“Ways of knowing”: New Zealand pushes to have “indigenous knowledge” (mythology) taught on parity with modern science in science class

December 3, 2021 • 9:15 am

One of the most invidious and injurious side effects of wokeism is to validate “other ways of knowing” as being on par with modern scientific knowledge. Granted, one can respect the mythology and scientific “claims” of indigenous cultures, some of which turned out to be scientifically valid (quinine is one), but their efficacy can be established only by conventional scientific testing.

New Zealand, however, is in the midst of a campaign to teach Maori “ways of knowing” alongside science in science classes as science, on par with modern science, which of course had roots in many places. The reason for this is to give Maori credibility not just as indigenous people with moral and legal rights, but to validate their pseudoscientific views.  Scholars who object to this ridiculous parity are in the process of being cancelled.

Here’s an email I got the other day from a biology colleague in New Zealand:

Now in NZ the Government is trying to insert something called ‘Matauranga’ into science courses. Matauranga means the knowledge system of the Maori. It includes reference to various gods e.g., Tane the god of the forest is said to be the creator of humans, and of all plants and creatures of the forest. Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears. Maori try to claim that they have always been scientists. Their political demand is that Matauranga must be acknowledged as the equal of western (pakeha) science; that without this, Maori children will continue to fail in science at school.

One rationalisation for this is that they are the indigenous people of New Zealand and that their knowledge deserves respect (mana). it is a very messy situation and a group of science academics of various stripes are engaged in fighting a rearguard action against this. They wrote a letter to the Listener, a weekly publication of reasonable respectability, in which they made the claim that matauranga was not science and had no place in science courses. The kickback against this was astonishing, with some 2000 academics around NZ signing a petition condemning them.

Further,the Royal Society of New Zealand is taking two of the academics involved to task,  with the likely outcome their dismissal from the Society. They have been accused of racism!

Wokism is well under way here.

In response to my question, the colleague told me that the two forms of “knowledge” will be taught to 16-18 years old, and not just to Maori. There will also be exam questions, but it’s not clear if those will require students to parrot the tenets of Mātauranga.

Here is a screenshot of the letter that got its signatories in big trouble (click on it to see the original letter). Note that it’s civil and conciliatory, but defends modern science. The signers are all from the University of Auckland.

This is a sensible letter which is not inflammatory—except to those postmodernists and Wokeists who see “other ways of knowing” just as valid as modern science. They are wrong. But in response, 2,000 academics and public figures signed a heated objection, which included the following:

We, the signatories to this response, categorically disagree with their views. Indigenous knowledges – in this case, Mātauranga – are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including Mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with “Western” understandings of the scientific method.

However, Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to “Western” science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems.

I’m sorry, but in general the factual assertions of this Maori “way of knowing” are palpably inferior to “other knowledge systems.” They stand as myths, and ones with no factual basis; and to teach them on par with science, as if rain might really come from the tears of a god, is ludicrous. Yes, there are some practical “truths” to Maori ways of knowing, like how to build an eeltrap, and how to avoid building houses on flood plains, but if you accept this practical knowledge of science, then Maori Mātauranga is no different from any practical methods in any culture. And this doesn’t make it coequal with “modern science”, for modern science is capable of not only building eeltraps, but sending men to the Moon and bringing them back.

Those who signed the letter objecting to the Listener letter above are either completely ignorant of science (which I don’t believe), or are flaunting their virtue. It’s true that Maori have often been mistreated by colonials, and NZ has tried to rectify this inequality over the years, as it should. But one way not to rectify it is to pretend that Maori “knowledge” is really “true” in the scientific sense. To teach that in the schools, as is being proposed, is a recipe for continuing scientific ignorance. It is the same as a letter saying that fundamentalists Christian “ways of knowing”, like creationism, should be taught alongside evolutionary biology in science class. (Such “parity” is not upheld by freedom of speech, for American courts, at least, have long declared that teachers do not have license to teach anything they want in a class—particularly religion.) Indeed, as we see above, Maori “science” is explicitly creationist!

Toby Young discusses the issue in this article in The Spectator (click on screenshot, my bolding):

An excerpt:

. . . the moment this letter was published all hell broke loose. The views of the authors, who were all professors at Auckland, were denounced by the Royal Society, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and the Tertiary Education Union, as well as by their own vice-chancellor, Dawn Freshwater. In a hand-wringing, cry-bullying email to all staff at the university, she said the letter had ‘caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni’ and said it pointed to ‘major problems with some of our colleagues’.

Two of Professor Cooper’s academic colleagues, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Shaun Hendy, issued an ‘open letter’ condemning the heretics for causing ‘untold harm and hurt’. They invited anyone who agreed with them to add their names to the ‘open letter’, and more than 2,000 academics duly obliged. Before long, five members of the Royal Society had complained and a panel was set up to investigate.

The witch-finders disregarded several principles of natural justice in their prosecutorial zeal. For instance, two members of the three-person panel turned out to be signatories of the ‘open letter’ denouncing Professor Cooper so had to be replaced. In addition, all five complainants were anonymous and when the Society asked them to identify themselves, three fell by the wayside. But two remain and the investigation is proceeding apace, with a newly constituted panel.

It’s not too late to save the professor. Letters from members of our own Royal Society, or any distinguished academics in the sciences and humanities, pointing out the absurdity of punishing a scientist for engaging in debate about the validity of science will help. You can email Paul Atkins, the chief executive, at paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz. Remember, the only thing necessary for the triumph of intellectual intolerance is for believers in free speech to do nothing. [JAC: Note that Atkins is the new chief executive].

I would urge readers who feel strongly about this to write to the email above, which I’ll repeat: paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz

Here’s the official letter from the University of Auckland’s Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater about The Listener letter (click on screenshot):

Some excerpts from her statement, which is in the “we favor free speech, but it causes pain ” genre:

A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether Mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.

While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.

The University has deep respect for has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni. as a distinctive and valuable knowledge system. We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.

This view is at the heart of our new strategy and vision, Taumata Teitei, and the Waipapa Toitū framework, and is part of our wider commitment to Te Tiriti and te ao principles.

I believe Aotearoa New Zealand has a unique opportunity to lead the world in this area. The University of Auckland, as this country’s largest research institution, should be and will be at the forefront of this exciting exploration.

This is the letter of a person trying to treat a narrow line between free speech and condemnation of what is said. Further, she notes that the seven academics “do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.” Well, is Vice-Chancellor Freshwater entitled to declare those views, or is that the purview of her boss, the Chancellor? Or has the University itself issued a formal statement of exactly what the views of the University of Auckland on mātauranga Māori are? We don’t know. If there’s some official statement that the University views modern science is on par with Maori ways of knowing, I’d like to see.it. If the University has no official view, and takes no stand at all why does Freshwater say that the seven academics “don’t represent it”?

As for Freshwater’s statement that The Listener letter “has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni”, we have no idea how much hurt and dismay it’s caused. I know from private correspondence that there are plenty of people at the University supported that letter and do not see Mātauranga Māori as a valid competitor to modern emprical science.

Further, emphasizing the “hurt and dismay” among University members is not helpful to the discussion at all, as from the outset it puts the discussion on an emotional footing, when the issues are not hurt and pain but the validity of Mātauranga Māori as an alternative to modern science to be taught in the science class.  That is something that one can argue about validly, and I think that Mātauranga Māori is mostly mythology and not science. For one thing, it’s creationist, so its credibility is shot from the beginning.

