More news from New Zealand about the big science vs. indigenous “knowledge” ruckus

December 14, 2021 • 9:30 am

Suddenly I am inundated with emails from disaffected Kiwis who take issue with the New Zealand government’s and academia’s new push to teach mātauranga Māori , or Māori “ways of knowing” as coequal with real science in high-school and university science classes.  Many of these people are worried that the country is being swept with an ideology that “all things Māori are good” (tell that to the moas!), and that such an attitude is going to affect not just science, but many parts of life.  It’s one thing to recognize and make reparations to a people who were genuinely oppressed for so long, but that doesn’t mean that that that group should be valorized in every way, nor that their “ways of knowing”, which include creation myths and false legends, can be taken as coequal to science and taught in the science classroom.

I’ll divide this post into three bits.


A. Is mātauranga Māori really going to be implemented in this way, or simply taught as what it is: an agglomeration of practical advice (some of which can be considered “science construed broadly” if it’s verified), legends, myths, and statements now know to be outright false?

Documents suggest that yes, the coequality is indeed the plan.

You can find the general present-day NCEA curriculum here (NCEA is the National Certificate for Educational Achievement, which sets the standards for New Zealand secondary schools). I haven’t gone through all the standards for various areas, but I’ve looked at chemistry, biology, and “physical and earth sciences”.

This page, “What’s changing?“, details how the curriculum will be tweaked, setting out a list of changes that will be made (this plan was apparently approved in 2020, two years after a public consultation that apparently few were aware of).  I quote:

The NCEA Change Programme is a work programme led by the Ministry of Education to deliver the package of seven changes aimed at strengthening NCEA:

2.) 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.

And if you click on the link “Equal status. . .”, you see this (my bolding):

It is vital that there is parity for mātauranga Māori in NCEA, and it has equal value as other bodies of knowledge.

What we’ve heard:

Māori respondents have told us that NCEA doesn’t do enough to open te ao Māori pathways through the qualification and disadvantages too many ākonga from experiencing success as Māori.

Key changes:

  • Integrate te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori into the new ‘graduate profile’ for NCEA, and into the design of achievement standards.

  • Ensure equal support for ākonga Māori in all settings, and equal status for mātauranga Māori.

  • Develop more subjects to make sure that te ao Māori pathways are acknowledged and supported equally in NCEA (e.g. Māori Performing Arts).

  • Ensuring that, where possible and appropriate, te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori are built into achievement standards for use across English and Māori-medium settings. That might mean:

    • Having Māori-centred contexts for exemplars and assessment resources (e.g. local iwi history).
    • Designing more inclusive standards and assessment resources that allow for diverse cultural perspectives on what’s important (e.g. considering community or hapū impact, not just individual user needs.
  • Build teacher capability around culturally inclusive NCEA and assessment and aromatawai practice that is inclusive of ākonga Māori.”

So yes, the parity between mātauranga Māori and real science is going to take place, and will be used in assessing student achievement.

As to what this might mean in particular, have a look at the goals in each of many academic areas as well as proposals for change and “Big Ideas”.

As one example, check out the “learning matrix” for “Physics Earth and Space Science”:

One of my correspondents singled out this goal (I quote):

” 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”.

The other alterations of physics, meant to fit into Māori “ways of knowing”, are obscure and worrying.

And on the chemistry and biology page, under “What is chemistry and biology about?” and “Big ideas and significant learning”, you will find not a single mention of evolution, the most important and most unifying area of biology. Why else would evolution be excluded unless to placate the Māori view, which is one of creationism? This omission is stupid and offensive.


B. What is the New Zealand Royal Society up to? As you may know if you’ve followed this, seven professors from Auckland University signed an innocuous (to rational folk) letter protesting the trend to make mātauranga Māori taught coequally with science in science classes, a move equivalent to teaching Biblical creationism in evolution class. You can see the letter, published in the weekly magazine “The Listener” here or here. Two of the signers, Garth Cooper and Robert Nola, are FRSNZs, meaning “Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand”, a high distinction (Michael Coarbilis, another FRSNZ and signer, died on November 13).

The Royal Society, miffed by the claim that science should be defended as science, and not infused with myth and “other ways of knowing”, put up an objection to the letter and began an investigation of the two surviving FRSNZs.  Their statement, which makes the Royal Society look like a joke, is still up:

Note the insistence, by a body presumably dedicated to promoting truth, that “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.

