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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Gert van der Wilt

“My fellowship at the IAS has been extremely inspiring, giving rise to a whole range of new ideas to pursue my research. There are many institutes that claim to foster interdisciplinary research, but few of them succeed in this respect. The IAS of Durham University is a precious exception. ”

Professor Gert Jan van der Wilt, Radboud University Medical Centre

IAS Fellow at Trevelyan College, Durham University (January – March 2019)


Gert Jan van der Wilt is professor of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) at Radboud University Medical Centre, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He received his PhD in Neuroscience from VU University, Amsterdam. He had a post doctoral position at the Interfacultary Institute of Ethics at VU University, analyzing the normative assumptions underlying health economic analyses. He was a visiting scholar at the Hastings Centre, NY, and at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. His main research interest is how empirical analysis and normative inquiry can be integrated in the context of HTA. He serves on the Health Council of the Netherlands and on the scientific advisory board of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for HTA in Vienna, Austria. He is member of the Scientific Development and Capacity Building committee of Health Technology Assessment international (HTAi), the global scientific and professional society for all those who produce, use, or encounter HTA. He participated in the FP7 project INTEGRATE-HTA, aimed at developing methods for evaluating complex interventions in healthcare. He has published widely in the field of HTA, specifically on value frameworks and on stakeholder involvement.

At the Institute of Advanced Study he will participate in the project ‘Who are “We the people”? Community beyond the state’ directed by Dr Amy Russell. It asks how individuals coalesce into a collective “people”, and what other communities are formed in this way. How do individuals come together to form communities which are legal or social entities in themselves? The second part of the project will explore contemporary communities larger or smaller than the state, looking to find their place within state or seeking recognition as part of an international community. A hypothesis underlying his research project is that increasingly, we may witness the emergence of groups within our societies that derive their identity from the extent to which they espouse novel healthcare technologies. Currently, it is not clear to what extent that would be desirable or undesirable, and what it might entail. Would it impose a threat to our current societies, or could it be an asset, fostering cultural diversity? The work by Mary Douglas on political cultures will serve as a theoretical framework to analyze the current developments in healthcare, specifically in relation to the emergence of groups who derive their identity from their relation to novel healthcare technology. Using cultural theory as a framework, he will explore what relatively stable and coherent interpretive frames can be discerned within modern Western societies that give rise to quite different judgments of healthcare technologies.

Fellow's Home Institution

Public Lecture - Between Complacency, Caution, and Hope: opportunities and challenges posed by technology to democracy


The only way to live with differences is to live with it (Fran Tonkiss, 2003)

Technology is becoming an increasingly pervasive feature of our daily lives. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), for instance, are being marketed for use in elevating meditation experience, self-assessment, cognitive training, device control and the treatment of conditions such as migraines, insomnia, anxiety and depression (Ienca et al, 2018). Recent findings have shown that BCIs are potentially subject to cybercriminality such as brain-hacking, the illicit access and manipulation of neural information (Ienca and Haselager, 2016). Given their widespread and profound impact, it is remarkable that the development of such technologies largely eludes democratic decision making. Kevin Kelly (2010) has suggested that, just as biological evolution, our invented world has long-term tendencies and inevitabilities, and that the key question is how we can align ourselves with it so as to capture its full potential. In this paper, Professor Gert Jan van der Wilt will explore the question whether we should accept Kelly’s thesis, or prove to be capable of developing alternative strategies, aimed at regaining a certain degree of control. To this end, Professor van der Wilt will focus on the notion of co-production, the idea that the production of knowledge and establishing corresponding social order are intimately related (Hagendijk, 2015). He will then explore what sort of deliberative practices might emerge from this insight, helping the participants to discover the ambiguous nature of technology and develop acceptable ways of its deployment (van Leeuwen, 2015).

Hagendijk R (2015) 'Sense and sensibility: Science, society and politics as co-production', in Hilgartner S, Miller CA, Hagendijk R (Eds), Science and Democracy. Making knowledge and making power in the biosciences and beyond. Routledge: New York and London.

Ienca M, Haselager P, Hacking the brain: brain-computer interfacing technology and the ethics of neurosecurity. Ethics Inf Technol 2016; 18: 117 – 129.

Ienca M, Haselager P, Emanuel EJ, Brain leaks and consumer neurotechnology. Nature Biotechnology 2018; 36 (9): 805 – 810.

Leeuwen B van, Absorbing the agony of agonism? The limits of cultural questioning and alternative variations of intercultural civility. Urban Studies 2015; 52 (4): 793 – 808.

Kelly K, 2010. What technology wants. Penguin Books, New York.

Tonkiss F, The ethics of difference. Community and solitude in the city. Int J Cult Stud 2003; 6 (3): 297 – 311.

Listen to the lecture in full.

Professor Gert van der Wilt Publications