Note: This commentary represents the views of Guus Berkhout. We post it in support of excellence in science over politics. The issues are similar to Canadian controversies over the granting of an Honorary Doctorate to David Suzuki in 2018.
The Hague, January 1, 2022
Dear colleague van der Hagen,
In the capacity as former MSc student, former PhD student, former professor, former member of the Executive Board of the TU Delft – and also as an active member of the KNAW – I address you on the following at the first day of the new year.
Scientific organizations serve society by fostering, creating and passing on new scientific knowledge through research and teaching. Today, quality universities have become a primary source of prosperity in the area where they are located. The higher the scientific level realized, the greater the contribution to prosperity.
Universities, therefore, should promote excellence at all times. This means that they should not settle for followership, but aim for leadership in their scientific fields. It also means that universities are communities without ideological and political purposes. And above all, at universities the principle of Freedom of Speech and Inquiry are by no means negotiable.
History shows that new insights come from doubters and dissenters; they ensure scientific progress. Those scientific ‘rebels’ must therefore be given every freedom to question what already exists and to present new concepts, with the aim of getting closer to the truth. Universities should nurture these creative scientists. After all, consensus in science means the end of progress.
How different it is in politics. Politics is not about truth, but about power. In the most favorable situation, power is obtained democratically. Whoever manages to gather the most votes comes to power. We know that political rebels end up badly. So, searching for the truth has nothing to do with what the political majority wants. Every university should therefore keep far away from politics.
In short, truth-seeking (argumentum ad verecundiam) and power-seeking (argumentum ad populum) do not fit together at all. Even worse, they obstruct each other. The conclusion is therefore that University Boards should not ‘play little parliament’ in their boardrooms.
The foregoing brings me to the honorary doctorate you are going to confer on Frans Timmermans. This politician has done just about everything in his career to abuse science. He did so by intertwining searching for the truth with political majority building. That has led to the glorification of a climate theory that does not correspond to what we observe in nature, meaning it is scientifically wrong. And this wrong science has resulted into the introduction of a climate policy that has plunged Europe into an energy crisis. And that energy crisis means that Europe has been thrown into a negative socio-economic spiral. Colleague van der Hagen, with all respect, which technical or economic or social merits of Timmermans do you have in mind?
I invite you to watch and listen to this historic interview with Frans Timmermans:
It was already clear even at that time that Timmermans intended to abuse science for his own political gain. The last ten years have only confirmed that. TU Delft, as a so-called ‘climate university’, went along with this. Now, you award an honorary doctorate to this person?
Finally, I repeat, Frans Timmermans, with his climate policy, has plunged Europe into an energy crisis with major socio-economic consequences. Please, look at the facts! I therefore urge you nót to award this man with an honorary doctorate. TU Delft will go down in history as the technological university that – under your leadership – scientifically supported the destructive climate policy of this politician and then even awarding him with an honorary doctorate.
Colleague van der Hagen, start the new year well and show courage by retracing your steps. Please, do nót confer an honorary doctorate on this politician.
With collegial regards,
MSc student from 1952 -1957
Ph.D. Cum laude in 1971
Professor 1976 – 2016
Member of the Delft University Board from 1997 – 2001
Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1990