This would be funny if it weren’t a ridiculous implication that truth is what any group maintains is truth. Further, the RSNZ is insisting that mātauranga Māori is a “valid truth.” They really should take this statement down, for it’s an embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the RSNZ’s investigation of Cooper and Nola continues, itself an embarrassment. Read the letter the two signed and see if you think they should be shamed and punished for it by the very Society that lauded them as eminent scholars.

Richard Dawkins also wrote to the then head of the RSNZ objecting to their statement above; you can see Richard’s letter here and his letter to the New Zealand public here. This letter, as well as the ones I and other readers and Kiwis wrote, have had no effect. If I know the signers, Cooper and Nola will not truckle to the clowns who issued the RSNZ statement above. For its own reputation, the RSNZ should drop the investigation immediately.


C. What is the University of Auckland up to? There may be good news here. But let’s review history first. Earlier this summer, Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater issued a statement explicitly criticizing The Listener letter and its seven signers, making their identities easy to find. Two of her statements from Freshwater’s official announcement of July 26:

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.

Note the “hurt and dismay claim”, which at the very outset puts her statement in a context of emotionality rather than reason. And there was more:

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 mātauranga Māori 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.

Now it’s not even clear if the University of Auckland even has an official view about science vs. mātauranga Māori, yet note that Freshwater characterizes the latter as “a distinctive and valuable knowledge system”, maintaining that “mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete.”  That is an arrant falsehood. For one thing, mātauranga Māori is creationist, which puts it squarely at odds with evolution. I won’t go on; you can find for yourself many other ways the two areas are “at odds” with each other.

The Vice-Chancellor should have said nothing about this issue, but chose to denigrate the letter and its signers. She got plenty of flak from the public and press for that announcement.

Since then, I guess she’s had second thoughts, as she’s just issued a new statement. Click on the screenshot to read it:

Here’s part of her statement, which in effect pretends that she never denigrated The Listener letter and its signers. Now she calls for calm and reasoned debate:

The debate that initially started as about the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science in the secondary school curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand has intensified and extended over recent weeks, with a number of overseas commentators adding their opinions.

Unfortunately, the debate has descended into personal attacks, entrenched positions and deliberate misrepresentations of other people’s views, including my own. This important and topical debate deserves better than that.

I am calling for a return to a more respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, and I am committing the University to action on this.

In the first quarter of 2022 we will be holding a symposium in which the different viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated calmly, constructively and respectfully. I envisage a high-quality intellectual discourse with representation from all viewpoints: mātauranga Māori, science, the humanities, Pacific knowledge systems and others.

I recognise it is a challenging and confronting debate, but one I believe a robust democratic society like ours is well placed to have.

In this commitment to action, I acknowledge the University of Auckland’s particular responsibilities in this debate as a custodian of academic freedom and free speech. Seven of our academics wrote the letter in good faith to The Listener in July 2021 that sparked the debate in the first place, and many of our academic experts have contributed to the discussion since then.

While the open-minded exchange of facts about “the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science” has potential to be a good debate, I am not optimistic. For one thing, the “indigenous way of knowing” can be slipperly, varying widely depending on who’s interpreting it. It would be lovely if they got Richard Dawkins to defend science along with some of the signers of the letter. And, as one of my Kiwi colleagues said, “I think this is good news, but productive discussion is unlikely unless [Freshwater] discourages the ongoing use of terms such as racism and cultural harm to describe those who challenge the notion of equivalence.”

Note that Freshwater criticizes the “personal attacks and misrepresentations” of views, including her own views.  She was probably blindsided and stung by the response to her “politically correct” statement, not realizing that, to rational and science-minded folks, comparing mythology to science is like kicking a wasp’s nest. I am guessing that she’s ascribing the attacks and misstatements to the “science” side alone; if she didn’t mean that, she should have said that there was bad behavior on both sides.  For example, here are two prominent academics who agree with Freshwater but who were not very polite.  Joanna Kidman is a well known sociologist of Māori descent who is a full professor at Victoria University at Wellington, NZ. Note that “OWG” stands for “Old White Guy”. As a commenter below notes, this is ageist, racist, sexist, and probably ableist.

