At the time, the Ministers reported that the policies were based on science, meaning that the general public could rest easy. However, a great many people were not at all reassured and criticised the policies chosen. This anger was subsequently directed at the government’s scientific advisers, which led to threats being made against these researchers. To politicians, scientific research is a powerful shield to hide behind.

The motto ‘Creating positive societal impact’ is proudly displayed on the main building of Erasmus University. This is a legitimate encouragement to Erasmians to use their research to influence companies, organisations and certainly politics. As a Member of Parliament, I have spent many years in politics in The Hague, and I have seen how vulnerable academics are when they become embroiled in policy debates. Politicians are usually aware of what they need: for their own lobby, to gain political support or to foster support among the general public. The ministries in particular are extremely adept at influencing research in the direction they want and in support of the elected policies.

Scientists are powerless in the face of politicians if they do not understand who they are dealing with. This is not to say that politicians are bad people or that they have no regard for science: quite the contrary. However, being a politician is not an easy job. You often have to make difficult decisions about controversial issues, on top of which you are always accountable for those decisions. In such cases, it is useful to be able to divert negative attention, for example, by referring to scientific research. The adage of the House of Representatives is that there is a scientist for every point of view. Almost every study contains data that you, as a politician, can use to justify your decisions.

Communications scientist Hedwig te Molder argues that this misuse of research by politicians is not only to the detriment of the reputation of the scientific community but also affects people’s trust in politicians. Policies are always based on decisions, and this means that other decisions can always be made. By showing people your considerations and your doubts, you also show citizens how the world of politics works, while simultaneously showing more understanding for people with different views.

COVID-19 policy was chiefly presented as a technical matter, based on scientific guidance, which stifled the political debate, with any potential criticism being overly rapidly dismissed as being ‘unscientific’. I believe that this study into how COVID-19 policy was presented is an interesting case study for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the frequently difficult relationship between science and politics.

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