New Zealand authorities stand firm in desire to teach Maori “ways of knowing” alongside science in high schools and colleges

December 13, 2021 • 10:45 am

From what I hear from my Kiwi friends in academia, some of whom keep publicly quiet about these developments given the political climate, the government and universities in New Zealand are standing firm in their resolve to teach mātauranga Māori, or “Maori ways of knowing” alongside and coequal to modern (i.e., real) science in both high schools and universities. I’ve described the controversy in several recent posts.

This is one example of a clash between two values of “progressive liberals”: in this case, traditional or indigenous “knowledge” is valued because it is held by oppressed groups, but its assertions, including creationism, clash with the respect that the Left is supposed to have for the findings of science. (Another example is Western feminists deliberately ignoring the oppression of women in some Muslim countries).

I am no expert in mātauranga Māori, but you don’t have to spend many hours reading about it to see that it is a collection of myths, cultural practices, traditions, legends, and also practical wisdom regarding stewardship of the environment, how to capture animals, and so on. It does indeed contain some “knowledge” in this sense, but to verify whether that knowledge really comprises public truths, we have to test it using modern scientific tools. (Note: not all Māori see mātauranga Māori as “Maori science.”)

It’s not acceptable to simply buy indigenous assertions and teach them as science—not unless they’ve been verified as science. Two parts of mātauranga Māori that do not comport with modern science, for example, are its creation legends and its “environmental stewardship”, which in some cases is sound but in others not. Even the Wikipedia article on mātauranga Māoriwhose editors are clearly biased towards indigenous “science” (read this bit, for instance), say this:

Archeology and Quaternary Geology show that New Zealand’s natural environment changed significantly during the period of precolonial Māori occupation. This has led some academics to question the effectiveness of Māori traditional knowledge in managing the environment. The environmental changes are similar to those following human occupation in other parts of the world, including deforestation (approximately 50%), the loss of the megafauna, more general species extinctions and soil degradation due to agriculture. The models favoured by academics today describe precolonial Māori as accessing resources based on ease of access and energy return. This would have involved moving from one location or food source to another when the original one had become less rewarding. Historically academic models on precolonial environmental stewardship have been closely tied to the idea of the ‘Noble Savage’. and the now debunked hypothesis of multiple ethnicities being responsible for different aspects of New Zealand’s archeological record.

After the Māori colonized New Zealand around 1300, for example, every species of moa was driven extinct by people bopping them on the heads with jade clubs (with only one natural predator, the magnificent  Haast’s eagle, the largest eagle that ever lived, the moas were pretty tame). The Haast’s eagle also went extinct for lack of prey. This is not effective stewardship.

My view is similar to that of Richard Dawkins, who believes that mātauranga Māori is of sociological, anthropological, and aesthetic interest, and should certainly be taught to both Māori and non-Māori students, but should not be taught as an alternative “indigenous” form of science. As Richard wrote in his letter to The Listener:

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.

If a “different” way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science. Science works. It lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, dates the origin of the universe, and reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed moa.

The article below from the NZ website Point of Order paints a dismal picture of the future of Kiwi science. Scientists throughout the word are objecting to teaching mātauranga Māori as the local equivalent of modern science, but New Zealand’s government and universities plow ahead with considering the coequality of legend with fact. Click to read:

This article reports that Megan Woods, New Zealand’s Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, has set aside $1.6 million to hook kids on “science”, but using “traditional knowledge”.

Expressing herself in the mix of English and te reo that is favoured for communicative purposes by the government and the establishment press, Woods’ press statement said (bolding by article’s author):

“Getting rangatahi hooked on science is a key focus of this year’s Unlocking Curious Minds funding round, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods has announced, unveiling the 13 successful recipients of $1.6 million in Government funding.

“Through the Unlocking Curious Minds 2021 contestable fund the Government is supporting a wide range of really fun, hands-on projects, investigating subjects like nature, climate change, and Mātauranga Māori to empower rangatahi to connect with science and technology in a way that is meaningful to them.

“We know students are far more engaged when they learn about subjects they can relate to. Through activities like participation in Waka Ama, thinking about where food comes from, and personalised stories, we are inspiring future generations to add value to their own lives and as well as that of their local communities.”

This year’s funding round would bring science and technology to a wide range of audiences, including young people from hard to reach backgrounds, Woods said

“By focusing on student-led research and by looking at a range of knowledge systems this funding is designed to reach and inspire a broader base of New Zealanders.”

