The “teach Maori other ways of knowing in science class” fracas continues; Richard Dawkins weighs in

December 4, 2021 • 12:00 pm

As I wrote yesterday, a big woke fracas is brewing in New Zealand, with the universities and government on the side of the woke, and the science professors (by and large) on the side of the angels. Since my piece appeared, I’ve gotten half a dozen emails from academics in New Zealand, objecting to the University of Auckland’s new policy to teach Maori “ways of knowing”, which include creationism, alongside modern “real” science—and in science class!  This all started last summer, and is still going on.

This notion of “different but equal ways of knowing” is palpably ridiculous, and while I don’t want to denigrate the Maori people or the efforts that both Maori and New Zealanders are making to achieve harmony, I cannot abide the insistence that Maori “wisdom,” which is a combination of mythology, religion, and questionable assertions about the Universe, to be taught as scientific truth. As the saying goes, “You are entitled to your opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Clearly, this drive to incorporate indigenous beliefs into the science curriculum is part of an effort of the government and universities to placate and make reparations to the Maori, who were badly treated by European colonists. I applaud the drive for comity, but I deplore those who want to replace modern science with a melange of myths and faith. Yes, “indigenous knowledge” can be valuable, but its claims must always be tested using modern science.

The misguided effort to teach Maori indigenous knowledge as coequal with science will not only confuse the Maori (and everyone else!), but disadvantage those who embrace indigenous ways of knowing. Suppose, for example, that a Maori teenager wants to be a physicist. Well, there are no positions for “physicists doing Maori string theory”; there are only positions for physicists. There is no Maori physics or American physics or Indian physics, there is just “modern physics”.

I also wrote yesterday that seven academics from the University of Auckland wrote a short piece in The Listener (read it here), objecting to the insertion of Maori Matauranga (ways of knowing) into science curricula. Instead of their fellow academics defending them, the “Satanic Seven,” as I call them, have been demonized. Their jobs have been threatened, the Vice Chancellor of Auckland University has said the seven don’t adhere to the University’s “values,” and two of them are being threatened with expulsion from New Zealand’s Royal Society.

Here’s the message that Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater sent to the University of Auckland community, noting the equivalence of Maori and scientific “ways of knowing” and—playing the ultimate trump card—claiming that denying that Maori “ways of knowing” constitute science has “caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.” I hate to be brutal here, but that hurt and dismay counts for nothing in this debate. The issue is about what is true, what is not true, and how to find the truth. (Click to enlarge).

This antiscience drive, in the service of good intentions but deeply misguided, must be stopped. If you want to see what Kiwi scientists are up against, read this piece (click on the screenshot):

Here’s just a bit:

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); and second, because tertiary science educators are also under pressure to introduce Māori knowledge into their curricula, and may well expect their secondary school colleagues to share this responsibility. The next section considers how science teachers could respond to the challenge represented by these changes in relation to each of the three Māori concepts in the titles shown above.

. . . . 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. On its own, such a change cannot overcome the entire history of lack of Māori participation and achievement in science education, but it is an innovative and interesting way to bring Māori concepts into school science. Arguably it does so in a more meaningful way than ‘translating’ science into Māori, which means the invention of a pressure-cooked lexicon (Stewart, 2011).

There’s a lot more, and I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that a lot of involves forcing Maori concepts into the Procrustean bed of modern science through selective interpretation. (One also sees this in the ways some Muslims claim that the Qur’an anticipates all of modern science.) It is a mess.  Maori anthropology and sociology should of course be taught to all Kiwis, for the colonial and Maori cultures are trying to effect rapprochement, and Maori culture is very deeply embedded in “colonial” culture. But there should be no compromise when it comes to teaching science.

One way to stop this insidious debasement of science is for the international community to call out New Zealand for what it’s doing. That is the route Richard Dawkins has taken, and more power to him. First he issued this tweet after he read my piece from yesterday:

And yes, write to Roger Ridley at the NZ Royal Society (he’s the chief executive) objecting to its contemplation of ejecting two scientists who signed this reasonable letter. Richard gives the email above, and I put up the letter I wrote to Ridley yesterday (bottom of post). I urge you to drop just a short email in defense of science, for I think it will have an effect.