Finally, Freshwater’s claim that “We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other” is confusing. They are of course directly at odds if you look at the empirical data, which include creationism and other palpably untrue claims. They are competing as the proposal is to teach both in science class, on the high school and perhaps on the University level.

She has a longer letter as well (click on screenshot), and I’ll give a few excerpts:

It’s long, so just one excerpt from a discursive piece in which Freshwater takes issue with the seven academics who signed the letter:

The freedom to express ideas is constrained neither by their perceived capacity to elicit discomfort, nor by presuppositions concerning their veracity. However, it needs to be clarified that allowing the expression of an idea does not imply endorsement by the University. This has been our position in the debate about mātauranga Māori and science.

Our seven academics were entirely free to express their views, however the University was also free to disagree with those views. That does not mean the University is censoring or trying to silence our academics, it is merely making clear that such views are not representative of the myriad views within the institution; and that the University may at times disagree with the views expressed by its academics. That is healthy in a university.

Well, if that’s “healthy”, then the University of Auckland is very ill.  If there are “myriad views” about this issue in the University, why does Freshwater say that the signers “do not represent the views of the University of Auckland”? Does this mean that seven people don’t stand for the views of everyone? They never pretended they did, but it sure looks as if Freshwater knows that there are more “official” views that diverge from these. If the University of Auckland has no position at all on the issue, then they should say so and stop denigrating the seven signers. But remember, this does appear to be an official position:

We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.

That sure looks like an official position!

And the “not censoring” bit is unconvincing: the signers were identified—not by name but as signers of an easily accessible letter—and criticized in the assertion that they don’t adhere to University principles that were never specified.  Further, as we see below, the Royal Society of New Zealand is considering booting out two of its signers who are members. (I doubt that the University instigated that, but its opposition to the letter may have contributed to the Royal Society’s decision to have an investigation).

From Wikipedia, which has an article on the controversy that started last summer:

The TEU, the union which represents academics such as the professors, released a statement saying they “neglected to engage with or mention the many highly accomplished scholars and scientists in Aotearoa who have sought to reconcile notions of science, mātauranga Māori, and Māori in science.” The Royal Society Te Apārangi released a statement saying “The Society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in [the letter].” The New Zealand Association of Scientists released a statement saying “we were dismayed to see a number of prominent academics publicly questioning the value of mātauranga to science.” The letter writers were supported by opposition MP Paul Goldsmith.

Daniel Hikuroa, also an academic at Auckland, pointed out that Mātauranga Māori like Māramataka (the Māori lunar calendar) “was clearly science.” Tara McAllister said “we did not navigate to Aotearoa on myths and legends. We did not live successfully in balance with the environment without science. Māori were the first scientists in Aotearoa.” Tina Ngata wrote that “this letter, in all of its unsolicited glory, is a true testament to how racism is harboured and fostered within New Zealand academia.” An open counter-letter received more than 2000 signatures.

Here’s part of the Royal Society of New Zealand’s “Joint statement from President and Chair of Academy and Executive Committee“:

The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The Society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in The Listener – Letter to the Editor.

It deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause.

This makes the RSNZ look like a joke, for they are rejecting the idea that the entire collection of mythology, quasi-religion, a few practical methods, as well as outright lies (like creationism) is not a “valid truth.” And the RSNZ rejects the “narrow and outmoded definition of science, which happens to be, well, just science.  And the invocation of “harm” that comes from rejecting lies, myths, and false beliefs is ludicrous.

Finally, as I have to stop somewhere, the New Zealand Psychological Society, equally outraged, also condemned the view of the “Satanic Seven”. Click on the screenshot to read the whole pdf:

A few quotes from the letter, which purports to be from the entire New Zealand Psychological Society (did all members assent?), but was written by the President, Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki, who must be Maori.:

I believe it is important that we express our disappointment in the recent letter to the Listener by professors of psychology, biological sciences and critical studies. We also wish to express our support and aroha for those who were, and continue to be, negatively affected by the letter’s content. We note that the letter was not subject to established protocols of rigour and peer review and as such, the contents reflect opinion, not science. In reviewing the letter, it is readily apparent that racist tropes were used, alongside comments typical of moral panic, to justify the exclusion of Māori knowledge as a legitimate science.

Diversionary claims! Of course letters to a non-science journal aren’t peer reviewed and “aren’t science.” Who said otherwise? And the letter was not racist. But wait! There’s more!

. . . The letter writers express their concern that science is being misunderstood at all levels of education and science funding. They further add that science itself does not colonise – while acknowledging that ‘it has been used to aid colonisation, as have literature and art’. This is similar to saying ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people’. Esteemed scholar, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith (and others) established that science has indeed been used, under the pretence of its own legitimacy, to colonise and commit genocide towards Māori and other Indigenous peoples. Science, in the hands of colonisers, is the literal gun. The writers fail to note the overwhelming evidence that the users of the science they favour, are also the ones who set the rules about what counts as science, where it can be taught, learned, published or funded. This issue is extremely relevant to the need to decolonise the power base held in our learning institutions.

. . . The White Saviour trope: This is where Māori are told which elements of our Indigenous knowledge is important and to whom. The writers, speaking for Māori, offer the opinion: ‘Indigenous knowledge is critical to the perpetuation and preservation of culture and local practices and plays key roles in management and policy. The writers (as is their inherent privilege) relegate Māori knowledge to archival value, ceremony, management and policy (although it is not clear what is meant here). Speaking for Māori ignores obligations to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, and ignores the overwhelming evidence that racism is a primary reason that Mātauranga Māori science is undervalued.

No, that last sentence is false. Mātauranga Māori “science” is undervalued, at least by scientists, because it’s mostly wrong. For one thing, it posits an instantaneous creation.  Do its advocates say, “Well, Mātauranga is often right but is also often wrong.”

There’s more:

Māori knowledge is indeed critical to the preservation of our culture and practices because we are resisting epistemic and cultural genocide, while also striving to flourish and develop. Speaking for Māori again, they add that ‘in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself’. Māori aren’t asking them to define science. We have done that ourselves despite having obstacles thrown up at all stages.

. . . Psychology has a long history of marginalising Māori knowledge, and it is concerning that two of the writers are professors of psychology. We note that the letter reinforces known racist assumptions about the validity of Mātauranga Māori science that occurs across psychology and academia. We are particularly concerned about the wellbeing of Māori staff and students in psychology who must now navigate the fall-out of this letter.

It is unbelievable that stuff like this can come out of the mouths of reputable academics. “Science, in the hands of colonisers, is the literal gun.” Seriously? Yes, of course science has been used for bad purposes by bad people, as has architecture (gas chambers), and religion. But this says nothing about whether the epistemic value of modern science is on par with the epistemic value of Mātauranga Māori. If the University of Auckland plans to teach the latter on par with real science in science classes, it will be shameful; and I feel sorry for its dissenting scientists, who may be many. But now have to keep their mouths shut lest them be called out like the Satanic Seven.

The Kiwis have been very careful in the past few decades to ensure good relations with the Maori, who themselves colonized an empty New Zealand about 700 years ago. But keeping good relations does not demand that you accept a “way of knowing” that is mythological, spiritual, and wrong.

As my friend said, “Wokism is well under way here.”