I’m not convinced that the combination of “personalized stories”, Waka Ama (outrigger canoeing), and “thinking about where food comes from”, or even “thinking about climate change,” much less mātauranga Māori, is going to get kids hooked on science. At any rate, stay tuned for more about how the government and universities will not be deterred in their subservience to “indigenous science”.  (See also this article about my friend the NZ philosopher Robert Nola, who signed the original letter in The Listener and has thus been demonized as well as threatened with explusion from New Zealand’s Royal Society. His views about folding traditional knowledge into science if it proves to be science seem quite sensible.)

The article also lists pushback against the drive to insert indigenous “ways of knowing” into science class, including three articles I didn’t know of:

I can’t read the whole Times article as it’s paywalled, but the article above gives some quotes from Liddle:

The argument — facile beyond comprehension — is that science has been used by white, western, developed nations to underpin colonialism and is therefore tainted by its association with white supremacy. As Dawkins pointed out, science is not “white”. (The assumption that it is is surely racist.) Nor is it imperialist. It is simply a rather beautiful tool for discerning the truth.

It is not just New Zealand. Science is under attack in America and indeed here. Rochelle Gutierrez, an Illinois professor, has argued that algebra and trigonometry perpetuate white power and that maths is, effectively, racist.

Oxford University has announced that it intends to “decolonise” maths: “This includes steps such as integrating race and gender questions into topics.”

A lunacy has gripped our academics. They would be happy to throw out centuries of learning and brilliance for the sake of being temporarily right-on, and thus signalling their admirable piety to a young, approving audience.

It is an indulgence that, with every fatuous genuflection towards political correctness, is dragging us all backwards.

Well, we don’t see much of this stuff in the U.S. (I didn’t teach Native American creation stories in my evolution class), but, in their haste to make nice with the original colonists of New Zealand, its government and academics are risking not only looking foolish, but, more important, setting back science education and scientific research in their own country.

65 thoughts on “New Zealand authorities stand firm in desire to teach Maori “ways of knowing” alongside science in high schools and colleges

  1. Surely ‘endarkenment’ is a considerable improvement on “de-enlightenment”.
    And hopefully Jacinda Adern will show some sense and just dump that ignoramus minister.
    Their ‘royal society head’ will just have to fade into ignominy. I’m glad to notice his specialty is food and plants rather than math and physics. But I might hesitate to eat anything, new to me, he happened to suggest.

  2. I don’t know how things work down there, but up here if there was a rush to teach Native American creationism alongside science, the Creationists would stampede toward it, demanding Equality and Inclusion in the classroom.

    1. The arguments against this are no different to the arguments against teaching Christian creation “science” in science lessons. I’m surprised that the YEC’s haven’t picked upon it – unless they’ve realised that it is to their benefits if this initiative happens and they are keeping quiet so as not to sabotage it by accident.

  3. Obviously, this is lunacy. The only faint hope is that students drawn into science in New Zealand will discern that Maori “science” makes no sense and will reject it for actual science. It does put a tremendous burden on students to be able to sort out the difference. More likely, as I opined in an earlier comment, science in New Zealand is doomed and the poor students—so polluted by nonsense—will never make any contributions of any value. How ironic that a policy aimed at improving conditions of the Maori will end up degrading them.

      1. If the granting agency is a New Zealand agency, then yes, spouting the nonsense would be smart. But science is a global institution. Consequently, the next generation of New Zealand scientists will be isolated. They will not be part of the global community of scientists and will neither contribute to nor benefit from being part of that community. They are doomed to irrelevance.

  4. “Rochelle Gutierrez, an Illinois professor, has argued that algebra and trigonometry perpetuate white power and that maths is, effectively, racist.”

    I glanced through a couple of her online papers. She embodies the sometimes true sloganeering:

    Who cannot do, teach.
    Who cannot teach, attempt to teach the teachers.

    1. IIRC, algebra is derived from an Arabic word/phrase/concept. Does Professora Guitierrez know this and, if she does not so know but becomes in the know, could that possibly make a difference in her attitude towards algebra? Regarding trigonometry, do its Greek creators remain racist? Same with geometry? How about the combined teaching of algebraic geometry/geometric algebra? What is the extent of racism in that combination? Hey, let’s solve math problems by some other “ways of knowing.”

        1. Thank you very much for making your course notes available, Peter. Some winter reading awaits. I always knew Waterloo was a cut above, even before Perimeter.

