In 2021, Van Hoof writes a short report on two RIVM literature studies regarding health damage caused by wind turbines. Van Hoof argues that some of the articles used by the RIVM (the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment) involve a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the research institute fails to mention this in the literature review, according to the university lecturer. As an alcohol researcher, Van Hoof has a lot of experience with the subject: alcohol research is subject to strict rules regarding funding and conflicts of interest.
After writing his critical report, Van Hoof tries to go public. And not without results. Various media interviewed Van Hoof about his publication, including Binnenlands Bestuur (Local and Provincial Government, a news source for officials and governors) and Radio1. The regional daily Tubantia also published about the issue. However, the newspaper points to Van Hoof's own involvement in the anti-wind turbine lobby in Twente. 'It is not about my personal opinion, but about the discussion on the influence and role of the energy lobby in the Netherlands,' Van Hoof later parried to U-Today.
The RIVM also makes itself heard. The research institute rejects the allegations on its own website, but it does not stop there. The RIVM believes it is harmed by the publication and contacts the university. In response, Van Hoof's department and faculty (BMS) want to take the case to an independent and expert body. They decide to file a complaint on behalf of the department and faculty to the UT's Scientific Integrity Committee (CWI) in late 2021.
The CWI rules that Van Hoof's publication violated standards 53 ('Be honest in public communication') and 38 ('Be explicit about uncertainties and contraindications and do not draw unsubstantiated conclusions') of the Code of Conduct for Scientific Integrity. Also, according to the CWI, Van Hoof's statements to the media took the risk 'that the media would take advantage of the unsubstantiated conclusion with suggestive headlines, sowing uncertainty among the general public regarding RIVM publications.'
In addition, the CWI believes that Van Hoof is not honest about his own potential conflicts of interest, exactly as the newspaper article in Tubantia points out. On 8 March 2022, the CWI therefore advised the UT Executive Board to declare the complaint largely founded. According to the committee, there is questionable behaviour. The Executive Board decides to follow the advice. All this is to the dismay of researcher Van Hoof, who described the fuss as a storm in a teacup at the U-Today just a few months prior.
Van Hoof decides to appeal to the National Institution for Scientific Integrity (LOWI). He feels his freedom of expression is at stake. According to Van Hoof, his piece is 'not an elaborate publication'. 'It has an agenda-setting function and is meant to initiate discussion'. He also dismisses his own potential conflicts of interest. And there is something else. He believes the Executive Board wrongly rejected his request to change the composition of the CWI due to 'appearance of bias' on the part of the CWI chair.
The LOWI dismisses the CWI's opinion. According to the national body, scientists should involve themselves in the public debate, exactly as Van Hoof did with his contributions regarding the RIVM. 'If a scientist gets involved in the public and scientific debate, the code of conduct should not be invoked too hastily to claim that scientific integrity has been violated. It is not the intention of the code of conduct that scientists should shy away from interfering in the public debate,' the LOWI states.
The LOWI also calls the alleged personal interest 'far-fetched'. 'In this respect, the relativising remark that every scientist has personal opinions is appropriate. That does not mean that a scientist always has to make these public if he expresses himself in the public debate on those subjects on which he has a personal opinion.'
In its own words, the department and faculty administration wanted to learn lessons from the case. But the path chosen, a complaint to the CWI, is unfortunate, according to the LOWI. Why did those involved not simply enter into a dialogue with each other, the LOWI asks in its statement. 'It should not be forgotten here that someone's reputation is at stake and that a complaint could possibly also lead to legal sanctions.'
That is exactly what Van Hoof blames the UT for, when he looks back on the issue. 'Charges were pressed on me by my own supervisor,' he says in a telephone response. 'I spent 400 to 500 hours on this. And with what actually? With nothing. Integrity complaints are for the Diederik Staples of this world, for mega-frauds. Yet a complaint was also filed against me. Nine professors from the faculty board looked at the complaint beforehand. Sensible people, you might say. Apparently, they thought it was a good idea to do this to a staff member.'
Although Van Hoof was vindicated, he recently resigned. 'I didn't want to work for such an organisation anymore. The UT should have protected me. Instead, my supervisor, along with the faculty and departmental administration, filed a complaint with the CWI, and that complaint was upheld. Integrity is the foundation for us as academics. A complaint was filed precisely about that. That destroyed my career. You know you are sidelining someone. There were people who no longer wanted to work with me. I was cancelled.'
Above all, Van Hoof wonders how it could have come to this. 'I took a look at the LOWI rulings of the past five years. I don't think it has ever happened before that an institution has been reprimanded so harshly. Then I wonder: how could executives, professors and the CWI have been so out of line?'
The UT values the quality of scientists' contributions to the public debate, the university informed U-Today in a written response. 'By submitting this case to the CWI, the faculty board asked for a transparent and independent opinion, in order to make well-founded judgements about the quality of the creation of the contribution, in the interest of both the scientist and the university. Given the sensitivity and intensity of the discussion on this topic, as evidenced by the RIVM's response to the publication in question, transparency about the care with which the contribution was produced is of great importance to all parties involved'.
In its opinion, the CWI made some few remarks regarding the careful application of the standards of the Code of Conduct for Scientific Integrity, the UT declares. 'The University of Twente finds it regrettable that the LOWI states that in the case 'a scientist has come face to face with his colleagues, the departmental and/or faculty board as a defendant'. In its expressions to all those involved, the UT has always emphatically stated that this was not a complaint from the UT to the scientist concerned, but a test to provide transparent and independent insight into the quality of the creation of the contribution. The UT regrets that this view is not shared.'
'As far as the University of Twente is concerned, the rulings of both CWI and LOWI are not the end point of a discussion on how to act in such situations, but rather a starting point. The UT is happy to enter into that discussion with those involved.'
The reconstruction was constructed using the publicly published LOWI opinion. The advice has been completely anonymised. ScienceGuide, a website with independent news about higher education, managed to link the published advice to the UT researcher Joris van Hoof, and wrote an article about it on its website.