*********

Okay, it’s time for me to write to Roger Ridley (above) so that two of the seven don’t get booted out of New Zealand’s Royal Society. If they are, that society will have branded itself as a huge joke.  Here’s the letter I just sent. Note, though, that you should write instead to Paul Atkins, who was recently named the the new chief executive of the NZRS. His email is  paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz

Dear Dr. Ridley,

I understand from the news that New Zealand’s Royal Society is considering expelling two scientists for signing a letter objecting to teaching “indigenous” science alongside and coequal with modern science.  As a biologist who has done research for a lifetime and also spent time with biologists in New Zealand, I find this possibility deeply distressing.

The letter your two members wrote along with five others was defending modern science as a way of understanding the truth, and asserting that Maori “ways of knowing”, while they might be culturally and anthropologically valuable, should not be taught as if the two disciplines are equally useful in conveying the truth about our Universe. They are not. Maori science is a collation of mythology, religion, and legends which may contain some scientific truth, but to determine what bits exactly are true, those claims must be adjudicated by modern science: our only “true” way of knowing.

I presume you know that the Maori way of knowing includes creationism: the kind of creationism that fundamentalist Christians espouse in the U.S. based on a literalistic reading of the Bible. Both American and Maori creationism are dead wrong—refuted by all the facts of biology, paleontology, embryology, biogeography, and so on. I have spent a lifetime opposing creationism as a valid view of life. That your society would expel members for defending views like evolution against non-empirically based views of creation and the like, is shameful.

I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughingstock.

Cordially,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago
USA

122 thoughts on ““Ways of knowing”: New Zealand pushes to have “indigenous knowledge” (mythology) taught on parity with modern science in science class

  1. What a mess. The NZ Royal Society should be ashamed of itself. I often don’t agree with Toby Young, but he’s right on this occasion. (Fun fact: Young’s father coined the term “meritocracy”, although he intended it to be used disparagingly and was frustrated that it entered the language more widely with a positive connotation.)

    1. My email to The NZ Royal Society head…..

      https://royalsociety.org/about-us/history/

      No matter how inclusive, righteous, virtuous this idea of teaching Maori mythology as a on par with science- it is wrong (unless such myths can be scientifically validated) and will be a pyrrhic “victory” for which you and the royal society will ultimately be mocked and ashamed for….. Your UK brethren had it right in 1660 – nullius in verba. Please forward this email on to your investigatory panel members

  2. How to fix this thing? It seems exceptionally hard because of the considerable power being wielded against these brave scientists. The greatest strengths one can use is to recruit sheer numbers of NZ and international scientists to step forward and object, thereby de-isolating these 7 brave scientists, and to bring up early and often that this re-structuring of NZ science makes NZ science look really bad. Making parallels to Lysenko-ism is not hyperbole.

    1. So I think the underlying problem is a fear that young people’s interest in science (and modern life in general) is causing them to lose interest in the culture. The solution is to delink that. Which is partially possible, in that I really don’t think it’s a zero-sum-game where an hour spent in a lab makes you an hour less maori. So to help with that delinking, you show examples of Ph.D. culturally maori people. “See? Becoming an X, studying X, doesn’t mean you stop being a Y.”

      But it’s also partially not possible, in that it probably is the case that young people who choose to become scientists – or modern life lawyers, doctors, entertainers, what have you – don’t pass on the cultural traditions as much as people who involve themselves in their ancient culture more full time. Scientists, doctor, lawyer etc. types often do “leave the tribe” in practice, even if not in theory. The fear is warranted, even if their solution is not.

      1. Not in Canada. The lawyer types devote their careers to suing the government to entrench, expand, and finance the traditional “ways-of-knowing” culture. Nice gig for them. The doctor types, tiny in number though they are, are doing the same. These fields have come to accept the dangerous notions that indigenous knowledge can co-exist with or supplant colonial law and medicine. STEM is our only hope, because it rejects the gnostic notion that knowledge cannot be known independent of the knowledge-keeper, …provided we don’t emasculate it altogether and just accept that it won’t be done in our countries any more.

  3. I’ m a freelance journalist who writes for publications at a major public university in the western U.S.

    A couple of years ago I interviewed two young women scientists, recent graduates, who had started an online community. The details escape me, but on the face it seemed like your basic professional organization.

    Near the interview, they began talking of “other ways of knowing” and I pressed them on what they meant. As with the above piece, they were talking about “indigenous knowledge.” They gave as an example speaking with local indigenous people when doing science in their “habitat” to gain a better understanding.

    Fair enough, I said. If a tribal elder said, “The rainy season is usually XXX,” fine. But what if the same elder said, “And we know we can say prayers to make it rain” — we would, presumably, not take this as gospel, and default to “another way of knowing,” i.e. science.

    In other words, I said, “other ways of knowing” are fine, but don’t we eventually have to rely on the scientific method to establish what’s true?

    That’s when they got irritated with me. One make a remark about my age and that I “just don’t understand” because I’m white and male and “old.”

    Scientists. Ph.Ds. Working in their fields. And this is their line.

    Wow.

    1. Reminds me of the joke:
      Q: How do we know alternative medicine doesn’t work?
      A: If it worked, we’d call it medicine.

    2. Because you are ‘pale’ and not a person of colour, and ‘stale’ and not a dewy eyed innocent, and ‘male’ and therefore a member of the patriarchy, your ​lifetime of lived experience doesn’t count.

      The automatic application of stereotypes sounds like racism, ageism and sexism to me, even if they are inverted.

    3. ‘One make a remark about my age and that I “just don’t understand” because I’m white and male and “old.”’

      A recommended reply: “You do hope to live to at least my age, don’t you?”

    4. This seems to be a world-wide phenomenon. The Fallists in South Africa, during their protests on university campuses, demanded curriculum change on the basis of ‘other ways of knowing’. It has to be pointed out that are no distinguishable ways to define an electron as ‘African’ or ‘European’. Something cannot be described as ‘colonialist’ or ‘euro-centric’ if the concept originated in Europe. Knowledge is the product of human mind!!

  4. This incident in New Zealand raises in my mind once again the question: why now? What are the historical conditions that have fertilized Wokeism in the western world? I don’t think we have an answer to this question. It may take decades for a satisfactory one to emerge. Right now, we can only speculate. There are at least two theories that I can think of. I’m sure there are many others.They contradict each other, but both place human dignity and self-esteem at their cores.

    The first theory is that the Woke see that their economic condition is not all that bad. They consider themselves financially secure enough that their attention can turn to other matters, particularly their need for cultural confirmation, which provides them with a sense of identity and self-esteem.

    The second theory is that the Woke feel economically marginalized. They see themselves as having little hope of economically rising in a world of great income inequality. Thus, they turn within themselves. If they cannot get economic equality, they can at least get cultural parity. And, as in the first theory, cultural confirmation provides them with a sense of identity and self-esteem.

    Of course, it is possible that some of the Woke become Woke because of the first theory and some for the second. As a student of history, one of my main areas of interest is to attempt to understand why people think and act as they do. Historians of the future will grapple with trying to understand the rise of Wokeism. I think they will find that it has something to do with the simultaneous rise of right-wing populism, especially in the United States. In any case, we live in very puzzling times. It is as if we are trying to complete a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is only half finished and we can’t figure out where the next piece goes.

    1. It seems to me that it does come from a sense of compassion and a perception of some injustice, but that in attempting to correct the cause, the emotion metastasizes into outrage, which justifies extreme responses.
      This needs to be called what it is – religion, which has no place in a science curriculum.

