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“We don’t use scientists as a propaganda machine”

“We don’t use scientists as a propaganda machine”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Simone Golob

MAASTRICHT. Maastricht professors are untraceable in the top ten ‘professors in the Dutch online news’. It is the professors from the Randstad, and then mainly those with an economic background, who were frequently approached by newspapers TrouwNRC and de Volkskrant in 2015. This is the outcome of an analysis carried out by Amsterdam agency Buzzcapture. In particular cases of fraud, appointments and prizes are opportunities for publication.

“The infamous Randstad bias,” replies Fons Elbersen, head of marketing and communication at Maastricht University. “The national media are based in the Randstad. They don’t want to drive two hours down south.”
Buzzcapture found a total of a thousand different professors from Dutch universities mentioned on ten news media websites. The majority was mentioned only once. At the top is Bert van Wee, professor of transport policy at TU Delft.
Especially the University of Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit and Erasmus University Rotterdam are strongly represented. Maastricht is somewhere in the middle. Women are underrepresented – 82 per cent of all professors mentioned are men. Nevertheless, the UM list is headed by a woman: Corine de Ruiter (forensic psychology). In second place is Jos Kleijnen (systematic literature research in health care), and third is Matty Weijenberg (molecular epidemiology). But where is professor Mark Post, for example, who frequently made the papers with his cultivated meat hamburger? “We have also seen him a lot last year, but mainly in foreign journals,” says Caroline Roulaux, UM press officer, whose daily tasks include keeping tabs on how often and where Maastricht University is mentioned. “Corine de Ruiter was in the public eye a lot last year.” Both positively and negatively. The Dutch Institute for Psychologists (NIP) reprimanded her in 2015 because she spoke as an expert witness in a lawsuit about the mindset op people she had never met. Roulaux: “Jos Kleijnen published a study about the medicinal use of cannabis. He was mentioned quite often over a short period of time. Matty Weijenberg was often called for a reaction to the news (a recommendation from the World Health Organisation) on processed meat and cancer.”
Fons Elbersen: “They often feel that Maastricht is too far away, except if there is some kind of real commotion. Journalists approach professors from Amsterdam or Utrecht because it is close by, easy. And once they have spoken with someone, then chances are greater that they will phone them again. It’s the same with the names of guests in De Wereld Draait Door: they suddenly appear everywhere.” Whether that person is indeed the best expert, remains to be seen. “I don’t mean that it always has to do with laziness. Pressure of time also plays a role in journalism.”
What Elbersen misses in Buzzcapture’s research is the regional and international exposure. “We certainly cannot complain as far as regional media are concerned, such as Dagblad De Limburger, L1 television and radio.” The UM was mentioned almost 700 times in international papers in 2014, most often in the UK, where Maastricht is active on the student market. Whether the UM does better internationally than, for example, Wageningen or Amsterdam, Roulaux doesn’t know. “We don’t have any media figures from other institutes.”
That scientists appear in the media is applauded, but nobody is pushed. Elbersen: “We don’t use scientists as a propaganda machine. That is not what they are for.”

 

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