        2. In modern times, and peculiarly to me re Canada, where one federal government minister has the name. Abbreviating from the internet–see 3rd last line:

          “Alghabra Surname | 2,776,799th Most Common surname in the World | Approximately 49 people bear this surname
          MOST PREVALENT IN: Canada
          HIGHEST DENSITY IN: Qatar
          CANADA. Incidence: 9. Ratio: 1 in 4M
          Place Incidence Frequency Rank in Area
          Canada 9 1:4,093,955 205,175
          Syria 9 1:2,144,558 9,551
          Qatar 6 1:393,000 55,922
          United States 6 1:60,409,822 1,028,827
          England 5 1:11,143,612 252,590
          Saudi Arabia 4 1:7,713,954 37,548
          Sweden 3 1:3,282,252 190,759
          United Arab Emirates 3 1:3,054,091 90,853
          Egypt 1 1:91,935,754 132,737
          France 1 1:66,422,722 504,397

          Alghabrah 94 4 /
          Algabra 93 2 /
          Alghabri 88 208 /
          Elghabra 88 12 /
          Algabrah 88 1 /
          Algabre 80 3,165 /
          Algabry 80 623 /
          Algabri 80 296 /
          Algebra 80 152 /. <<—–
          Elgabra 80 4 /

          NAMES & GENEALOGY Genealogical Resources England & Wales Guide © Forebears 2012-2021"

  5. Another excellent article. The response or lack thereof of the authorities was entirely predictable. The prevailing attitude here to any expression of concern is one of dismissive contempt – eg

    On what is proposed for the school curriculum, there is a great deal of information here:

    The “What’s changing” page is particularly informative:

    This seems to be telling me that these major changes were approved by government in February 2020 while we were all busy looking elsewhere after public consultation in 2018 that absolutely nobody I know was even aware of.

    In general, the document has this as one of the changes:

    “Equal status for mātauranga Māori in NCEA – develop new ways to recognise mātauranga Māori, build teacher capability, and improve resourcing and support for Māori learners and te ao Māori pathways.”

    As to what this might mean in particular, here’s the “learning matrix” for “Physics Earth and Space Science”:

    eg ” Explore how mauri is an essential part of the natural and human-constructed world and how it is essential to maintain or restore mauri.” – Mauri, insofar as I understand it at all, being a nebulous concept usually translated as “life force”.

    I despair.

    1. Interesting, thanks Andrew. The participation in the consultation as outlined in the “What’s Changing” page looks woefully low at the national level:

      Thousands of people across the country took part in the Review from May to October 2018 and provided feedback in different ways – including Quick Survey (6,758 people); workshops, fono and hui (8000+ people); NCEA and Big Opportunities Survey (920 people); 54 focus groups (493 people); 20 regional workshops (476 people); and submissions (155 individuals, 116 groups and 95 organisations). An overwhelming majority favoured changes to strengthen NCEA.

      1. It’s bog standard DEI-ist tactics, they asked everyone who agreed with them and since no one disagreed then it must be right.

        What’s even more disturbing about all this is the lack of comment from either the Australian Skeptics or the NZ Skeptics and both groups were heavily involved in fighting (Biblical) Creationism in the 1990s and early 2000s

    2. Anybody know who this Peter Fraser is, apparently an economist whom SiouxsieW in her tweet refers to an antidote to the dinosaurs like Richard Dawkins?
      This be he?
      His highest degree is a professional Master of Computer Applications.

      “Peter has provided expert economic advice to Environment Commissioners and the Environment Court; and provided economic analysis to the Waitangi Tribunal as part of the Mokai Patea Claim.
      [so he’s a partisan advocate]
      “Peter is a commissioned officer in the NZ Army Reserve and undertook an operational tour to Bosnia-Herzegovina where he was attached to a NATO divisional headquarters.

      “Peter is also something of a living embodiment of flexible labour markets: in that he has established a specialist surface preparation business (so can sometimes be found on building sites or roads).

      “Peter’s iwi affiliations are to Ngāti Hauiti ki Rangītikei though he has whakapapa links to Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu, and Ngāpuhi.” I realize it’s the form now in NZ to sprinkle in Maori words without bothering to translate them but still, I have no idea what this last sentence means. Perhaps I’m not meant to.

      1. “Iwi” is often translated as “tribe”. See this:

        “Ngāti Hauiti ki Rangītikei” and the rest are stating his tribal affiliations, a practice becoming increasingly common at the start of articles by authors with any Māori ancestry.