Richard has also written to Ridley directly, and has given me permission to reproduce his email. Here it is:

Dear Dr Ridley:

I have read Professor Jerry Coyne’s long, detailed and fair-minded critique of the ludicrous move to incorporate Maori “ways of knowing” into science curricula in New Zealand, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what your Society exists to do.

The world is full of thousands of creation myths and other colourful legends, any of which might be taught alongside Maori myths. Why choose Maori myths? For no better reason than that Maoris arrived in New Zealand a few centuries before Europeans. That would be a good reason to teach Maori mythology in anthropology classes. Arguably there’s even better reason for Australian schools to teach the myths of their indigenous peoples, who arrived tens of thousands of years before Europeans. Or for British schools to teach Celtic myths. Or Anglo-Saxon myths. But no indigenous myths from anywhere in the world, no matter how poetic or hauntingly beautiful, belong in science classes. Science classes are emphatically not the place to teach scientific falsehoods alongside true science. Creationism is still bollocks even it is indigenous bollocks.

The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence-based not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to supplement and validate fallible senses etc. True science works: lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed Moas.

If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country who will? What else is the Society for? What else is the rationale for its existence?

Yours very sincerely
Richard Dawkins FRS
Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford


74 thoughts on “The “teach Maori other ways of knowing in science class” fracas continues; Richard Dawkins weighs in

  1. Suppose, for example, that a Maori teenager wants to be a physicist. Well, there are no positions for “physicists doing Maori string theory”; there are only positions for physicists.

    Give them a few more months …

  2. I just sent Dr. Ridley this email:

    “Dear Dr Ridley:

    I live in Texas and there has been a history of teaching, and attempting to teach, creationism in its schools. The creationism taught in Texas mostly aligns with the creation stories in the Bible’s book of Genesis.

    My questions: 1) Will your schools also be teaching Genesis? 2) If creationists in Texas begin to cite New Zealand as an example, should teachers cede to their demands of teaching Genisis? 3) If not, What would entail the basis of your argument against teaching Genesis?


    1. Back when there was a big push to teach Creationism (aka ‘Intelligent Design’.) in school classrooms one of the strongest arguments raised against it was that you would have to teach every other cultures mythology as science as well.

      I hope you are able to post whatever reply you get.

  3. Can modern science be given the appellation ‘universal science’ and for those who want to indulge in a particular ‘way of knowing’ their ‘science’ be termed an ‘ethnic way of knowing’ and as such be an obvious mythology.

  4. Dawkins: “Arguably there’s even better reason for Australian schools to teach the myths of their indigenous peoples, who arrived tens of thousands of years before Europeans. Or for British schools to teach Celtic myths.”

    So suppose these indigenous “ways of knowing” were indeed as equally valid as science. In addition to teaching Maori myths to Maori kids and Celtic myths to Scottish schoolchildren, wouldn’t it follow that we should also teach Maori myths to Scottish kids and Kenyans and the Dutch? And Kenyan myths to the Maori kids, etc? Just as we teach science worldwide.

    After all, these are valuable and valid sources of knowledge, aren’t they? Or does the knowing-ness and the truthiness of the “knowledge” depend on who one’s great-grandparents were?

  5. I sent the following email:

    equivalence of Maori and scientific “ways of knowing”

    Dear Dr Ridley,

    I agree with Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins on this matter.

    Please support science.

    Steven Jones

  6. I would think the best argument against this kind of thinking is the idea that there are no jobs that require knowledge of “Maori Physics” (except perhaps to teach it). The scientific method requires the goal to be a single body of knowledge, not one for Maori, one for Mandarin, etc.

    That said, the ideas seem so silly that I doubt any logical argument will make a dent in their belief system. It means that they’ll need to fail to realize their mistake. Students will have to take Maori Physics and not be able to get decent jobs. If the students are smart, they won’t take MP in the first place and that will also allow the subject to fail. So sad.

    1. “…there are no jobs that require knowledge of “Maori Physics” (except perhaps to teach it).” Exactly!
      The thrust of these campaigns is to create new jobs in the educracy—in this case, teaching about
      “matauranga science”. The next step will be the creation of courses in this “teaching” skill in the NZ counterpart of our Schools of Ed. It will be so Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusionary.