      1. Agree. The argument that skepticism of pseudoscientific claims “causes distress” and is therefore not just mean, but wrong, is virtually the same as the one which condemns outspoken atheism for offending religious sensibilities and fighting against God. In both cases we’re supposed to listen to the marginalized believer not to understand why they believe, but to accept their word as first being “true for them,” and then just being true.

        Science is a means of throwing out personal experience as the most reliable touchstone of reality. People have always hated that. I sometimes wonder if the current growth in what we’re calling “wokeism” might be partly due to the “watchdogs” — atheists and skeptics — splitting on how social Justice should impact how we evaluate claims. But I probably overestimate our effect.

    2. I’d say the answer to “why now” is “because liberal culture is now receptive to our arguments.”

      I don’t think this has much to do with wokeism, or even post-modernism, or heck even science itself except to use these things as a convenient vehicle for cultural transmission. I’d hypothesize that much like young earth creationists, the Maori see the newer generations not paying attention to their beliefs, not carrying them on, and they want those beliefs passed on. Science is something that garners a lot of interest and support, it’s seen as a critical pillar of society, and so they understand that if they can get their cultural knowledge added to the science class curriculum, that means almost everyone will be exposed to it, everyone will learn it – the next generation will know it. They don’t really care if it’s really science, that’s not the point. The point is to leverage the respect of science, the interest in science, for their own subject.

      My chance of influencing NZ educational curriculum is nil, but if I had that influence, I would propose to test my hypothesis in the way I outlined in comment 15: offer them their own classes. offer them their own departments. If they are really interested in respect and equality, they’ll happily take such a solution. It gives them far more depth into academia than a mere unit in a science course does. But that solution doesn’t let the subject force students who want to study science, study it also. So if the latter is what they want, they’ll reject the ‘our own whole department’ idea. A rejection would show they are more interested in using another subject’s popularity to promote their ideas than they are having their ideas treated academically equally.

      Which is kinda how it’s fallen out for creationists over here. They can’t teach it in science, but they can develop bible-as-literature electives. They just have to find enough student interest to justify the expense to the local Principle or school board. And that’s the point at which they typically fail – not enough student interest. They know “your own elective” won’t bring the crowds to them. They know they need the leverage being in a popular class provides. So they are dissatisfied with that option.

      1. I don’t think they’re trying to “use” science to get respect. Experience tells me that most people don’t understand what “science” means. They think it means individuals or groups testing things for themselves.

        1. I wish we can find out exactly what they mean and what they want to achieve, so we don’t have to guess. Maybe there is another more progressive way of achieving their purpose, albeit in a few generations. As far as I can see, the author of comment #4 is the only who mentions directly confronting similar people. Recently, there was a case of someone who said something like intellectual rigour being a white-male invention, implying that it was bad thing. I was dying for him to be asked if he used intellectual rigour to come to that conclusion or if it was just sloppy thinking.

          I have spoken to a slightly different breed of people who embrace religion as a form of national identity. They were not trying to push it into education but wanted other religions out or marginalized. Even though they thought that their religion was ‘a way of knowing’, having spoken to them, I think their core issue was just cultural insecurity. They were afraid.

      2. [Plausiblly] they are more interested in using another subject’s popularity to promote their ideas than they are having their ideas treated academically equally.

        The game-playing cuts both way. In NZ there is a Treaty settlement process, which aims to compensate Māori tribes (iwi) for some of the gross violations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (between them and the British colonisers), such as the illegal taking of land. Needless to say, the process is under the control of and heavily favours the interests of the NZ government. The monetary compensation for provably stolen land is just a few cents per dollar, which the Māori are required to accept as a “full and final settlement”. Neither side actually believes this is final, but it’s good enough to probably keep things stable for a generation or two: the current tribal leaders get millions of dollars to manage (under government control), and the government gets off cheap.

        So, since the Māori can only get a relative pittance in any case, ISTM they are being reasonable in trying extract such pittances wherever the opportunity arises. This fracas is one such opportunity. I am saddened by the disregard and disrespect for the values of science, but who you gonna call? Zeitgeist Busters?

        1. You call the promtion of unevidenced claims about the universe “reasonable”? Yes, lack of respect may be a motivation, but it is not an excuse, and I have to say that your using it as an excuse is unacceptable.

      3. Maori already have what you suggest. Students can go through kindergarten, primary, and secondary school at schools where all teaching is in the Maori language. All three are available in Auckland. There is also some availability of tertiary classes in Maori. However, only Maori language kindergartens are available everywhere. The number of Maori language kindergartens (kohanga reo) and primary and secondary schools (kura) is growing all the time though. Kura follow the same curriculum as English-speaking schools.

        It’s not true that the Maori always looked after their environment. The moa, for example, were hunted to extinction by the Maori before colonization.

        I think Jerry said the Maori arrived in a country empty of people 1300 years ago. It was less than that. They arrived around 1300 i.e. 700 ya.

        There are things the Maori discovered which are worthwhile noting. For example, like many peoples they had discovered how to navigate by the stars. There are other bits of real science they had worked out without any assistance from their colonizers too. That fact should be credited.

        But just because of their achievements in science, that obviously doesn’t mean everything the original Maori settlers thought was science should be taught as science alongside real science. When I went to school, Maori myths and legends were taught separately from science.

    3. I think it’s because wokism is a luxury item. You have to have run out of serious problems to come up with “microaggressions.”

    4. Both your ‘theories’ mention the need, of some people, for ‘cultural confirmation’. That suggests the existence of a people who feel culturally marginalized. This is the case for at least some Christians who want to push religion into the science classroom. They feel that their Christianity is fast becoming irrelevant.

      So it seems that the ‘historical conditions’ include the marginalization of some cultures. The problem is that subverting science education to seek ‘cultural confirmation’ is not the way to make progress.

      The phenomenon that we are talking about is happening now. How would you as a ‘student of history’ go about finding the ‘historical conditions’ that gave rise to it? How would you find out which of your ‘theories’ (or any other or any combination of them) is correct? The people who are trying to push religion into the science syllabus are alive and available for discussion. Well, I hope they are alive and available for discussion 🙂

    5. why now?

      Your reasons seem as plausible as any I can think of, though I would add, ‘follow the money.’

      With regard to NZ’s specific case…

      NZ is a small country many of whose citizens have lived or were born abroad, and subject to cultural hegemony, originally that of Britain, but increasingly since 1945 that of the US. In the late 19th century distinctively Maori religions with a Christian base and to some extent identifying Maoris with captive Jews developed. In the 1970s we had Polynesian Panthers, derived from the US, and Rastafarianism.

      At the same time, revisionist historians looked anew at our colonial history and undermined (not always accurately) the rather smug view we had of colonial progress and our harmonious race relations, all this well before the current woke fad. Since then, published, sometimes quite one-sided, reports from a quasi-judicial and politicised tribunal of investigations into damage done by previous colonial practices have raised public awareness and guilt.

      Computing power and the internet in the last two decades have given us much more accessible and detailed statistics of Maoris as an economic underclass which, combined with NZ’s government-welfare tradition and the naivety of newspaper reporters and a growing number of Maori academics in interpreting multivariate statistics, has led to both guilt (systemic racism, obviously!) and the feeling of Maori Wonderfulness vs Colonial Awfulness, about which Something Must Be Done.