        For “whakapapa”, see this:

        “Whakapapa is genealogy, a line of descent from ancestors down to the present day. Whakapapa links people to all other living things, and to the earth and the sky, and it traces the universe back to its origins.”

      2. It’s not a secret code. Google Translate handles Māori -> English, and there are online Māori -> English dictionaries in case you want to look deeper.

        And AIUI, there are some sound non-PC policy reasons for sprinking a little Te Reo Māori into english communications in NZ.

        Kia ora.

          1. Are you also defending the proposed change to the science curriculum?

            I have been accused of that by no less than our host, even calling my posting behaviour “unacceptable”. Fortunately I have not (yet) been banned.

            Upon later reflection I accept that his response was not an unreasonable one, in light of the chronic disrespect for one of his most-valued taonga.

        1. Copying from the output panel, Google translates that last sentence as:

          “Peter’s iwi affiliations are to Ngāti Hauiti ki Rangītikei though he has whakapapa links to Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu, and Ngāpuhi.”

          Not much help, but I can parse the repeated words to conclude that his multiple tribal affiliations are considered relevant to post on UWellington’s staff directory. Does anyone think that my numerous but mostly guessed-at British Isles backgrounds would be appropriate to a hospital staff directory?

          1. I just tried, and got “Peter’s public Affiliations are of Ngāti Hauiti to Rāngītiikei Thoughly there is a HAS LINKS ancestor Links, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Rauku, Ngāti Raukunu, and Ngāpuhi”.

            This is arguably worse….

            1. davelenny, below, explains the meaning pretty clearly. As he says, a statement of tribal affiliation by Maori is an increasingly common practice. I don’t think anyone is claiming it has any relevance to academic standing. Some New Zealanders of European descent will ironically refer to themselves as “Ngati Pakeha”.

      3. Not surprisingly, NZ English incorporates Maori vocabulary, the natural outcome of two languages living side by side, though this intermingling is increasingly being driven by the current government’s language policy (and taxpayer dollars) premised on the unlikely notion that forcing Maori vocabulary into English sentences is promoting the survival of the Maori language.

        The sentence which puzzles you has words common in English used in Maori contexts; ‘iwi’ = tribe/tribal, ‘whakapapa’ = ancestry/ancestral, ‘Ngati’ usually prefaces the name of a specific tribe. Given the high rates of intermarriage and his name, Peter Fraser probably has ancestors from the British Isles, but these are rarely mentioned in ancestry statements, which are a Maori cultural practice increasingly used by newspapers. His name, coincidentally or not, is the same as a famous and distinguished Labour prime minister – Maoris overwhelmingly vote for the Labour Party.

        With regard to the central topic, like Andrew @ 11.53, I despair. The current government appears to be driven by polls and feelz rather than evidence, hides racist policies from the public until the last second; government bureaucracies – especially education – are dominated by top down Maori Wonderfulness (though rank and file are possibly more sceptical) and where there is overwhelming evidence of Maori dysfunction it is invariably explained as a consequence of colonialism; taxpayers’ money is used to bribe newspapers; advisory groups are selected to output advice our rulers want, or ignored if they don’t.

        1. I’m thinking this Maori pseudo-science controversy is wrapped up in a larger linguistic and cultural struggle. Maori te reo was made an official language in New Zealand in 1987. The rationale doesn’t stand up when viewed alongside the status of French in Canada. No need to bore you with our own Official Language controversies except to show the non-parallels in NZ. In stark contrast to French in Canada, te reo Maori is spoken by a minority even of people of Maori ancestry and (almost?) no one speaks only te reo and not English.

          Furthermore, te reo speakers are not overwhelmingly concentrated in one political/geographic district the way French-speakers are concentrated in the province of Quebec where they form the linguistic majority and have from the beginning of settlement. The status of the French language in Quebec and Canada since the British Conquest in 1763 has been likened to a never-ending trip to the dentist. (It even helped start the American Revolution.) But it has never been seriously in danger of dying out, largely kept alive by the Catholic Church and high birthrates in times past.

          Making French an official language (1969) at the federal level was seen as a way to undermine the political movement to take Québec out of Confederation as a geographically coherent unilingual republic. (“Separatism” never really goes away although is no longer violent as in the 1960s.) But even before 1969 the French language was passionately supported by its newspapers, book publishers, and its daily speakers. And of course by the example of France itself. Canada did not make French an official language to slow its inevitable decline; rather it was to take the wind out of the sails of secession. (Most Canadians to this day, of both tongues, are between indifferent and hostile to the spirit of the Official Languages Act.)