      1. There’s a hint of this circularity in the article, seemingly unnoticed: High school science must be corrupted because university science is also “under pressure”. If you do not admit our victory now, you will harm your students chances, in the world in which our victory is assured:

        > and second, because tertiary science educators are also under pressure to introduce Māori knowledge into their curricula, and may well expect their secondary school colleagues to share this responsibility.

      2. One of the projects in these new science classes should be to build a Maori “matauranga” cell phone. I’m sure it will work great!

        Also no fair using the Internet (colonialist, non-Maori) to contact New Zealand. Send your email by Maori Mail.

  7. I just sent the Email message below to Dr. Ridley of the NZ Royal Society, signed of course with my
    full academic title.

    “I write in connection with New Zealand’s program of inserting Maori “ways of knowing” into teaching about Science. A similar campaign can be envisaged for my own region. The indigenous peoples of Northwest Washington State, the Coast Salish, had a “way of knowing” which included the existence of numerous invisible spirit-beings, and an account of human origins which was as follows. In the old days animals, trees, rocks, and mountains could all speak, but then a powerful being called Raven came through and changed all that; Raven also scratched a few hairballs off his chest which turned into the human species.
    Following the example of New Zealand, we hope to include all these indigenous insights in the curricula of Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Biology, Paleontology, and Genetics in Washington State schools. Could the NZ Royal Society give us some pointers on the best way to amalgamate such indigenous ways of knowing into teaching about these other pakeha knowledge systems?”

  8. How sad for New Zealand, which had appeared to be uninfected with the scientific ignorance that has allowed covid to spread in so much of the rest of the world, particularly the US. To me it was a beacon of hope for humanity. But no, turns out they’re just as arrogantly stupid as the rest of us.

    Do the Maoris have a vaccine for covid, or a cure? Or for any other disease or medical condition, or for anything that modern science has accomplished? Can they present any evidence that their ‘way of knowing’ has ever produced actual results? Waiting for their journal articles.

    1. I strongly suspect that the current pushing of traditional Maori beliefs down everyone’s throat as science comes not as much from Maori activists as from woke white New Zealanders.

      1. Yes, Mays, prof Dawn Freshwater FRCN is a prime example (althouğ she is actually British). She is a nurse turned mental health researcher, deep into ‘transformative learning’.
        It is interesting to read her cv/biography, you will understand her better.
        It is clear she has hardly a clue about science though.

        1. Wikipedia entry (presumably self-authored) contains this:
          “In 2019 Freshwater became the first woman to be appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland. She took up this position in March 2020.[9] The University of Auckland recently regained its position on the Times Higher Education World’s Top 200 Universities.[9]”

          [9] is an Auckland newspaper. The two facts are not presented as any way related in the newspaper story but the Wiki bio makes it sound as if the university’s scrabbling back onto the top 200 was all down to little old me.

    2. My email to the Society:
      Dr. Ridley,
      You should know that this embarrassing story has gone global. While it is a noble and compassionate goal to respect the Maori history and tradition, equating their lore with modern scientific knowledge is an unsupportable proposal without evidence, and insisting that it should be taught as such is ludicrous and a great disservice to science education.

      If Maori lore is to be granted scientific legitimacy, then each of their claims should be required to go through the usual procedures that any claim must endure before journal publication and acceptance by the worldwide scientific community. When can we expect this vetting to begin? Shouldn’t your royal society insist on this, if it is indeed interested in promoting true science?

    3. It’s arguably done damage re COVID vaccination. Maori have by far the lowest vaccination rates in NZ, especially younger Maori. All other ethnicities are at least 92% vaccinated. Maori are currently 84.2%. There are multiple reasons given for not getting vaccinated, but one is not trusting the science.

      1. Hi Heather, I guess that many countries, including the US and South Africa, would be jealous of an 84.2% vaccination rate.
        But your point remains pertinent. Prof Freshwater and her accomplices are not doing the Maoris any service.

  9. To believe that myths are equivalent to science is craziness. When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand they had science, while the Maoris had their traditional knowledge. Guess who got the upper hand.

  10. It is stuff like this why I keep pointing out how ‘New Humanism’, FreeThoughtBlogs, Wokism, Hemant Mehta, etc. are enablers of anti-science nonsense. They elevate personal fee-fees and alternative ‘ways of knowing’, as truths immune from scientific scrutiny. Matt Dillahunty is the latest “skeptic” to have fallen to this disease.