      This feeling has taken over education and government bureaucracies – those who don’t openly support contemporary orthodoxy should reduce their career expectations or work for private organisations. In recent years, a left-wing government with a powerful Maori caucus has developed policies supporting Maori separatism in the public health system, continues to pump money into promoting Maori language (variously estimated at between 200-600 million dollars a year) though spoken by only 3-5% of the population, promotes, through a bought-and-paid-for media, a questionable interpretation of our history and disputable, undemocratic practices which reward Maori tribalism. Anyone who queries this or stands up for colourblind enlightenment values can expect to be labelled a racist.

    6. I believe that the “Maori science” that is being talked about can be summarised in a Dominion Museum booklet (57 pages) entitled “Spritual and mental concepts of the Maori” by Elsdon Best. Much of this work is devoted to witchcraft.

  5. This looks like an attempt to force religion into science.

    Those who signed the letter are either completely ignorant of science (which I don’t believe), or are flaunting their virtue.

    Either way, I think someone has to corner these people into explaining what precisely they mean by statements like

    Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including Mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with “Western” understandings of the scientific method.

    and

    However, Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to “Western” science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems.

    Taking these statements as sincere, if there are indigenous, scientific methods of investigation, then they can be published. They can become part of science in general and not an ‘ethnic science’, which is a bit silly. If there is nothing of scientific value, then they can be dismissed from consideration.

  6. “Indigenous knowledges – in this case, Mātauranga – are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including Mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with “Western” understandings of the scientific method.”

    This is an odd argument. It is basically saying that indigenous knowledge is valid because sometimes it matches scientific knowledge. Ok but indigenous knowledge that disagrees with scientific knowledge is obviously the real issue.

  7. NZ wasn’t empty when the Maori got there. There were the Moriori….the Maori killed most of them but some are still around.

    1. I think it was empty.
      The Moriori were descendants of Maori who left N.Z and settled the Chatham Islands, where they became a pacifist society. When some Maori arrived some centuries later they slaughtered some and enslaved the rest.

      Of course there might be some other ways of knowing history now. .

      1. Indeed – the myth of the pre-existing Moriori was debunked decades ago. The Chatham Island were however attacked and nearly decimated in the 1830s by Maori displaced by the “musket wars” in the rest of NZ – they got there on a European ship.

    2. Well, no, it wasn’t. It was Moa-land – several species, if I recall correctly – together with other species most wonderful. Now, did the Maori other way of knowing lead them to live sustainably with the Moa? No, it damned well didn’t! Because these birds were so unused to H. sapiens they were such easy prey the Maori wiped them all out, and the Harst eagles which had co-evolved to prey on the moas – sustainably. Our civilisation is currently working on the sixth great extinction but, at least, our “colonising, and racist” science is telling us where we are going wrong and suggesting ways to limit the damage. I’ll take that science over any other way of knowing anytime because of the results it has achieved. .

      1. Eating a big moa leg for dinner! Also Rapa Nui was pretty much deforested by whomever was there before they left.

        1. I saw a comic recently which featured Superman fighting a large moa – which had suddenly evolved the ability to fly and very large talons (it was dispayed in the Whanganui museum).

      2. One traditional way of living in balance with nature is not growing to too big numbers by regularly being decimated by famine and disease.

  8. We are right to point out that this is another instance of Faith versus Fact (hats off to our host). Just as “intelligent design” is really creationism, so too is “indigenous ways of knowing” really magical thinking.
    I wonder if I would have the cojones to stand up to similar accusations that I have “inherent privilege” by responding, “Yes, I have privilege, not because I’m white, but because I’m right.” I’m just trying to anticipate and be ready for the time when I might be accused of being a racist. 🤔

  9. “… colonized an empty New Zealand about 1300 years ago”

    If Wikipedia is to be believed, that should be “about 700 years ago”.

  10. Yeah, if the enterprise or institution I was part of took notice of my views, and said that they didn’t agree with them, I would be concerned for my continued association with them.

    This is perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle of woo and woke. Obviously, we have the championing of non-whites against Western civilization, but we also have the injection of relativism into the curricula. This is of a piece with the general assault on Western civilization by the anti-racists. All of those woo beliefs confuse and undermine things like Western Science.

    1. This is a mirror-image on the left of what we have been seeing on the right — where, in an effort to bolster their status, certain people are passionately arguing that (to quote Isaac Asimov): “My ignorance is as good as your knowledge.”

      1. Yes, much of what is going on in the world today is best understood as an attempt by the stupid and ignorant to halt their centuries-long oppression by the smart and knowledgeable.

        1. Paul, this is absolutely, positively the case! The “C” students have finally grown tired of being belittled for their backward and/or uniformed opinions, and they are now rising up to claim that their opinions and unsupported “facts” are actually better than those of the folks whose facts and opinions are derived from years of arduous investigation and study.

          Unfortunately, ignorance is easy while knowledge takes work to acquire. Similarly, while “ignorance is bliss,” knowledge can be unsettling when you inevitably learn that some of the facts and opinions you had previously held are wrong. This is why ignorance is so stubborn and pervasive, and why the proponents of knowledge have to continually struggle to beat back the recurring tide of ignorance. This has been a huge problem all throughout human history.

  11. A few months ago I saw something similar, but not as egregious, in Scientific American in an article written by Dr. Jennifer Raff. I am going to plagiarize me-self and paste in the comment I made on this site:

    ….the May, 2021 issue of Scientific American contained an article about the peopling of the American continents. Its author is Dr. Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Kansas. Early on, the article states:

    “In their journey into the Americas, the ancestors of present-day Indigenous peoples overcame extraordinary challenges……

    There are many perspectives that aim to explain these events. Indigenous peoples have numerous oral histories of their origins. Passed down from one generation to the next, such traditional knowledge conveys important lessons about the emergence of each group’s identity as a people and their relationship with their lands and nonhuman relatives. Some of these histories include migration from another place as part of their origins; others do not. The framework that most Western scientists use in understanding the history of population movements is different. This article will focus on their models for the peopling of the Americas, while respecting and acknowledging that these models stand alongside diverse and ancient oral histories with which they may or may not be congruent.”

    Those last 2 sentences struck me: Is Dr. Raff essentially saying that what science uncovers is to be treated as no more factual than personal truth or myth? Had these people been Christian fundamentalist, Would she have been as solicitous? It’s also interesting that no mention is made of the extinctions that followed the arrival of homo sapiens to the Americas, and related effects. Instead, there is a tone of romanticization.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/genomes-reveal-humanitys-journey-into-the-americas/

  12. I would like to see airplanes, computers or MRI designed and constructed using only “other ways of knowing”. Even for boats, how many of these denfenders of Maori’s science would prefer a modern boat to a traditional boat to travel to, for example, USA?

  13. “Other ways of knowing” is a dangerous slogan. There are no ways of knowing other than science that have stood the test of time. “Other ways of knowing” will not help us fight COVID-19, climate change, or cancer. I take pride in the letter that those scientists wrote. It is respectful, but firm. They will win out in the end. I hope it doesn’t ruin their careers in the meantime.

    1. I came here to say this. There seriously aren’t other ways of knowing, if knowing means “having a correct understanding about the world”.

      There are other ways of believing though and that’s the problem. Many people see their beliefs as part of their core self or culture which makes it hard to refute “other ways of knowing” without offending their proponents – sometimes deeply.

