Climate denier amends Dutch Liberals election programme

Party logo of the Dutch Liberals (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).

Investigative journalism platform Investico, reporting in newspaper Trouw, discovered that during its November 2016 congress, a majority of the Dutch conservative liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) members approved an amendment to their election programme, submitted by a climate change denier. The sentence that climate change leads to ‘rising sea levels and heavy rainfalls‘ was taken out, because according to the submitter ‘it isn’t all that bad’, claiming levels only rose 1.8 mm annually, and that they’ve done so consistently for the past 500 years.

Climate scientist Reinier van den Berg responded with disgust: ‘This is scandalous, toe-curling and outrageous. There is a gigantic acceleration of sea level rises, right now at 3.45 mm a year. We can provide evidence for it everywhere: it’s already causing a lot of water damage. We cannot afford to let this happen to everything that lives on Earth, and generations after ours; we need to take serious action now.’

The chairman of Liberal Green, an environmentalist faction within the party, disagreed with Investico’s conclusions, saying the VVD is clear about the urgency of the consequences of climate change, and the necessity of the Paris Climate Agreement, and that the amendment’s submitter was just a ‘lone climate sceptic’. The question remains why a majority of party members then agreed with a proposal that would violate the VVD’s supposed ‘green core’.
With parliamentary elections in the Netherlands coming up in two weeks, Van den Berg concluded: ‘A party that denies such important problems, does not deserve even one vote.’

New Wikipedia biography about Dutch skeptic

Pepijn van Erp at the 2014 Skepsis Congres. (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0)

In recent years, mathematician Pepijn van Erp has risen to prominence within the skeptical movement in the Netherlands. He started blogging about flawed application of statistics in both scientific and pseudoscientific articles, and got involved with Stichting Skepsis as a board member in 2012.

Nowadays he regularly writes articles on various dubious claims in an investigative journalistic style on skeptical blog KloptDatWel.nl (mostly in Dutch) and his own website (mostly in English). Van Erp is occasionally invited to give his expert opinion on radio shows about conspiracy theories, fake news and other topics that skeptics are concerned about. To him, skepticism is ‘interesting and funny’, but also a ‘civic duty’ to protect people from harm.

The team of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia has written two new biographies about Van Erp, one in English and one in Dutch, to explain to the general public what his activism is about.

Netherlands: 50% officially not religious

Author Franca Treur (atheist) and presenter Tijs van den Brink (Protestant) discuss religion in TV series “Adieu God?” (2013)

For the first time in Dutch history, the official number of religious and irreligious people is equal, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports.  The percentage of religiously affiliated citizens above age 18 dropped from 55% in 2010 to 50% last year, a turning point in the ongoing process of secularisation. The current figures are:

  • Roman Catholicism: 24%
  • Protestantism (various denominations): 15%
  • Islam: 5%
  • Other (incl. Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism): 5%
  • Unaffiliated: 50%

There are large geographical differences, with the more urbanised West (North and South Holland) being the most secular, the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg being the most (nominally) Catholic.

Church service in Doornspijk, the Bible Belt. (Rubenf CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Only 1 in 6 people still regularly attend religious services though. In the conservative Protestant Bible Belt, running across the country from the southwest to the northeast, this figure is higher, sometimes over half, and in the case of Urk 94%.

The actual percentage of believers is much lower than 50%, however. A lot of people still registered as members of a church are actually not religious (anymore), but for various reasons have not officially renounced their membership (yet) – a phenomenon known as ‘belonging without believing’. An earlier 2016 survey by Bernts & Berghuijs showed that people’s actual religious convictions were as follows:

  • Roman Catholicism: 11.7%
  • Protestant Church in the Netherlands: 8.6%
  • Other Christian denominations: 4.2%
  • Islam: 5.8%
  • Hinduism and Buddhism: 2.0%
  • Unaffiliated: 67.8%

This shows a big disconnect between membership and actual adherence. Especially the Catholic Church often claims that a quarter of the Dutch population is Catholic, pointing to the official stats, but when questioned, fewer than half that number associate themselves with the Roman faith.

2009 Dutch atheist billboard: ‘There’s probably no god. Dare to think for yourself and enjoy this life!’

According to Bernts & Berghuijs, their attitudes regarding the existence of (a) god(s) were:

  • Atheism: 24% (I don’t believe in gods)
  • Agnosticism: 34% (I don’t know if there are gods or not)
  • Ietsism: 28% (I don’t believe in gods, but there must be something higher/supernatural/more than we can observe)
  • Theism: 14% (I believe there is a God / are gods)

A December 2014 survey showed a similar reversal in public opinion, when for the first time in the Netherlands’ history, more than half of people (63%) thought that religion does more harm than good.

Skeptic Van Erp sued by Ruggero Santilli

Ruggero Santilli. (Photo: Globalreach1 at en.wikipedia)

It appears the legal threats of American–Italian fringe scientist Ruggero Santilli to Dutch skeptic Pepijn van Erp are not as empty as first thought. At a Florida court, Santilli has now officially sued both Van Erp, the company that hosts his website, and Frank Israel, president of the Dutch skeptics foundation Stichting Skepsis. He claims to have been ‘defamed’, and demands damages in excess of 15,000 dollar.

Van Erp is quite confident it will not lead to a conviction:

It’s an undeniable fact that Santilli is seen as a fringe scientist by mainstream scientists. And I think it’s a fair and justifiable question to ask about anyone who sells telescopes which simply cannot work as described, whether he does this out of a completely wrong understanding of science (“a mad professor”) or perhaps, more cynical, just to make money fully aware that what he states cannot be true (“a cunning scam artist”).

Dutch vet society wins quack award

Logo of the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Medicine.

Last Saturday, the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, VtdK) has given the Master Quack Award (Meester Kackadorisprijs) to the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Medicine (KNMvD). Out of five nominees, the july ruled that the vet society promoted quackery in the Netherlands the most last year.

It had given the non-accredited Study Group for Complementarily Operating Vets (SCwD) too much room to practice freely, ‘shamelessly’ granting it a seemingly official status, on top of the fact that the SCwD makes ‘unjustified health claims’. According to the jury, Utrecht University’s Faculty for Veterinary Medicine, that offers the only accredited training for veterinary surgeons in the country, has – unlike the KNMvD – always clearly rejected alternative medicine as unscientific.

KNMvD president Dirk Willink was personally present to receive the ironic award, which he did ‘not regard as a reprimand, but as an open invitation to begin a discussion with people who think differently’. He opined that there is much science doesn’t know yet, and there should be tolerance for alternative therapies, even if it is unknown if they even work, and if so, how. Piet Borst, a renowned Dutch skeptical physician, urged Willink to check whether the KNMvD was correctly applying a 2008 Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) guideline, that rules that ‘physicians may only practice irregular treatments under strict conditions’; Willink promised they would.