Siouxie Wiles wasn’t very polite, either, characterizing her critics as “dinosaurs”.  Wells is a British microbiologist and science communicator who is now a professor at Auckland and was named the 2021 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Todd Somerville, the Director of Communications at the University of Auckland, sent me a letter of complaint about my original post, saying that I characterized Freshwater as “a woke and fearful woman”, which he said was an ad hominem remark. I removed that characterization to lessen the rancor as well as to placate the angry Somerville, who defended Freshwater’s statement at great length (I suppose that’s his job). But I wonder if Todd Somerville has also written to Siouxie Wiles and Joanna Kidman, criticizing them as harshly as he did me for their own ad hominem remarks, including denigrating Richard Dawkins as an “Old White Guy”. You can’t get much nastier than that! Somehow I doubt that Wiles and Kidman have been chastised.

69 thoughts on “More news from New Zealand about the big science vs. indigenous “knowledge” ruckus

  1. I wonder how this is playing out with the NZ public. This is the type of overreach that usually causes the Left to lose elections.

    1. Very difficult to disentangle the effects of this particular issue – Matauranga Maori in science education – from the various other discriminatory, race-based initiatives roiling some of the public, and then there are many other non-racial matters of mismanagement by the government, eg, soaring house prices and rentals, the inadequate quarantine system which, contrary to both international and local law, prevents 20-30,000 NZers from returning home, lack of government transparency, etc.

      At present, the government is getting a mostly free ride from the media which largely reserves its difficult questions for the opposition.

      According to some posters on a centre-right blog I read, their children have reacted with derision to some expositions of Matauranga Maori in science classes. How accurate and representative this is, I have no idea.

    2. The reality is it hasn’t become a mainstream issue at all and would have barely registered with most of the public. Given everything going on it just wouldn’t register as a priority for people.
      Same goes for the concerns I had over changes to the history curriculum.
      Whatever criticism one can make of the Labour Government the opposition have just moved on to their 4th leader in about five years since losing power and can’t break 30%. They’re currently a joke and their response to COVID has been laughable. Any possibility of them making this an issue and bringing it to a wider public dies on the basis beyond their core right wing support, no one’s listening to them.
      Also, their utter incompetence means if they did they’d be likely to use language which would just cause moderate people to think ‘dog whistle’ and switch off.
      Aside from principled opposition from people that can’t just be dismissed as ‘OWGs’ it probably won’t really register to it actually impacts kid’s education and that may take years.
      Whilst I agree with Dawkins, given his current reputation I doubt his input has helped.

      1. Somewhat confusingly, I see there is now a second Andrew from NZ commenting on this. I’ll amend my signature accordingly to avoid confusion.

        I do agree with Andrew 2’s statement that this has not become a mainstream issue at all. There has been very little about it in the mainstream news, and I have seen no discussion at all of the excellent article by Messrs Lillis & Schwerdtfeger that I posted a link on here. I only came across it by chance as a link on a right wing blog that I sometimes frequent if my blood pressure is in danger of getting too low. As for twitter, the rare comments I see from NZ political twitter are along the lines of “Ha ha ha, silly old Dawkins, what does he know about modern science, and anyway, what about long distance ocean navigation then?”. I myself was instantly blocked by Joanna Kidman for politely , as I thought, suggesting that her opponents’ views at least deserved to be discussed.

        As regards the opposition, I tend to agree with Andrew 2, although the Labour party also had a revolving door of leaders a few years ago before the ascension of Ms Ardern, and was in a very poor state, but has recovered spectacularly from that. It does not bode well that the previous National leader was demoted to 19th ranking in the opposition and given the science portfolio. A previous leader, Simon Bridges, wrote an interesting book, “National Identity” after he was knifed and shoved aside by the leader before that:

        He has a chapter on education, and as far as I can tell is genuinely interested and concerned about the state of education in NZ. He’s now 3rd in the opposition rankings, and I though it at least worth sending him an email, although I’m not holding my breath.