      1. This means that people stick ‘scientific’ in front of words they want to hijack. I asked a believer how she would know if what she believed were false. The question was at first rejected on the grounds of falling within the narrow confines of ‘scientific thinking’. Science is about ‘scientific truth’ because she badly wanted to use the word ‘true’ for the rubbish that she believed. All this seems like a way people invented to feel good about themselves. The anxiety that people feel when the myths of their culture are exposed as nonsensical or false is something with which I cannot identify. So I have to learn by observing other people. I came across an article a Christian student wrote about her ‘minor existential crisis’ when she realized the arbitrary nature of ‘organized religion’. Maybe she finds spirituality less arbitrary? When she is down, she imagines herself ‘as a little bird cupped in God’s hands’ 🙂 She mentions Bart Ehrman, a historian of theology at UNC, who I think teaches the Christian bible from a historian’s point of view — a bit rough if you were brought up thinking it is God’s word.

        The questions that science and history deal with are deeply personal issues to some people. But providing psychological support is not the responsibility of scientists and historians.

  14. They’re looking for respect, I say give it to them.

    “We believe that this proposal devalues the importance of Maori culture and Matauranga, as it simply makes it a unit within science courses. That is not good enough. That does not show mana. That does not give it equal status, it relegates it to a subsidiary role.

    We believe, instead, that Matauranga should have it’s own course or courses in high school and it’s own departments within our universities. Only this will provide students with the sufficient course depth and exposure they need to learn matauranga practices (like laboratory practices are taught for science) alongside matauranga concepts and knowledge, from professors who are matauranga experts rather than scientists ordered to cover the material.

    Equality will only be achieved when a student can proudly graduate with a degree in matauranga, taught by matuaranga teachers, with no need to take a science course if they choose not to. Graduating with a degree in science having been exposed to matauranga ways of knowing, taught by scientists rather than matauranga users, as part of a science degree, is not equal.”

    🙂

    1. And then the graduate with the matauranga degree can have it out with the science graduate, in the same way that MMA and Jiu Jitsu practitioners have it out with those who “practice” no-touch knockouts and other bullshido. https://youtu.be/V33bWVkZTdw

    2. A brilliant proposal, Eric. It remains only to create specific degrees in Matauranga medicine, Matauranga dentistry, Matauranga computer science, Matauranga civil engineering, Matauranga mechanical engineering, and so on. Then, the market place will sort out the contributions of bridges constructed along Matauranga principles and those constructed by means of colonialist white principles such as physics, dentistry conducted with incantations and conducted with novocaine, etc. etc.

      Here is another answer to the question posed by Historian in #5. The attitudes in question have not arrived suddenly, but have been building in academia for 50 years: the line that science is just another story among many has been a conventional affectation* of postmodernists in their various departments. Maybe it just took this long for the constant repetition of this pose to effect a cultural phase change—helped, no doubt, by its amalgamation with the poses of “anti-racism” and safetyism.

      [* It was always transparently a mere affectation: academic mouthpieces of postmodernism generally
      consulted real dentists, rather than spiritualist quacks, when they had toothaches. One might also inquire where Vice-Chancellor Freshwater goes for her dental work. ]

  15. Supposedly these traditional ways of knowing (and not merely technologic primitiveness) allowed indigenous peoples to live in harmony with Nature and practice a sustainable lifestyle. (Not true, but truth doesn’t matter.). Adopting these ways of knowing will cure climate change and so we must adopt them, no questions asked. Extinction Rebellion is the iron fist of this belief system.

  16. Dr. Coyne, in your post about invasive species three days ago, why did you refer to science using the term ‘Western science’?

    1. You keep asking me this. My only reply is that science as we know it developed largely in the West beginning in the 16th century. It was not meant to imply that there is a specifically “western” form of science. nor that other areas didn’t contribute to the rise of modern science.

      1. But then your assertion that ‘science as we know it…16th century’ either implies that:
        1. What the Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Arabs, Indians, and Chineses did weren’t science. What they did were at best only protoscience.

        or implies that
        2. The scientific revolution in the 16th century Europe gave rise to the New Science of today, replacing the Old Science done by the Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Arabs, Indians, and Chineses. In other words, there is a discontinuity in the history of science.

        I reject both of these two claims. The first claim involves a definition of ‘science’ that I don’t accept. The second claim is untenable in face of the facts that both Copernicus and Newton, although their ideas profoundly changed the worldview of people at the time, stood on the shoulders of their predecessors in order to develop their ideas.

        1. The way words and history work is that, once you settle on a definition of “science”, it automatically creates a dividing line between “science” and whatever you want to call “not science”. I don’t think this is worth the importance you seem to attach to it.

        2. To me, calling anything “Western” is simply a shorthand for denoting it as something worth defending against those who think that it has to be evil just because it is practised or popularized by people with white mostly European ancestry. Don’t know what our host thinks, but I’m perfectly happy calling it white-supremacy science (or law, or medicine, or music) if that’s what our detractors want to call it. I’m also thrilled that scientists, surgeons, and pianists in China and India strive for ground-breaking excellence in those white-supremacy disciplines. Does that work for you?

        3. Agreeing with Paul. The kind of gotcha word game being played here is a waste of time. Our host has frequently explained his understanding of “science broadly construed” as the ways that many people including ecologists, physicians, and car mechanics use a combination of observation, experiment, prior knowledge, and theory to understand how ecosystems work, why my back hurts, or why my car won’t start. This is scientific. Adding “western” gives historical and cultural context, but is not a meaningful part of any definition.

          1. “Adding “western” gives historical and cultural context, but is not a meaningful part of any definition.”

            I agree (though I don’t think that the historical and cultural context of the scientific revolution is enough to justify using the term ‘Western science’) and this means that Dr. Coyne using the term ‘Western science’ to refer to science is unnecessary and potentially misleading (his use of the term can cause some of his readers to attribute to him some beliefs that he don’t hold).

        4. Well, la-dee-da. I am implying #1 and referring to science as organized science. You can reject that if you want, but I told you what I meant. I suspected that you were spoiling for a fight, but you’re not going to get one. I think there’s a meaningful distinction between “protoscience,” which did not evolve into institutional science, and organized science. For crying out loud, our ancient ancestors were doing your definition of “science” when they tracked animals.

          Your handle is appropriate!

        5. The first claim involves a definition of ‘science’ that I don’t accept.

          What is your definition of science then? Because to me, with a few notable exceptions, what we call science really did start in Europe (which is in the West of the World known to most of the Earth’s population the time) in the 16th and 17th centuries.

          Take Aristotle’s philosophy which dominated European thinking until the enlightenment began. It’s pretty much all wrong and if he had bothered to do any experiments, he would have known that.

          The second claim is untenable in face of the facts that both Copernicus and Newton, although their ideas profoundly changed the worldview of people at the time, stood on the shoulders of their predecessors in order to develop their ideas.

          That doesn’t mean their predecessors were doing proper science as we know it. In fact, I would argue that Copernicus was not doing science. His model of the Universe was actually not as good as the Ptolemaic model at predicting the motions of the stars and planets. In fact, because he constrained his model to include only motion in perfect circles, it was also more complex than the Ptolemaic model. It was Kepler who made the more profound scientific discovery in my view i.e. that the planets move in ellipses not circles and he did it by observing the motion of Mars. He couldn’t have done it without Copernicus, but that doesn’t make Copernicus a scientist.

          Edit: I’ll tack on a bit more since I have some edit time left.

          Chemistry (a science) grew out of alchemy – not a science. Astronomy (a science) grew out of astrology – not a science.

