A hall barricaded by demonstrators in the University of Amsterdam, 13 May 2024. EPA-EFE/RAMON VAN FLYMEN


Dutch debate about political pressure in science cancelled due to political pressure over Israel


An event at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) has been cancelled over the stance on the conflict between Israel and Palestine of two leading academics who were due to take part.

Dutch-speaking Belgian philosopher Dr Maarten Boudry and American biologist Dr Jerry Coyne were set to take part in a debate on May 17 on the ideological subversion of biology and how politics influences science.

On May 14 they were informed by the organisers, Betabreak, that the event was cancelled because “members of the committee did not feel comfortable” offering both academics a platform “given their stances on the Palestine/Israel conflict”.

Betabreak also argued it was concerned that giving both academics a platform would “reflect” badly on the organisation and that it “might be blackballed”.

“We understand the irony of this considering this is the very issue that Dr Coyne wrote his article about, however, the group decided that we can’t host this event given the current political climate,” Betabreak said.

Bourdy told Brussels Signal that the motivation for the cancellation was “more astonishing” than the decision itself.

He said a week prior to the cancellation, a colleague on climate policy was also banned from the campus in Amsterdam “because security could not be guaranteed”.

That, though, made sense, Boudry asserted, given the protests at the university were creating safety issues, “even though it’s often an excuse for de-platforming”.

“But this time, it is a blatant and unequivocal exclusion because of the political views of the speakers present,” he said.

“And BetaBreak isn’t even afraid of physical violence, but for their own reputation and possible blackballing. That shows a significant lack of backbone,” Boudry added.

“The only mitigating circumstance is that apparently, the group is led by students. We should be a bit more lenient there; young people are allowed to make foolish decisions.

“They seem to be particularly afraid of hostile reactions from other students. That’s worrying in itself,” he said.

“What happens in the US is also spreading here. It’s not equally severe everywhere, but the UvA is clearly the biggest hotspot of this ‘woke’ ideology in our language area.”

On his blog, Coyne said he was deplatformed not for what he and Boudry were supposed to talk about but for views they independently expressed elsewhere.

“It had nothing to do with war in the Middle East,” he said.

“Everything was fine until we were informed yesterday on WhatsApp that the discussion was cancelled.”

Instead, the two academics will talk with each other at a different location, a private residence, on May 17.

They said they will discuss an original article by Coyne, in which he argues that biology faces a grave threat from “progressive” politics, alongside the delineation of taboo areas within biology and his examination of the influence of government funding on scientific discourse.

A video recording of the discussion will be made available online afterwards, they said.

Both Boudry and Coyne have been publicly sympathetic towards Israel and critical of Palestine, while Dutch universities have experienced protests, sometimes violent, against Israel.

After recent rioting and the destruction of public property in and around the UvA, the police had to move in. On May 14 and 15, the university was closed. It is due to reopen on May 16 but with extra security guards present.