Doubt is the beginning of wisdom

This wise quote is attributed to Aristotle. It should be above the entrance at the university. Students who are allowed to enter the ‘temple of wisdom’ on the basis of proven qualities would be reminded of what society expects of them.

According to Goethe, wisdom could only be found in truth. Unfortunately, universities are increasingly looking like publishing factories and fundraising institutions.

The reflective, investigative, teaching and inspiring professor of the past has often made way for managers who can sell research projects. The reputation of professors depends less and less on scientific excellence through innovative insights and ground-breaking discoveries. Nowadays, the amount of research money raised often determines the degree of success. Money is power and that power lies with the one who pays.

Finding the truth only thrives in an open and pluralistic environment where unbiased research can be conducted. Doubt encourages you to reconsider hypotheses, ask critical questions and think outside the usual box. Debate based on facts and substantiated arguments is ‘ good scientific practices ‘.

However, developments at universities are not moving towards plurality and openness, but are promoting one-sidedness. People with an opinion that deviates from the social norm have a difficult time. Renowned professors who present a substantiated opinion that is unwelcome are sometimes even banned from speaking engagements by the university management.

Doubting the prescribed narrative seems undesirable. One-sidedness of information provision characterizes the old media. The same professors invariably appear at national TV talk tables who, as self-appointed experts, mainly proclaim the government narrative . If they ever go out of line, they usually rush to correct it again, whether or not encouraged to do so from above.

This happened to Professor Ernst Kuipers of Erasmus UMC, for example, when he admitted to the camera that the curfew had no effect on the spread of the coronavirus. Scarce counter-narratives in the mainstream media are carefully framed with trained proclaimers of the desired story. A substantive debate with, for example, two proponents and two opponents of government policy that leaves a final decision to the viewer would be an enormous boost for the social debate.

It is alarming that open debate is also becoming increasingly difficult at universities. One-sidedness is apparently the new norm in our society. Universities in particular, as defenders of free speech and truth-finding, should take a stand against this unscientific and disastrous development. Unfortunately, universities even appear to go along with non-scientifically substantiated corona measures that sometimes violate our fundamental rights.

It is incomprehensible that universities would even consider denying admission to a large group of students based on their -completely personal- medical status. This means that the unlawful exclusion of large groups of people that disrupts our society also threatens our universities. Medical integrity is a fundamental right of every individual and the right to education should be sacred to the administrators of our ‘temples of wisdom’.

Fortunately, there is a growing group of students who are speaking out strongly against this unlawful admission requirement. Students from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam have founded the organization ‘VU in resistance’, as evidenced by this website. A courageous and commendable initiative that deserves widespread imitation among students and professors at this and other universities.

Students and academics must guard the truth and therefore the right to doubt with all their might. This is essential for the functioning of universities and their social role. Because as Bertrand Russell said : ‘The whole problem of the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt.’

Dolf van Wijk, December 2021

This article appeared on the Students in Resistance website:


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