        6. I think the context of the post is important – what might be botany? Plant biology for sure – ecosystems – without my reading up on it, my impression is that the lineage generally is from European scientific expeditions. Linnaeus, The Beagle, and such.

          In contrast to mathematics, which I know has good documentation going back millennia to a wide range of geographies.

  17. “the two forms of “knowledge” will be taught to 16-18 years old”

    There it is, the fraud of the whole thing. They aren’t putting it into their medicine and biology and chemistry programs at the university – for the obvious reason that it is not “real” science after all. They just want to slip it into the “intro to science” classes in high schools, so they can say they covered it.

    1. IMHO, the strongest arguments against these ideas are economic ones. Do parents think that teaching their kids this crap is going to be good for their kid’s future job prospects or for NZ’s economy generally? Such arguments would be very hard to make.

      1. Armed insurrections require a ready pool of poorly educated young men with no chance of success in the dominant economy and of little interest to women worried about what kind of fathers they will make. These men have little disincentive to join an insurrection that promises relief from boredom and uselessness. In NZ, motorcycle gang members, mostly Maori, outnumber the Army. Is it any wonder that tribal activists might not want their members to do well in the NZ economy?

  18. If you insist that your “way of knowing” is perfect as is, and is beyond criticism, and cannot benefit from comparisons and exchange with other ways, you risk creating a “way of ignorance”. And that is true no matter whether you claim to be scientific, traditional, or whatnot.

      1. I had missed it, thanks! A fine letter indeed.

        Incidentally, I had thought that only one was to be expelled, whereas Jerry now says two. In fact there were three FRSNZ’s on the original letter, so now I wonder why only two?

        I fear also that sending these letters is whistling past the graveyard, but who knows? At least they make us feel good.

          1. I am truly sorry to hear that, and I guess in hindsight that my use of “whistling past the graveyard” was regrettable. At least they will not cancel him as they are Huxley.

  19. I don’t buy the angle that resistance to matauranga as science is racist. I think Wikipedia is more accurate: “The prejudice against matauranga as science derives from historical attitudes and concepts of Enlightenment science.” In other words, the Maori’s real crime is that they put The Force before Descartes.

    1. [T]hey put The Force before Descartes.

      That is the best bon mot I’ve encountered in years. I will be using it. Would you like attribution?

      And do you have any others?

  20. The published letters and responses in NZ by Maori supporters seem to mistake “science as a body of knowledge” with “science as a way of discovering what’s true.” The Maori body of knowledge is legit as cultural tradition, but the Maori way of discovering what’s true is just no longer active. What Maori person is actively trying to discover new Maori knowledge? None I guess. Seems like a useful distinction?

    1. I underscore what you wrote, Mike, and want to expand it a bit. I would qualify the definition of science to say that it’s a “body of reliable knowledge,” which body includes the methodology (the scientific method) for transforming the body of knowledge in the face of the unknown. Thus, as you pointed out, not only have the indigenous failed to discover new knowledge, their traditional body of knowledge has been rendered unreliable.

    2. @StephenB sure that’s fair. I went too far: there are lots of Maori scientists, but they’re using scientific methods. Nobody is still trying to add to the Maori body of knowledge using Maori methods, in the same way that nobody is still trying to transmute lead into gold. The Maori knowledge is still with us, but the Maori method has been supplanted in the same way that alchemy has.

      This is maybe the biggest gap in the argument for indigenization of science curriculums. Everyone wants to talk about indigenous knowledge, but nobody wants to talk about indigenous methods.

  21. If western science is a literal gun that murdered Maori, why do they wish to be a part of such an immoral undertaking? The fact that they wish to have their mythology and folklore be redefined as “science” means they have accepted the colonialists’ definitions of what types of knowledge have status and which are to be relegated to lower prestige. Only someone who deeply admires western science wants to see their ideas reflected in the glory of western standards of value by being called Science. Why can’t their traditional heritage be respected on its own merits, instead of insisting on redefining science?

    1. “Why can’t their traditional heritage be respected on its own merits, instead of insisting on redefining science?”

      It’s all in the postmodern aim of bending reality to one’s will.

      See also Humpty Dumpty’s reply to Alice: “The question is… which is to be master—that’s all.”

  22. “Western science”, while perhaps historically accurate, is an unfortunate choice of phrase in these times. It’s almost as poor a choice as “colonial science” would be. How about just “science”? Anything that calls itself “science” that isn’t needs to be countered. The only Maori science worth talking about is when someone with Maori heritage takes a proper science class.

  23. To understand to some degree why? (I’m not defending Matauranga vs modern science) is to some part due to the struggle to preserve a culture being overrun. They can’t keep up. That said, the racist card has become a standard line for all perceived infractions against indigenous cultures and is wearing a bit thin. At best Matauranga promotes folk science/medicines adequate in some circumstances but I would not stake my life on it… my late father was Maori.
    The ground argument is covered by the Prof and in the comments but this is something I grapple with. A culture that is immersed in the “west” and peering out from the sides. As time goes on Maori (and most indigenous cultures) will have no choice but to preserve elements (language, stories, dance, art) of their culture whilst moving on.

    1. It seems to me that the way through this is to teach the facts of creation myths being made by all cultures. Then highlight the Maori one(s), then point out that just as European ideas of creation have been replaced by discoveries in evolution and DNA etc, so too we can now see how Maori myths and legends sit proudly alongside other responses to existence.

      But then, using the process of science, here is the truth as we understand it today. Maybe you will make further discoveries, but now, this is what is true and supported by evidence.

      I have had this conversation myself with a young Maori student, who believed that our country was fished up out of the sea as per Maori creation myth. When I pointed out that this did not, in fact happen, she was unhappy that she had been lied to by her previous Maori “immersion” school.

      It’s really not doing Maori kids, who are already behind, any favours to foist creationism and “other ways of knowing” on them too in a global knowledge market.

      Now this is not to say that knowledge about the properties of plants and the behaviour of animals is to be discarded, it can provide a starting point for scientific investigation of hearsay evidence.

      The upcoming Matariki public holiday provides an opportunity for both Maori and scientific appreciations to be celebrated. BUT I really hope that Maori scientists themselves will come out and say that phrases like:

      “It is within both Rehua and Matariki that knowledge of wellbeing and medicine exists, and both have the power to heal. Together Rehua and Matariki produced the other whetu in the cluster, each with its own unique purpose and meaning.”

      Are put in their correct scientific perspective. The Pleiades are not really doing these things, that would be astrology, not astronomy !

      https://www.tamakimaorivillage.co.nz/blog/the-nine-stars-of-matariki/

    2. I sympathise with the desire to maintain indigenous cultures (and languages), but no culture is static. While it’s important to preserve continuity with the past, indigenous cultures will never return to their pre-contact state. What I like about NZ when I visit is how visible Maori language and culture are nowadays, compared to what my older Kiwi friends told me it was like when they were growing up. I think the move to incorporate matauranga into the curriculum is part of this, but equating it with science will more likely end up backfiring.

  24. “Two of Professor Cooper’s academic colleagues, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Shaun Hendy, issued an ‘open letter’ condemning the heretics for causing ‘untold harm and hurt’.”

    If it is not just empty rhetoric then someone independent should quantify just how much harm and hurt was caused. But that would be a rational enquiry into an emotional claim….

