Hans de Kroon on media attention

Hans de Kroon hoogleraar plant ecologie
Stick to your strengths and don't respond to everything
Hans de Kroon, hoogleraar Experimentele plantenecologie

In 2017, findings in German nature reserves brought the decline of insects to the centre of attention. Professor Hans de Kroon coordinated the research, resulting in numerous media appearances and talks with policymakers.

De Kroon sees it as a gamechanger in his career as a scientist. 'My research has broken new ground, which would never have happened if we had not published these findings. I am now constantly working on the core: what do these results really have to say? In the years that followed publication, I did my story just about every week: in front of the European Parliament, in The Hague, at the Provinces and the Water Boards.'

Phone red hot

'I was initially surprised, though, by the overwhelming media coverage of the paper in 2017, in which we showed that over three-quarters of insects in German nature reserves had disappeared. As researchers, we were already looking at the numbers for a while, so for me it was not news that insects were doing badly. There had also been a piece in the Volkskrant, but it had received little attention at the time. But after the press release about this study, the phone rang red hot for three days. We had apparently touched a very sensitive nerve.

And then suddenly you are in the middle of it. In Germany in particular, there was also considerable criticism. Some people wanted to smear us, to show that our results were wrong, that it was not science but activism. But fortunately it never got personal. We were then supported by scientists from all walks of life. And also the university's communications department and the board of governors gave us practical and moral support. That has been very important for us.

Not always responding

I learned that you don't have to react to everything, that you shouldn't be too defensive as a scientist. Some are not out to engage in dialogue, but just want to spout their own ideas or vent frustrations. Responding to this is unfortunately pointless.

At one point, we put a short commentary online explaining without jargon how we had done our research and what we now know. This was then picked up by the Frankfurter Allgemeine and led to a nice story about our work and all the dissent. We also now occasionally write opinion articles with several scientists in which we list everything we know. I would advise other scientists: Stick to your own strengths. You know what you have found in your research, trust your good science and the unique contribution you can make to the public debate.'