Four new Leiden members of KNAW

The Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has elected fourteen new members, four of whom are from Leiden University.

The new Leiden members

Department of Arts (humanities, law, behavioural and social sciences):

  • Prof. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg, Professor of Education and Child Studies
  • Prof. Ineke Sluiter, Professor of Greek and Latin Language and Literature

Department of Science (mathematical and physical sciences, life science and technical sciences):

  • Professor Alexander Tielens, Professor of Astronomy
  • Professor Jan Zaanen, Professor of Theoretical Physics

Voice and conscience

The Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is the ‘voice and conscience of scholarship in The Netherlands’ according to their website. Members of the KNAW, prominent practitioners from every discipline, are elected on the basis of nominations from both inside and outside the Academy. There are approximately 500 KNAW members, divided across the departments of arts and science. Membership is for life.

Rewarding excellence

Prof. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg

Prof. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg

To be elected member of the KNAW is an honour. ‘We reward excellence,’ says Dr Koen Hilberdink, who leads the association, as the circle of KNAW members is called. But what does membership amount to in practical terms? Rights and privileges as well as obligations are involved. ‘Nothing is formally set down,’ says Hilberdink. ‘But there is an unspoken expectation of commitment on the part of its members to the Academy, and to standards of scholarship in general, and that members will enter into debate with society at large as academic and social developments demand.’

Exceeding the speed of light

Prof. Ineke Sluiter

Prof. Ineke Sluiter

‘One such debate took place several months ago when the Academy organised a public discussion on the neutrinos some scientists believed could exceed the speed of light. This was a spectacular announcement. The KNAW demonstrated to the public the pros and cons of the announcement, and it quickly emerged that the theory was erroneous.’

Infectious virus

Prof. Alexander Tielens

Prof. Alexander Tielens

‘Another example is the debate concerning freedom of publication organised by the Academy. Among those invited to participate were members of the Ministry of Public Health.’ The context for this event was that Ron Fouchier, Professor of Virology at the Rotterdam Erasmus Medical Centre, had been forbidden to publish research concerning the existence of an infectious human variant of the bird flu virus existed: publication was not deemed to be in the public interest. ‘That was a vigorous debate,’ according to Hilberdink.

Noblesse oblige

Prof. Jan Zaanen

Prof. Jan Zaanen

‘In addition we have all kinds of internal discussions involving matters of public interest. A KNAW is not obliged to discretion, but noblesse oblige [‘privilege entails responsibility’] and that seems to be the consensus among the membership. We are now trying actively to stimulate the KNAW membership to become more publicly concerned in questions that involve society at large. For instance, in Groningen the local membership of the KNAW hold presentations during the Night of Science. These kinds of events are taking place more frequently.’

(14 May 2012)


Last Modified: 14-05-2012