When the VVD and D66 submitted a proposal to create Fieldlabs “on a grand scale,” no one in the House of Representatives opposed it. So Fieldlab’s events kicked off at the start of this year: a stage show here, a soccer match over there, sparks of hope on the fearful days.
As time passed, the events got bigger. Pop party, dance festival, enthusiastic visitors imagining themselves in a different era. Meanwhile, scientists have studied how visitors behave there.
At the beginning of this month, the cabinet gave Fieldlab – a collaboration between the government and the events and science sector – permission to “expand” further. As a result, next Saturday, Orange Day 538 will be held with 10,000 visitors, and 8,000 more will have access to Efteling. Later, the Zwarte Cross-like Festival, Eurovision Song Contest, and Marathon will follow.
“It is of utmost importance to investigate whether the preventive measures are equally effective as the number of visitors increases,” said Mona Keizer, Minister of State for Economic Affairs. “It sounds like a big party, but this investigation is very dangerous.”
However, more and more scientists are skeptical of the latter. “It’s hard to imagine that such a party of 538 would be necessary to answer a scientific question,” says Martin Van Smiden, statistician and assistant professor of research methods in epidemiology at UMC Utrecht. At the same time, there is no clear public search plan. Therefore, it is difficult to know what questions the research wants to answer. This is absolutely not according to scientific standards.
During Fieldlab events, visitors are usually given a “tag” around their necks, which records the number of other people approaching them. They also check if they are properly wearing the mouth masks. But, says Van Smiden: “The results of this research say nothing until now, when the level of pollution is high. By the time the conclusions are known, the world will look different again.”
Casper Albers, assistant professor in applied statistics at the University of Groningen, also criticizes the research. “In that 538 festival, you are working with a giant sample of 10,000 people,” he says. “But such a large sample is not at all necessary to conduct behavioral research.”
On top of that, Albers says, you have to weigh the benefits against the costs. Although everyone has been tested beforehand, there is a good chance that contagion will happen at such a huge festival. This will inevitably lead to more patients and a higher death rate.
A little on the big side
Marcel Levy, an internist and new director of Dutch science funder NWO, defends Fieldlab events. “The 538 Party might be a little big, but I support these kinds of experiences,” he said on the TV show. Boettenhof. “We learn from that, so that we no longer have to make decisions based on what we believe or think, but on the basis of the information that comes into our hands.”
According to Fieldlabs lead investigator Andreas Voss, the criticism is not justified. He says his team has a clear understanding of the research questions. For example: During the festival in Breda, we make bubbles with 2,400 people, much more than before in Bedinghuysen. We would like to know what the consequences are for moments of connection.
All bubbles also receive a slightly different treatment. For example, one of the bubbles has unisex toilets and the other has separate toilets for men and women. Voss and colleagues are constantly looking for the consequences for the masses.
In general, the event risk is not so bad, says Voss, professor of infection prevention at Radboud University in Nijmegen. “Our access tests are used to detect people who were infected prior to events who did not know themselves and thus contributed to the spread of the virus in society,” he says. “So far there are many more infections that come out after that.”
Don’t wait too long
In some ways, the medical microbiologist understands the critics. “I understand people are saying, ‘There are two really wanted festivals,” he says. Or should this number 538 party now, at a time when the third wave is at its peak. On the other hand, you cannot wait long either, because after that there will come a point where the trials from the experiences are no longer necessary for further openness to society.
Ultimately, they will publish the results of the research in scientific journals, Voss stresses. But now there is simply no time for that. The search design changes until the last minute. Politics, society and juvenile sector pressure is high. It is true that many people have participated in the festival. But don’t forget: a million people want to buy a ticket to the music festival, that’s a petition, too.