  25. This is happening in Canada to some extent as well. I haven’t seen the suggestion that these “ways of knowing” be taught in science classes yet but I suspect that is just around the corner. We treated the aboriginal population in Canada horribly in the past and the current government is trying to make up for some of that by including the First Nations in more decision making. However, when you have discussions with some of these communities about topics that involve science the issue of traditional knowledge usually comes up. I have attended “virtually” a couple of recent conferences about science-based topics and there has been acknowledgments that “other ways of knowing” are equivalent to “western science”. If you question this premise in any way you are deemed intolerant or racist.

    1. The regulatory process for pipelines, (what Canadians fondly know as the No More Pipelines Act) provides for affected Indigenous groups to make submissions to the review board using traditional knowledge about environmental, cultural, and spiritual impacts. These TK submissions can be made in secret, are not discoverable or refutable by other stakeholders, and indeed even the fact that a TK submission has been made at all need not be disclosed. The process for weighing TK against other criteria is not transparent. I suppose, after you, that the board merely wants to protect those other stakeholders from the accusations of intolerance and racism, and the threat of cancellation from their day jobs, that would greet any interrogation of the TK claims.

  26. ‘However, Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to “Western” science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems.’

    Here, as elsewhere, I would ask for specific examples of ways in which Mātaurangai is superior to western science, or how, given a disparity, they would determine which one is actually correct (if either).

    I’m still waiting for an example of racist mathematics. One example, debatable, refutable. Just one. That’s all I ask. I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Lee, RE ‘racist mathematics’: In NZ we are told the maths is racist when the maths teaching is aimed at the individual student. We are told that Maori are disadvantaged by this because their culture is based on the collective not the individual. So on this Maori approach to teaching maths, a class of young children does not progress to the next lesson until all members of the group are ready to progress to the next lesson. What about the ones who are studious or gifted and who are chaffing for more? They must pull up their classmates if they want to move on to the next lesson. There is material on the web about this. There’s an implicit assumption (new in NZ) that no one likes maths, not even the maths teachers. And there’s a loss of any concept of simply loving a subject for its own sake, and wanting to master it. Even within the universities this is under some threat.

  27. In addition to asking for examples, I would love for one of the proponents of the parity of science and mythology to describe (not just define) what science actually is. My belief is that many people are coming through systems of higher education with an understanding of what science is that is no more than myth, and a Dunning-Kruger level of conviction that they understand science better than those who actually practice it. And that a “postmodern” education is an expensive but lazy path to fake scholarly credentials.

  28. I’ll keep this short. All it proves is the veracity of Molière’s point that there is no fool like an educated fool. Another observation – one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ signatories, Professor Cooper, I believe has a Māori background. No doubt in the minds of the Royal Society Star Chamber, while by definition he can’t quite be racist, he is manifesting deeply worrying false consciousness. I sincerely hope the Royal Society comes to its senses and shows just an iota of intellectual respect towards its signatory members. If it doesn’t and censures or expels them, then steps should be taken to remove its ‘Royal’ honorific.

  29. There was discussion of a word for “woke” – now we need it. I suggested one on the counterpart post to this (so far) :

    “The Elect’s religion”

    That uses McWhorter’s “The Elect” and simply avoids giving “woke” a new name. I think it is clear. Perhaps McWhorter already used that in Woke Racism or I missed it on the other discussion.

  30. Hi Dr Coyne, long-time reader.

    It’s often asked of creationists:

    “How can you accept the fruits of science when it comes to the Haber-Bosch process, or aircraft engine design, but then reject the trustworthiness of palaeontologists, geneticists, etc.”

    One response from the creationist side has been:

    “Not all science is equal: scientific rigour is at its weakest when it threatens the momentum of progressive politics and ethics. Christian creationist accounts of human origin are seen to be a threat, so therefore we can expect scared groupthink operating strongly.”

    Doesn’t the complete victory of wokism in professional biology societies and incidents like the one you describe here this seem to confirm this description?

    Maori creationism is seen as consonant with progressivism, and so therefore you get these panicked, fearful incidents.

    1. Addendum: in my previous comment, read “scientific rigour” as “scientific rigour per accidens in mainstream scientific institutions”.

  31. If “other ways of knowing” gave you the same understanding of the laws of nature that science did, you would be able to make the same incredible technology, but you can’t.

  32. Good on Dawkins too!

    Naturally I wrote Roger Ridley on the matter of the infamy.

    Secondary science teachers may believe that teaching science through the scientific method aligns with tertiary science education, making a strong rationale for them to reject the proposed changes. But this belief is flawed on two grounds: first, since contemporary philosophy of science accepts that there is no one ‘scientific method’ (Okasha, 2016); …

    … We argue that the introduction of carefully selected Māori concepts in NCEA Science is a positive move. It challenges deeply-held teacher assumptions about science and Māori knowledge, and encourages science teachers to consider the philosophy of science in more depth.

    I have noted before how religion used “natural philosophy” after science became mature as a vehicle to inject uncertainty into understanding of science, and how “the philosophy of science” continues to be a superstitious means to do the same. The naive science of philosophy is that philosophy seem to embody empirically empty superstition (c.f. such ideas as “qualia”) and not another “way of knowing”. As the meme goes: “Kill it with fire!”

      1. I wrote to Paul Atkins and got a reply (auto-response, presumably) from Roger Ridley who is now Director Expert Advice and Practice.
        The pile-on from other scientists and physicians makes me worry that the fix is in.

  33. So we have degenerated to replacing science with “beliefs” because those pushing a Maori Mythology view of all things ! I guess we will be replacing all the modern scientifically developed things we have in the modern world with mythology now ! Dreamers !

    By all means tell mythological stories, all ancient societies have them all societies globally, just don’t be dumb enough to replace fact with fiction people !

  34. I got a reply from Roger Ridley to my e-mail (which I had addressed to Peter Atkins) stating that the Royal Society as a professional organization is obligated to investigate complaints about its Members that originate from other Members or from the general public.

    Presumably everyone else did, too. Just wanted to point out that this would be consistent with the policy of our own provincial and territorial self-regulatory Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons which grant our licences to practise.

  35. I wish people would actually take the time to understand that “woke” was a term that was coined in the Black community as a sarcastic (and quite frankly, polite) way of speaking about people who were not as well-learned as they themselves thought. A term steeped in sarcasm has sense been adapted by non-Black people to identify and belittle people who simply make points that you don’t like or agree with. It’s not the same. Not only that but because the word has been adapted by the conservative American majority it almost always refers to a specific kind of liberal idealist that endeavors to include different cultures and beliefs. Lastly, as a scientist I become more aware daily that just as mythology contains some truth, science contains some lies. We should endeavor to give people both because if we do not, they will make their own “discoveries” and conspiracies which is how “woke” individuals are created anyway.

    1. I wish people who comment here for the first time would familiarize themselves with the content before they come charging in like a Pamplona bull to “educate” us. The fact is that we already all know this, have discussed the transformation of the word “woke” (which parallels that of the phrase “politically correct”), and have discussed and failed to find a substitute. By the way, the readership here is mostly on the Left and uses “woke” anyway.

      As for your assertion that science contains some lies, you’re apparently referring to Mautarangi Maori containing some “truths”, i.e., practical knowledge, like how to trap eels and when to pick berries. That doesn’t give MM a warrant to be taught coequal to modern science in the science class, which happens to be the subject of this post. I wonder what “lies” you think are being deliberately taught as science and should be exposed.

      At any rate, your comment is uninformed. Read a website before you go trying to “educate” its readers.

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