          Te reo Maori language has none of the political credibility of French in Canada. “Maori-land” isn’t going anywhere, and even if ethnic Maoris migrated internally and coalesced in one region to form a local majority to secede, its official language would have to be English! Officializing te reo is more akin to making one of the many dying Indigenous languages in Canada official — (it will never happen): like land acknowledgements, cosmetic and performative only, but having a nasty habit of coming back to bite you when its beneficiaries sense that you don’t want to deliver on their dreams. (In Canada those are self-government over vast land give-backs, financed still by the welfare-state settler economy as now.). The drive to decolonize Canada shares some of the features you mention. If there was only one Indigenous language, you can be sure they’d be pushing it.

          So what do Maori gain from “officializing” a language that few speak and and no one relies on for daily life? Even if they don’t speak te reo, they gain political power from the drive to revitalize a dying language — practically Maori will have to be hired as consultants and teachers. This is a lucrative gig in Canada and the money is never accounted for, providing opportunities for graft. Supporting Maori culture is another rent-seeking deliverable, and here is where we elevate Maori art, stories, music, and science to be seen as equal to other forms. Now, everyone accepts that art and music flow from the culture. I think the message gets elided that science is just culture, too, and Maori “science” should get taught alongside colonial science. Colonialism itself is blamed for everything anyway and there has been a nasty propaganda campaign against all colonial institutions, including science, to fertilize the soil.

          My take is that the young(ish) scientists criticizing dinosaurs and OWGs — I thought they could at least have had to wit to call us WOGs — are not defending a view of science as much as they are wanting to be seen in the forefront of an emancipatory movement that is more important to them than the future of science, a movement that they fear at the backs of their minds they are not in control of. After all, they are mid-career and reasonably well-established. Not wise to rock the boat now….and come the Revolution, they don’t want to be pushed into the sea when the purges start. Any more than Ms. Ahern and her Ministers do.

    1. I don’t know Rod Liddle’s stuff, but unfortunately Toby Young is the kind of ally you don’t really want. He may be right on this occasion, but he has been consistently and spectacularly wrong on Covid, and the ungodly will no doubt quote his support as evidence that concern about mātaurangi Māori is the preserve of right wing nut jobs. I just hope Julia Hartley-Brewer doesn’t weigh in on the side of the angels.

      1. Who has been spectacularly right about COVID? Neil Ferguson? Fauci?

        And you are correct. Concern about teaching superstition as science does seem to be the preserve of right wing nut jobs. Well, somebody’s got to do it.

        1. I realize that a single answer to your question may be unsatisfying, given that a random distribution of expert prognosticators about anything unpredictable will typically result in a few who were correct, just due to random chance. This is especially true and expensive in the field of economics.

          But nonetheless, here you go: Dr. Michael Osterholm of the Centers for Infectious Disease Response and Prevention (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. He has the best record thus far, to my knowledge, having called most everything correctly except he thought the Alpha (or was it Beta?) variant would be really bad news. The thing I really like about Dr. Osterholm is his sense of humanity and humility. He’s a pleasure to listen to, and somehow made it through all those years in academia without a hint of pomposity. I highly recommend his weekly “Osterholm update” podcast.

  6. If mātauranga Māori is to be regarded as equivalent to Science shouldn’t it also be subject to observation, analysis, conclusion and peer review equivalent to Science too?

    Or do we rebrand mātauranga Māori not as ‘other ways of knowing’ but ‘other ways of fooling yourself’?

      1. But if the conclusion was that the particular aspect was bollocks (a la Dawkins) then it would be dropped from science, just like astrology or homeopathy.

  7. Aren’t there also some non-Maori students in New Zealand? Are they, and their parents, all on board with this development? Is this going to be good for the future careers of all the students in New Zealand?

  8. The sentiment I get here is that these folks don’t think teaching science matters very much. So many of the woke attitudes seem childish to me, and this is one of them. They do not appreciate the seriousness of their actions. It is as if they feel someone will step in and fix everything before any real damage is done.
    Someone will keep all of the critical infrastructure in good order, and progress in medicine and other sciences will continue moving forward, and will continue to improve our safety and quality of life.