    1. I had the misfortune of listening to Mehta’s podcast today. He and his incoherent sidekick were railing against some of Dawkins’ positions in a manner that studiously avoided addressing their actual content. It was the by now standard clown show of crying for tolerance and understanding while displaying neither.

  11. A mythological paraphrase of Jerry’s statement in his article might be, “You are entitled to your own connotation. However, you are not entitled to your own denotation.”

  12. Colonial guilt shows itself in many ways. One is to give equivalence to ‘other ways of knowing’. Another would be to deny modern medicine, modes of travel such as motor vehicles and aeroplanes, along with electricity and gas for heating and cooking, never mind the bloody internet and cell phones. Perhaps a brief exhibition of the latter would suffice to show that some ways of knowing are preferable to others?

    1. Better a brief exhibition of life without the benefits of modern science such as those people in southern Scotland and northern England have been living since storm Arwen blew through and took out the electricity supply. I’d bet there’d be quite a few Maori moaners being forced to live a life (even for a few days) that their ancestors lived.

    2. If you start out with the assertion that Science is the result of White Colonialist Privilege, and therefore ‘Bad’, then promoting Non-white, Oppressed, Victim Science is therefore ‘Good’.

      It’s a matter of personal feelings of guilt contending with unsympathetic reality. I guess the ongoing march through the Institutions is lead by the most convinced, and nothing will be strong enough to remove the scales from their eyes.

  13. “ Maori anthropology and sociology should of course be taught to all Kiwis, for the colonial and Maori cultures are trying to effect rapprochement”.

    Of course Māori culture is itself colonial having effectively eliminated the previous inhabitants of the islands shortly before the Europeans arrived …

    1. Please add some reference to your claim of “Māori culture is itself colonial having effectively eliminated the previous inhabitants of the islands”
      Perhaps such non-Maori inhabitants are known to have existed and I am sadly out of date. I could not find such supposed facts with a brief search.
      If you have no such evidence, please refrain from reducing the effectiveness of this criticism by spouting what sounds like nonsense.

      1. I think he might be referring to the genocide the Maori committed on the Moriori on the Chatham islands starting in 1835.
        Or maybe the infamous inter-Maori musket wars just before that.
        Or even the traditional inter-Maori warfare (which included cannibalism).

    2. The scholarly evidence for pre-Maori human inhabitants is somewhere between very thin and non-existent. Rather than Maori colonialism of another people, there was inter-tribal warfare, being particularly savage between 1810 and 1835, when the arrival of muskets and potatoes upped the death rate, killing 10-15 times the number killed by the later colonial wars.

      My own city’s Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau is often translated as Tamaki of a Thousand Lovers, a rather euphemistic way of referring to attempts by neighbouring tribes to seize its rich seafood resources.

      None of this, of course, is the slightest bit relevant to the issue at hand, ie, the damage likely to be done to NZ science education by equating traditional lore, infused with animism, to the modern scientific method and the huge, reliable body of knowledge it has generated.

    3. This link will tell a bit about what the Maori got up to.
      It wasn’t what I’d call very woke. But there you are. But then again. It’s not that the English, French, or any other European country had done anything like that…, it’s still going on in modern Europe of late (Bosnian War) and certainly the Middle East.

      I can tell you now modern Maori do not do war parties anymore so that is a good thing. Not so good is the myths for truths.

  14. My letter:

    Dear Dr. Ridley,
    I am sure you are receiving messages that raise objections to the teaching of Maori mythology within the environs of science. I agree with these objections, but let me perhaps try a different approach on the subject which might cast a different light on the urgency of this matter.

    I am now learning that Maori mythologies are uniquely beautiful and moving, and they amply deserve a prominent place in the education of all citizens of your amazing country. But it would be a great disservice to Maori traditions to teach them within the rigors of modern science. Science requires all truth claims, without exception, to be subjected to repeated testing and verification. Maori stories about the origins of your islands, the nature of the Milky Way, and the origins of the Maori people, would not survive even basic hypothesis testing within the disciplines of geology, astronomy, and human genetics! And teaching these things as if they were within the bounds of science (while refusing to test them) is decidedly unscientific. No truth claim can go untested if it’s claimed to be a part of science. It will breed resentment that is undeserved of the Maori people, while also making NZ science look bad. I am sure these are not what anyone wants.
    Meanwhile there are other avenues for teaching and preserving these important subjects of NZ history and the cultures of its people.

