To the "Visitatiecommissie t.b.v. het Centraal Planbureau"
(An international committee auditing the Central Planning Bureau, Chairman prof. dr. A. Barten)
c/o de heer Oskam, SER
PO Box 90405
2509 LK Den Haag
The Netherlands

 
April 16 1997

 
 

 

Dear Committee,

 

With mixed feelings, I ask to be heard in your audit.

I’ll best give you some facts first:

I consider the Central Planning Bureau to be a valuable institution with an impressive track record. The colleagues are fine people in general. That you have been invited to this audit is only one of the many proofs of the quality of the Bureau. However, there are serious faults in the structural setup of the Bureau. One best sees the abstract point first. The kind of work required from the Bureau generates a natural monopoly, and thus if you want optimality then some regulations are required. The present regulations do not warrant the claim on the scientific status made by the directorate (see appendix 2). In theory, and in my experience, this ‘cognitive dissonance’ causes a variety of problems. The case of my paper is just one example, though it highlights the argument.

I cannot judge how much time your committee has planned to do its job. I would like to be given the opportunity to reflect with you on these two possibilities:

 

Please note that I’ve been trying since December 1989 to get a serious hearing. (See appendix 3.) All Dutch economists will have heard some rumour, and biases against me abound. I am sorry to report that I have not met a Dutch economists of some reputation that appears seriously concerned about scientific freedom of speech and that is aware of the pitfalls that abound in judging my case. Of importance for your committee is the position of professor F.A.G. den Butter. Den Butter was chairman of a specific meeting of research economists (Ecozoek) where I presented my case concerning the CPB, and where I appealed for help from the scientific community. However, Den Butter mistook my appeal, misrepresented my case in a report to the director of the CPB (his then VU colleague professor Zalm), and actually helped to get me fired. It might interest you that different researchers present at that meeting have made different reports, but none supports Den Butter’s view.

Much of my work can be found on http://www.can.nl/~cool (including my resume) and on http://econwpa.wustl.edu

 

I do hope that these issues will get your unbiased attention.

 

Kind regards,
 

Thomas Cool



Appendix: Some additional points for the auditing committee

 

  1. Other avenues of appeal and for change have failed. Notably:
    1. There is no floor with the colleagues, since they are witnesses to the situation, and not participants. Also, even as witnesses, there is no procedure to get accurate statements.
    2. An internal appeal at the CPB leads to an Internal Commission of Appeal, that however resides under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Cases are treated as concerning normal civil servants, and not as concerning scientists.

    3. In my case the internal commission was later corrected in court, on:
      1. the commission thought my request for the publication process not ‘amenable to appeal’
      2. the commission thought it proper that the directorate placed me out of my regular duties without giving a reason
      3. the commission accepted the report on my performance, that had various errors.
    4. Higher courts mainly look at procedural aspects, and less at content. For example, a court neglected the NVMC commission report.
    5. There is no Dutch version of an Office of Scientific Integrity.
    6. There could be a distinction between the Ministry of Economic Affairs (specific employment) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (civil servant in general). The last Ministry might defend the employee against abuses in the specific branch, but in practice it supports that abuse.
    7. The economic research community (Ecozoek) declined any interest - even reported my appeal to the directorate, and thus helped to get me fired.
    8. The Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW) declines to interfere in matters of employer - employee relations, thereby giving ample room to employers to abuse of labour laws.
    9. The EEA convention of September 1991 under the chair of professor Lindbeck refused to discuss the matter.
    10. E.g. last year I wrote to professors Bruno Frey, Edmond Malinvaud, Richard Portes

    11. and Arjo Klamer in regard of the conference "Economic Science: an art or an asset" and their presentations there. None showed much concern.
    12. Others (e.g. newspapers) mostly treat me as a nut. The CPB has wide acclaim, but people do not recognise that my work helped to get that acclaim.
  2. It may be that what the Bureau publishes has scientific quality. But, if a result is scientifically warranted, does the Bureau then publish it ? In other words, is the publication policy sufficiently shielded from management policy issues ?
  3. The directorate of CBS Statistics Netherlands considers the CBS to be more independent than the CPB (H.K. van Tuinen, in personal communication). But the CPB already claims to be an independent institute. So some opinion has to give way.
  4. Economic researchers in service of the government may not have the legal position to be able to say what they really think as scientists. The distinction "voice, exit, loyalty" comes to mind. The legal position of official researchers is weak, and "dissent" is quickly regarded as "disloyalty".
  5. There is also a gap between "practical researchers" and "academic researchers", which makes that academics may be slow to understand and support views from official researchers (which phenomenon becomes especially important when an official develops a new and differing view). //