    Plus, their fetishizing of indigenous folks is not based on historical reality. Not in NZ or anywhere else. Their acts of genocide and slavery on their neighbors were limited primarily by the fact that they had little ability to project their influence over long distances. When some force multiplier was made available to them, as the horse was to the plains tribes in North America, they inflicted almost unimaginable horrors on other populations that they could reach. Even within their own societies, groups like women were treated in ways that are shocking even in comparison to archaic western practices. A fairly convincing argument can be made that life as a woman or girl in precontact Australia was worse than any other time or place in known history.

    There is of course a lot of great cultural and aesthetic material that should be part of NZ and any place where an indigenous culture exists.
    I wrote my thesis on tracing migration and contact patterns among the Pacific islands through analysis of traditional boat construction techniques. Adding those contributions to our knowledge of human technological progress is just as important as recording similar progress in the Old World. Teaching traditional arts to both indigenous and non-indigenous kids is a great idea. But teaching primitive mythology as science is just absurd. Nobody can even verify that the mythology being taught is even the same as that believed before the arrival of Tasman. They lacked a written language. What they have is an oral tradition, which is a difficult system to base science on.

  9. If they wish to stuff Maori traditional ‘science’ into actual science classes, perhaps they should also stuff white-colonialists’ fake quantum field theory or dipstick algebraic geometry into the actual classes in how to play best-in-the-world all-blacks’ rugby union. (Not following the nations’ rugby competitions much recently, maybe that’s a few years out of date!)

  10. As far as I can tell, the Maori aren’t claiming that their way of knowing satisfies scientific norms of being evidence-based. What the Maori are claiming is that defining “knowledge” as that which can be arrived at by the tools and methods of science is too narrow. I would agree, but I also agree that it’s important to distinguish between science and “other ways of knowing.” Right now here in Central Oregon the temperature is 47º but the weather report also says that it “feels like 39º.” So here we have two different kinds of knowledge, one objective and one subjective. Both “work”–i.e., are useful if I’m deciding whether to go on a bike ride today–but I don’t for a minute think that “feels like 39º” is a scientific statement.

    1. So is it “knowledge” that when it rains a god is crying? The Maori “know” that, along with similar stories about the gods. If someone “knows” that Jodie Foster is in love with him, does that count as “knowledge”. Subjective knowledge isn’t even “popular knowledge” unless it can be verified. Is religion or intuition a “way of knowing”? I don’t think so . And yes, some Maori do see their way of knowing as basically the same as Western science. Do your homework.

      1. It’s a mistake to regard all Māori as having the same view. I find it quite irritating when proponents of mātauranga Māori talk about “our people” or “Maoridom” as a united whole which speaks with one voice.

        With regard to what extent factual claims are being made, I find it almost impossible to get a handle on this. Here, for example, is a quote by Dan Hikuroa from an article on mātauranga Māori having a bob several different ways:

        “Mātauranga Māori is, first and foremost, mātauranga Māori, valid in its own right. Both mātauranga Māori and science are bodies of knowledge methodically created, contextualised within a world view. As demonstrated herein, some mātauranga Māori has been generated according to the scientific method, and can therefore be considered as science. While there are many similarities between mātauranga Māori and science, it is important that the tools of one are not used to analyse and understand the foundations of another.”

        With regard to things like rain being the tears of a god, creationism, and so on, I don’t really know to what extent people actually take this sort of stuff literally. For a confusing ramble through the topic see this:

        I think a lot of people just have a vague general view that mātauranga Māori is a jolly good thing with its holistic world view and other knowledge systems and all that other trendy stuff, whatever it means, but will retreat from making any factual claims when challenged.

        1. I agree with you, especially the bit about how irritating it is that proponents assume we all think the same.

          I’m Maori and I used to think that only very old people believed in the supernatural woo aspects of our culture and other proponents were just grifters pretending to believe because it enables them to exercise power over others. I’ve been alarmed to realise in recent years that there are some younger Maori believers. I shouldn’t be surprised though because stupidity knows no age, class or culture, as the enduring popularity of homeopathy, lottery tickets and horoscopes across a range of demographic markers demonstrates.

    2. Surely the “feels like 39” actually has nothing to do with any one person’s subjective sense of temperature. There is undoubtedly some little formula, reasonable possibly, in which temperature along with wind speed, humidity, etc. are plugged in, and out pops the new number, in antediluvian Fahrenheit. So that is also scientific knowledge to anyone who knows the formula, independent of his or her opinion as to whether the formula is of much use. The same person in the exact same conditions at different times may find it too cold one time and not the other, depending e.g. whether they just finished some strenuous activity, or had finished 30 minutes earlier and their perspiration is cooling them too much now. I would not use the word knowledge quite that loosely.

