On Monday 9 November Erasmus University marked its 102nd anniversary with a modest celebration. The honorary doctorates were awarded to two unconventional scholars.

The honorary doctorates were presented to two American professors: development and healthcare economist Paul Gertler (University of California), and John Ioannidis (Stanford School of Medicine), primarily known for his international perspective and pioneering research as well as his comprehensive vision regarding research in general.

Repetition is important for good research

In his acceptance speech Ioannidis named Erasmus as one of his heroes: “He spared no one and he wasn’t persecuted or beheaded, yet he was still able to get his message across. From this I learned to be critical but gracious. And to know when it’s time to make an exit…”
Ioannidis, whose background is Greek, advocated for more replication and repetition of research so that the ‘real truth’ can be found. Research now, he feels, looks too much like an artistic endeavour where original research is carried out on a very small niche and this is considered more worthwhile than checking research to confirm it or disprove it, as the case may be. “If everything claimed in research turned out to be true then we would have been immortal a long time ago,” said Ioannidis.

Gertler critical of government policy

The other honorary doctorate was presented to Paul Gertler, an influential development and healthcare economist who received his cappa for the important societal relevance of his research results in the field of economic evaluation of the impact of financing healthcare services.

In his acceptance speech he related that he has always been critical of stimulating public health through government policy. He also spoke about the extensive research he has carried out in measuring the results of government policy.

He was present at the inception of an ongoing successful programme in Mexico to promote children’s health. Mothers were given a sum of money that could solely be spent for purposes related to their child’s health.

It is unusual that this project is still running, because in Mexico there is a new president every six years, who usually favours implementing his or her own programme at the expense of continuity. Gertler played an important role here.

This year’s honorary doctorates were granted by the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (Erasmus MC and the institute of Health Policy & Management) and the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.