    I won’t take any more of your time. With best regards, etc.

  15. Native Americans have a number of explanations for natural phenomena that could be taught as science. The Cochiti have a tale of why the Milky Way exists–a beetle spilled the stars the Great Spirit gave him to hang in the sky. The Algonquin have an explanation for why bees and wasps have stingers. The Navajo can explain why moths circle a flame and fly into it. Teach all sides.

    1. Not science. History and culture, sure. But not science. And with all those other histories and cultures to tend to, there would be no time to learn a basic education that would qualify someone to be a cashier at McDonalds.

    2. I have long supposed that the milky way was just spilled stars, but I didn’t realize that it was a beetle
      that spilled them. Wasn’t it Thomas Huxley who, when asked what Biology could teach us about God,
      replied that it implied that God was particularly fond of beetles? And today, in line with the milky way and God’s preferences, we have great rock bands and great little cars named after these fine members of the order Coleoptera.

    3. ” . . . could be taught as science.”

      True enough. What “can” or “could” not be taught as science, as far as that goes? Apparently anything is true if it pops into one’s mind.

  16. As one of the authors of the original letter to the NZ Listener, I greatly appreciate this outpouring of international support. It’s very heartening in these difficult times for us. Thank you. Michael Corballis, my long-time friend and fellow letter author, who sadly died recently, would have been similarly gratified.

  17. Profoundly depressing developments, yet a precise excision of the problem.

    The Elect’s religion indeed has grasped a creation myth in its burrowing.

    Just because some story is not modern science does not mean racism accounts for it – or any other discarded theories or stories.

  18. If schools are going to teach “other ways of knowing” why stop at indigenous myths? We will soon have to accept COVID conspiracies, flat earth “theory” and the claim that Trump won the 2020 election. After all, there is no way to ascertain truth and the scientific method is just a form of bigotry according to this line of reasoning.

    1. From Wikipedia:

      According to adherents, Pastafarianism (a portmanteau of pasta and Rastafarianism) is a “real, legitimate religion, as much as any other”

  19. My letter:

    Dear Sir.

    As a former professor of geological sciences, I’m astonished at the move in New Zealand to force the teaching of Maori myth as science. I’m especially amazed that the Royal Society is seriously contemplating the removal of two scientists for being signatories to a letter objecting to such teachings. These scientists did exactly what they must do—defend reason and truth from the forced teaching of myth and falsehood.

    Scientists around the world are saddened by this turn of events and fearful that the teaching of myth as science will not only disadvantage New Zealand’s students—by forcing them to accept nonsense as truth—but will also erode confidence in the methods and results of legitimate science as well.

    Sir, science needs you to stand up for these Royal Society members who so bravely defend reason and truth. The Royal Society owes them not condemnation, but thanks.


  20. I grew up in Australia and partly NZ – in Auckland – and there was none of this then. Subsequent visits over the years have seen the “woke” factor increase dramatically, particularly in the last two decades.

    NZ now leads the world in this endeavor so the current kerfuffle doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s talk of even renaming the country Aotearoa – something the Pakeha (non-Maori) won’t abide I think.

    About 15 years ago NZ passports were changed from English to English and Maori. Though I don’t think many immigration officials worldwide understand Maori. Like many Maoris 🙂

    D.A., J.D.

    1. I think it is a good thing that passports are written in English and Maori. In Switzerland they are written in all of the four national languages (plus English), including Rumansh that is spoken by less than 1% of the population. Respect for minority languages is important if you want that those minorities feel they belong to a country. Obviously it is not enough to put a language on a passport if it has no possibilities to be used in everyday life.

      I agree with Dawkins but I will not write to the Kiwis since it is a pain in the butt for me to write in English. It is a shame that the descendents of Perfidious Albion have won the cultural war against the rest of the World :-).

    2. I’m a Pakeha who supports changing our name to Aotearoa for two very good reasons.
      1/ No more long scrolling down country drop down menus.
      2/ We get to enter before Australia in the Olympic opening ceremonies.