      1. The formula itself is not uncomplicated, but is specific.
        Wind chill = 35.74 + 0.6215T – 35.75 (V^0.16) + 0.4275T (V^0.16) (Temp/Velocity)
        It is actually useful when estimating exposure times leading to frostbite danger. I am among those who find it annoying when weather forecasters use wind chill and heat index to consistently make temperatures seem more extreme. Just once, I want one to say that the current temperature is 102, but there is a nice breeze, so it only feels like 97.

    3. Academically, we distinguish between scientific knowledge and other types of knowledge by putting scientific knowledge in science courses and all other forms of knowledge in non-science classes. Your sense of how cold you feel is irrelevant.

    4. I hate the phrase “other ways of knowing”. Science is the only way we have of knowing. Really other ways of knowing are actually other ways of believing.

      By the way, the temperature “feels like” thing refers to wind chill factor. There is an objective way to calculate wind chill. It’s not an “other way of knowing”: it turns out it is the same way of knowing.

  11. To paraphrase an old truism, you’re entitled to your own connotation, but you’re not entitled to your own denotation.

  12. Wonder if Hemant Mehta or anyone at Free(From)ThoughtBlogs have written about this yet?

    They’re into some of this “other ways of knowing” woo, these days.

  13. If Maori ways of knowing are as good as the white man’s science, why were they unable to turf out settlers?

    Of course science, technology and engineering was used to advance white supremacy. But we have now made it available to the whole world. Don’t reject it just because it works.

  14. Oddly enough, just now I got a dunning letter from U of T, my undergrad place about 99 years ago, not one where I taught, so here’s a copy of my response:

    “Good evening, M. Gertler,

    Too bad you mentioned “equity, and inclusion” in parallel with “excellence”. The former has been getting a very sad reputation in recent months. Without some clarity in this respect, it is very hard for me to loosen my purse strings. I think some specifics on the former are necessary if those often phoney virtue-signalling words are used. And hopefully the details of those specifics are totally dissimilar to the recent New Zealand moves to include Maori legends within curricula actually called science courses, at secondary level, even university level. But perhaps the idiot cohort there, containing the responsible federal minister, the president of the N.Z. Royal Society (unbelievable!), and several university administrative pooh-bahs, will be beaten back before they actually put in new ‘endarkenment’ regulations, as opposed to keeping stuff, such as rain being the tears of saddened gods, to be part of historical cultural studies, rather than part of science education.

    Sincerely, Peter H.

    On Dec 13, 2021, at 17:23, President Meric Gertler wrote:

    Good evening, Peter N. Hoffman:

    Earlier today, we proudly launched Defy Gravity: The Campaign for the University of Toronto, the most ambitious university campaign in Canadian history. This effort will engage our worldwide community, strengthen the University’s commitment to excellence, equity, and inclusion, and …..

  15. I’ve still had no basic acknowledgment, yet alone an actual reply, to my email to the current Chief Executive, Paul Atkins, of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi which I sent on 5 December. Anyone who also wants to contact him, hopefully more successfully, can do so by emailing him at

    1. I’ve just sent a follow-up e-mail:

      Dear Mr Atkins,

      It has been more than a week since I emailed you. It would have been polite to have received at least an acknowledgement if you were unable to immediately reply to the issues that I raised.

      I hesitate to characterise your behaviour as rudeness, but equally I do hope to hear from you soon.

      In the meantime, I am sure that you are aware that some international commentators are reporting on this subject and perhaps less favourably than you might imagine. They need a meaningful response, too.

      I’m not holding my breath…

  16. I would very much like to see any one of theses ways of knowing that disproves some established principal of science. I don’t think any will be presented.

    I suppose I have mentioned it before, but it would be interesting to learn more about how cultures using oral traditions instead of writing managed to do as much as they did. At least in terms of navigation and construction of structures and seacraft.
    What little I know of it seems to be about counting to ten or twenty, with up to twenty multiples of that, and having measurement systems based upon human dimensions. Since people vary quite a bit, a chief or some other important person would have their measurements transferred to a wooden rule or rope, then used as a standard for that village.
    That would mean that when boats or buildings were built to a common number of units, everything would be larger in a village with a big chief.
    That would seem to be a common issue in many such cultures, and in our past as well.
    I find such things terribly interesting, but mostly as a way to understand the incremental steps that led us to what we have now.

