MAASTRICHT. Rianne Letschert, rector of Maastricht University has no doubts about the integrity of the Maastricht professors Fred Brouns and Rob Markus. But she does want an explanation and that is why she has requested the raw footage of the TV programme Rambam. In the broadcast of 24 January it appears as if the two UM scientists would be prepared to carry out research into an energy drink, the outcome of which would most certainly be positive.
Amsterdam emeritus professor of Nutrition Martijn Katan, who commented on the relationship between industry and science in the same programme, has already seen the full unedited version of the recording with Rob Markus. He concludes, just like the producers of Rambam, that this is not a case of framing or giving false impressions. He believes that the statements shown are “in essence the gist” of what Markus “had said on several occasions during the talk”. Brouns appears not to be blamed for anything; Katan felt that he “didn't evidently go too far”.
The two UM professors were disguised during the broadcast (but still recognisable). In the programme they are approached by Rambam presenters who pretend to be looking for advice concerning the creation of a knowledge centre for the purpose of doing research into a Chinese energy drink.
Brouns and Markus feel that they were tricked and that the broadcast fragments were taken out of context.
Rector Rianne Letschert says that she supports her staff “until the opposite has been proven. The latter is not the case at the moment. Besides, there is no file with complaints about these researchers, they do their work with integrity. Casting judgement on scientific integrity based on a couple of sentences in a TV programme? If I were to do that, I wouldn't be worth a snap of the fingers.”
She doesn't see “much wrong” in the fragment. “Moreover, Rambam has a reputation when it comes to cutting and pasting.” This refers to a previous broadcast about hazing among students. In that case, a misrepresentation of facts was given. Rambam apologised.
Letschert wants to have a talk with production company CCCP, “to exchange ideas: how does such a programme come about, why do they use under cover techniques, was it necessary in this instance, why would they take two quotes from a ninety-minute recording, what questions were asked, et cetera.” She wants to see the entire recording. “In science we show how we carry out research, we are transparent, we clarify our data and research processes. Why should that not apply to the media? They have nothing else to hide, the names are already out there.”
Last week, Markus' story was confirmed by a colleague who is supposed to have listened to the one and a half hour long discussion between him and the Rambam presenters from an adjoining room. Letschert: “I haven't spoken to that person, I don't need to. I have no reason not to believe my professors.”
Professor of Nutrition Martijn Katan is certain about the unedited discussion that he saw: “It was rather elusive from time to time, what Markus said. Still, it was clear in a number of places that he was interested in doing business with these people and that he could carry out this promised research with a positive result. Where results in all likelihood could be predicted beforehand and would be favourable for them.”
Letschert emphasises that she will only intervene “should it be determined that standards have been violated. It is an important issue, this doesn't just concern scientific but also personal integrity. I feel that people have a right to be protected, you cannot damage people on the basis of interpretations. Only if the images show otherwise, will I speak with the gentlemen again.”