  21. Imagine someone who thinks he is Michael Jackson. Now imagine him being hurt because other people dispute his claim. Should we all begin calling him Michael Jackson only for him to feel OK again?

    But let’s suppose he is indeed Michael Jackson and for some kind of dogmatic reason some people don’t see it and because of that they dispute it, should they be “forced” to see it?


    Hopefully, there is no coercion here — at least, yet. The Vice Chancellor is recognizing the right of academics to freely express their views, but she makes clear that they don’t represent the whole of the university.

    The real problem here I think is dogmatism. I’m wondering. Did the Vice Chancellor (and other academics of the same view) even bothered to examine the the views of those who disagree with them or do they simply stick to their own view, almost like saying: “we have decided X, we are not going to change our decision and opinion. You can say whatever you want to say, we don’t listen and we don’t care”?

    At the same time, on the other hand, and as a more general comment, the same dogmatism is noticed to many scientists who think that modern science is the absolute way to examine everything and deal with every question that exists in life. Yes, science is useful to create things, to know things and it is indeed useful for a variety of reasons. It has its own limits, though.

    In any case, only open discussion and willingness to listen can “solve” things. At the moment, those in favor of teaching Maori other ways of knowing seem to be a majority. They might simply be frivolous and implement changes without thinking them thoroughly, or for the “wrong” reasons. It is the job of those who think they examine those changes more thoroughly to highlight why these changes shouldn’t be implemented. Not in a condescending way, but in an honest and caring conversation.

    1. It is technically possible for the case in “Roger.Ridley” to matter. Though, as I understand it, no reasonable email server would make names case sensitive. Perhaps worth a try.

    2. Oops. I inadvertently added a space.

      Dear Dr Ridley,
      I’m but a humble state ophthalmologist in South Africa, but I’m a proponent of evidence based medicine. The advancement of medicine was not based on ‘other ways of knowledge ‘, but on science: observation and experiment.
      I do appreciate that Maori (or other) world views need to be respected, and in NZ Maori mythology should be part of the curriculum. However,these myths and ‘other ways of knowledge’ should not be part of science courses, but of history, anthropology or philosophy, not science.
      There is no ‘Western science’, ‘Eastern science’ or ‘Maori science’, there is just universal science that surpasses all cultural biases.
      Male, female, black, brown, yellow or white, it doesn’t matter, science is science, and creation and other myths have no place there, other than as subjects of study.
      I sincerely hope you will not give in to this, what I dare to call madness.

      Kind regards etc.

  22. [Note: Double posting – the intended posting was in this thread:]

    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!”

  23. Dawn Freshwater is apparently pandering by her use of indigenous language and I don’t understand why that is not “appropriation.” But that’s beside the point. Dawkins will be on the right side of history for this. I emailed Dr. Ridley too.

  24. Since this story has some legs, I offer this insight into how traditional knowledge might work, and how it’s different from science.

    Canadian schoolchildren learn that French explorer Jacques Cartier spent the terrible winter of his second voyage 1535-6 with his ships frozen in the ice of the St. Lawrence River at what is now Québec City. Scurvy broke out among the half-starved sailors. Local Iroquois at the village there (Stadaconna), whom Cartier had somewhat ambivalently befriended, told him that a decoction of needles of a local conifer, which they called “annedda”, would cure the disease….which it promptly did. Although 25 of his sailors had died, the rest were restored to health. We now know that several species of conifer needles are rich in Vitamin C, richer than citrus and many other foods commonly consumed today, as well as other amino acids essential for repair of collagen. (Remember Cartier’s men were starving, not just vitamin-deprived.)

    So score one for traditional knowledge.