  17. New reader of the blog (pointed to it from Richard Dawkin’s Twitter) and am already a big fan.

    Now this thought needs a bit more work, but one point I’d like to make is that we do have science and “science” in the western world. Real science’s reputation is taking a big hit and that’s allowing all sorts to creep in under its umbrella.

    Pretty much any “study” published in any “journal” gets called science. And then “the science backs up my x, y, or z opinion”.

    There are also subjects that are resistant to the scientific method (I’m thinking things like sociology and psychology), but that doesn’t stop people taking, sometimes very well done, studies as gospel.

    I’m a doctor and even excellent medical RCTs, published in well respected journals, subsequently fall by the wayside.

    I get that a high school science classroom is concerned with mostly scientific fact (photosynthesis, molecules, gravity), or at least it should be, but I do think that people in general don’t understand what science is. It has been eroded.

    1. Welcome from another newbie.
      Nature (the journal) has been highlighting the crisis in reproducibility affecting the social sciences. What’s worse, the social science community doesn’t seem to care, as long as a study advances some ideology and as long as it produces academic promotion for its authors. When medicine wanders into such territory as using special ways of knowing to study colonialism as a modifiable risk factor for cancer we see the same forces at work. You get a comfortable groupthink.

      Can you cite an example of a really well-done “excellent” RCT that has been debunked? I realize this is a goalpost problem, in that if you cite one, I’ll claim it was flawed and not excellent after all! I would also think it unfair to criticize a good trial that was undone by new knowledge not available at the time of the trial, like Helicobacter pylori or the discovery of statins. But that’s still how science moves forward, through its correctability, and we are entitled to treat patients on the basis of the trial meantime, provided the results are generalizable to our patients.

  18. Maori culture & beliefs is a worthy subject to teach in a New Zealand classroom, either to those who elect to learn it or as part of a broader culture & religion class. It sure as hell isn’t something that should be elevated as being an alternate knowledge on par with science and evidence.

  19. Would the inclusion of such different ways of thinking help creativity? Also the operationalization of science in western culture is shaped by the creation markets, as evidenced by the response to COVID-19. Remdesivir, at $1000/day should never have been utilised, when melatonin, at 5 cents/day, was clearly far more effective. The influence of the market and established power to determine the truth of science is understated and under-appreciated, affording ready links as to how traditional cultures have their beliefs devalued.

    1. I was not aware that “indigenous knowledge” suggested using melatonin for Covid-19. Your example does not buttress in any way the idea that traditional cultures have had their beliefs unfairly devalued.

  20. As a Earth and Space teacher in Secondary NZ, I was fascinated to see the suggested matrix for L6 Earth and Space Science. I can safely say we allready struggle to have our students describe, as an example, why the days are longer and warmer in the southern hemisphere over Summer or the inverse for winter.

    This will only muddy the water and confuse many of our students more. Science teachers I doubt will be on board with this and if we are compelled to teach it (the curriculum document allows us to teach it as we please of course in our approach), then I fear it will be tokenism, short and subjegated to one lesson. Put it as a seperate course in the humanities, do it justice and allow it to be studied holistically. Science seeks to define the world around us and not increase in tautologies and vaugeness. Love for all my student and would prefer they all love Science but I know Science teachers and this won’t get far in reality. If teachers are confused by it then our students will be, who will give exact guidance when traditionally the knowledge has been verbally transferred? The individuals interpretation will be necessary and no universal truth can be followed in this manner. Early on ~40% of forest cover was burnt off by Early Maori so stating the Environmental Guardianship trumpet is a bit disenegenuous.

    By all means provide case studies of teachers doing this allready and seeing greater success in uptake of Science, but don’t change entire systems that are allready battling issues in educating what Science is and battling misconceptions. Again it won’t get far, the silent majority of Science Educators are adpet to nuance-we welcome more contextual examples of Scientific Thinking but not when it is non scientific.

  21. As someone who HAS had training in science, I understand that science is a systematic way of gathering and testing information, using something called the “empirical method.” I had to take statistics and basic research methodology as part of my training. But if you ask the majority of people off the street, their definition of “science” means information given to you by someone with an impressive title, such as a news reporter, an administrative official from a health agency who might have no science background, etc. Those academics in the scientific community need to make a more concerted effort as to educating people on what “science” actually is and how scientists arrive at their conclusions. Part of the evolution of science involves many researchers reaching conclusions that are often in conflict with each other, or show disparities in findings. It is these findings that diverge from the general consensus that mark how new progress is made, and therefore suppressing any ideas means suppressing progress.

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