Photographer:Fotograaf: 'Remove question' - still from the Nieuwsuur item
MAASTRICHT. Professor Frans Leeuw's position at Maastricht University could probably come under pressure after reports that he is guilty of violating scientific integrity. This was in his position at the Ministry of Justice. Neither law faculty dean Smits, nor rector Letschert intend to undertake any steps at the moment: they are waiting for the outcome of an investigation by the ministry.
Leeuw is director of the Scientific Research and Documentation Centre for the Ministry of Justice and Security (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoeks- en Documentatiecentrum, WODC). He is also a professor at the UM’s Faculty of Law. Last week, the Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur reported that WODC had been pressurised on several occasions by the administrative and political top of the ministry to make changes in reports. This was especially in cases where scientific research results led to different conclusions than the top policy makers wanted. An important role was assigned to Frans Leeuw in all this; as WODC director, he allegedly actively urged for changes in texts or in the research setup. A retired WODC researcher sounded the alarm in 2014, with an internal memo that has now reached the public through Nieuwsuur. It details how Leeuw influenced research results. For example, he personally ensured that the random sample survey among fourteen Dutch municipalities about the weed pass, also included the city of Venlo. The researchers had excluded that city from the survey, because an “unexpected development” had occurred that could distort the results. But Leeuw received a telephone call from the mayor (from “my good friend Bruls,” he apparently said) that Venlo should still be included, and so it happened. “I experienced the pressure by Frans as harmful for the independent setup of the study, (…) more specifically a breach of the rules of conduct set out in the Dutch Code of Conduct in Scientific Practice, (Nederlandse Gedragscode Wetenschapsbeoefening),” a researcher writes on the subject.
Another case concerned a conclusion by WODC researchers on the trouble caused by drug tourism and on the manageability of coffee shops. Their research showed that there was no great cause for alarm. The higher ranks of the ministry felt otherwise: on the contrary, the problems in this area were great. Their reproach was that the research results would undermine the coalition agreement and existing drugs policies. Therefore, those passages had to be removed from the report. Leeuw agreed to make changes and ultimately ensured that the text was adapted. He himself referred to this as “contextualising,” in the words of the researcher it was a case of “camouflaging and diminishing”.
The question now is whether this professor has lost his credibility as a researcher. The reaction within the UM to the news, is to wait and see for the moment. Dean Jan Smits from the Faculty of Law feels that, if the allegations prove to be true, it would “certainly be a violation of scientific integrity”. Rector Rianne Letschert also speaks of “serious allegations”. The matter was new to her too: “Before the Nieuwsuur broadcast, I had not heard anything about it. I would have liked for Frans Leeuw to have warned us that this was about to happen.” Leeuw did know about the planned broadcast.
In the meantime, both Smits and Letschert have talked with Leeuw by telephone. These were short talks, about which neither wish to say anything. Smits: “The only thing I can say, is that Frans Leeuw has a more variegated view of the accusations.”
The official reaction at the moment is to wait for the outcome of the investigation within the Ministry of Justice and Security into this affair. Dean and rector considered suspending Leeuw for the duration of the investigation, but decided not to do so. Smits: “We feel that it is important to listen to both sides of the story, so let us first see that report. Leeuw has announced his full participation.” Neither was the decision taken to ask the UM Committee on Scientific Integrity to set up its own inquiry into Leeuw. “That is not useful as long as the ministry is dealing with it. It is a possible second step, at a later stage.”
Professor Frans Leeuw did not react to telephone calls by Observant, but did respond to an e-mail. He doesn't wish to say anything about the subject, the reason being that minister Grapperhaus has announced investigations into "the theme in a broader sense". He feels that it is "not wise to comment on those things at the moment ".
"Besides," he adds, this concerns a "theme of the ministry and WODC". Remarkably, he never mentioned the possible consequences for his Maastricht chair.