch.

Appendix: Suggestions for the Dutch science agenda 2015-2025

(1) Is it true that the Trias Politica are failing and that an extension with an Economic Supreme Court is required ? (link)

(2) Is it true that the directorate of the Central Planning Bureau has been censoring economic science since 1990 ? (link)

(3) How can the Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) deal with collective breaches of integrity of science ? (link)

(4) Why don’t scientists make more flexible use of peer-review methods ? (link)

(5) What can be done about the gap in the general media between between reporting on science and reporting on economics & business – so that economic science is hardly reported on ? (link)

(6) How can a breach against scientific integrity be corrected on the educational site ? (link)

(7) Is it true that mathematicians have a basic training in abstraction that disqualifies them for when they enter the empirical field of didactics and teaching mathematics ? (link)

(8) Might Holland and in particular its educational system be willing to start deconstructing Christianity ? (link)

(9) How can scientists in the fields of ecology, environment and climate begin to see that economic scientists are failing in their judgements about the environmentally sustainable national income according to the definition by Hueting (eSNI) ? (link)

Addendum May 1

(10) Can and should the study of history not train stricter for science and respect for that ? (link)

(11) What regulations should be available for scientists for a flexible appeal to protection by the judiciary system and the police ? (link)

(12) What regulations should be available for scientists for a flexible appeal to legal protection by their employers and insurance ? (link)

(13) Is there any future for Mathix and Math-x: “A user friendly computer system based upon mathematics and cognitive psychology” ? (link)

(14) What can science say about the disarray in the debate about Black Pete ? (link)


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