    But it’s more complex than that, as a reading of Cartier’s diaries shows. The Natives clearly knew about scurvy even if Cartier did not. Many of them sickened from it that winter, before it took hold among the French. Cartier visited the village to help, no surprise to no avail. But then one day he encountered a chief’s son, Domagaia, healthy and fit. He had seen the same man at death’s door — vivid description in the diary — only two weeks before. Pressed to explain his recovery, the man told him about the sap and needles….and had two women bring some boughs to Cartier’s ship and explain how to prepare them….”For it is a singular remedy against that disease.” *

    Now, one can understand why the wary Natives might not have been quick to share the cure with the foreign visitors. But the mystery is, if they knew that conifer needles cured scurvy, why did they wait until they were themselves very ill and some 50 had died before availing themselves of it? Did only the chief’s son take the cure? (The cited article* doesn’t say if Cartier noted how the other sick Natives fared; he sailed home as soon as the ice was out. But later voyagers to Stadaconna found the village abandoned.) Cartier, on return to France with saplings which were enthusiastically received by the King, publicized the cure extensively. He clearly regarded it as “medicine” in the same way we do today, for treatment and maybe prevention of a diagnosable condition.

    Yet for the Iroquois, it seems to me plausible, from the available written record and no oral accounts except for other ceremonial practices like smudging, that it may have been regarded it as just one component of a larger healing ritual perhaps available only to certain royalty on appeal to a knowledge-keeper or shaman. The shaman would have a vested interest in camouflaging the secret sauce that made her spell work and perhaps only the chief’s son intuited the secret — a skeptic!. This is all speculative, but else why would the Iroquois allow a preventable (and terrible) disease to kill so many of their number before bestowing the “medicine” on Domagaia?

    Any traditional knowledge in oral story-telling today will be contaminated by the actual scientific knowledge that was slowly pieced together by Europeans. “Yeah. We knew that.”


    1. Ah, that’s an excellent point – I think there’s a story about native people who boiled their rice before eating it, but some explorers from Europe they were helping didn’t and they got beri-beri because the thiaminase degraded the thiamin. Earliest knowledge of beri-beri is ancient China :

      Then there’s penicillin – of course, we know Fleming, Chain, and Florey “for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.” But “Many ancient cultures, including those in Egypt, Greece and India, independently discovered the useful properties of fungi and plants in treating infection.[9]” (Quoting Wikipedia). In particular, Ernest Duchesne “discovered the healing properties of a Penicillium glaucum mould, even curing infected guinea pigs of typhoid. He published a dissertation[25][26][27] in 1897 but it was ignored by the Institut Pasteur.” (Ibid.).

      …. [ thinks a bit …] so how about a one credit course of the history of discovery? Focus on “discoveries” like penicillin that may in fact go back millennia, so we understand why some individuals become famous, or get a famous prize, and most don’t?…

      … but as for the discovery of evolution by natural selection (Darwin/Wallace), the Greek philosopher “Anaximander of Miletus considered that from warmed up water and earth emerged either fish or entirely fishlike animals. Inside these animals, men took form and embryos were held prisoners until puberty;(59) ”

      1. If you are responding to my post, I think you may have missed my point. The empirical use of poultices and salves made from mold and bark in a traditional practice is not science. As the Wiki page you quote from is careful to state, no one can know what, if anything, those moldy substances were adding to the body’s own healing powers. Just because, in retrospect, some of those molds might have been species of Penicillium does not mean that antibiotic substances were operating or that the traditional knowledge-keepers knew what they were doing. Fleming’s particular strain of P. notatum (now called something else) is to this day the only Old-World isolate that has ever been found to produce penicillin. Fortunately New-World species are abundant.

        It takes a lot of mold to extract enough penicillin to treat a single patient. The idea that some random green mold in stasis metabolism applied to a wound would secrete enough penicillin to be decisive is pure speculation, especially in the absence of any controlled observations. Locally applied antibiotics even today have no role in treating wounds, although this did take some years to figure out scientifically….the science of pus, if you like.

        Fleming, Chain and Florey properly get the scientific credit for their joint contributions.

        1. Oh the notion of getting credit is my own suggestion, as I think part of this Other Ways of Knowing phenomenon is grievance, or at least unfairness – that’s one idea that occurred to me with the story of Duchesne, after leading myself to believe – pre-Wikipedia and pre-QI – (it was on QI) – that Fleming discovered everything ex nihilo.

  25. There is just so much to learn in science. Please can we leave each others culture out of business and science. Its not fair to encroach on a science student’s limited time to add a cultural overlay. Two make an argument thinking there are two groups in this discussion is naive and rather rude to many many people that haver several historical cultures in their back ground including the two synthetically binomial ones portrayed here.

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