        1. As most people know political Twitter has little connection to to real world politics and I’d argue it’s even more extreme in NZ. You’re starting with a smaller pool making it much easier for what is a very tiny cabal of the identinarian left to enforce their orthodoxy and there’s even less space to for competing ideas. Your experience of being blocked for merely suggesting the letter writers might deserve a hearing is the least surprising thing ever.
          I do think one of the reasons it’s not got traction in the mainstream is that whilst there’s plenty of issues with regards to the state’s relationship with all things Māori that decent people can be concerned about, opposition (obviously not the scientists) is tainted by association with a very right wing retrograde view most NZers rejected long ago. Once there’s more mainstream opposition articulated in fashion that woke claims of ‘racism’ seem ludicrous to moderate NZers I think the Government might need to take heed.

          1. On “tainted by association”, the issue has been taken up by David Farrar on kiwiblog, the comments section of which is a haven for a variety of right wing nutters. Oddly, while decrying the teaching of MM, many of them also deny that global warming is a thing because you can’t trust scientists, and extol the virtues of things such as ivermectin while being strongly anti vaccination. A bit like Toby Young, who has also criticised MM teaching, but only last year was telling us that there would be no second Covid wave in the UK, which had probably already reached herd immunity.

  2. “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

    -quotation of an “Old White Guy”, stroke survivor, and writer Richard Dawkins, in “Unweaving the Rainbow”

    I would emphasize his use of “our ordinariness” here.


      Watch the whole thing and be enlightened. Or, if you must, jump to 16:45 and/or 19:25.

      Yes, we are well into the twenty-first century, and there is a recent concept album about evolution played by a bunch of long-haired bearded men and sung by probably the greatest singer of all time. Rationality is still there if you know where to look. 50 years ago, concept albums topped the charts. Look what is there now. Sic transit gloria mundi.

      1. True. They just mean the ones who are still continent and kicking.
        I’m still offended by her choice of acronym. I so wanted to be a WOG.

          1. I would be more than delighted if the term came to apply only to people who look like me and the world forgot it ever applied to people who look like you…..and whomever else east of the Channel the term was coined for. As as racial slur it’s ugly. But I would wear the acronym with pride.

    1. I didn’t know what OWG meant. Thanks.
      And indeed it is ageist (O), racist( W) and sexist (G) although the G could be a gal.
      Prof Freshwater is a nurse that specialized in mental problems and is a proponent of ‘transformative learning’, noble endeavor, but that obviously did not give her a clue about what science is.

      1. My belief is that it is very easy to study science, even to practice it professionally, and never come to understand what science is all about. The big test, I believe, is the ability to study convincing-sounding varieties of counterfeit science (e.g. CRT) and say why they fail the test.

  3. “which he said was an ad hominem remark”

    He should have said “ad feminem remark”. Thus, he is guilty of the deadly sin of misgendering and must be cancelled now and forever amen!

    Sit back and watch the woke each themselves.

    All of this is no surprise, really. At least since I read a tweet pointing out that just because a woman has a penis doesn’t mean that she can’t be a lesbian, and realized that it was not over-the-top satire, then it is clear that the woke have abandoned rationalism. If all it takes to change one’s gender, or even, as the claim is now, sex, is self-identification, then all of knowledge is up for grabs.

    Sokal sounds rational in comparison.

    1. > He should have said “ad feminem remark”

      Funny, but no. The primary meaning of ‘homo’ (‘hominem’ is an inflected form) is ‘ḿankind’ and gives us the word ‘human’. A distant secondary meaning of the Latin word ‘homo’ is ‘male’.
      ‘vir’ and ‘mas’ mean ‘man’ and gives us the words ‘virile’ and ‘masculine’.

      Still, for the overly PC, once a word has been tainted, it may or may not be irredeemable, depending on who tries to reclaim it.

      1. Sorry, forgot the smiley. 🙂

        What is true though: “homosexual” comes from he greek “homo”, meaning “same” (as opposed to “hetero”, meaning “different”), but some think that the “homo” in “homosexuality” is the Latin “homo” for “man”, because homosexuals are men in a sexual relationship with other men, right?

        While “vir” and “mas” definitely mean human-with-a-penis, and “homo” is more general, it is often used to mean both “human” and “man”. The French “homme” is, as far as I know, the only word for both. “Mankind” presumably includes women as well. 🙂

    2. “…the woke have abandoned rationalism”

      It’s not abandonment; it’s all out war. Everything can be seen as a zero-sum power struggle, you see, and science & rationality are on the wrong side.

      1. Nailed it. As rationalists, we default to thinking we can win arguments. And then along comes wahabist Islam or the “1492Landback” movement and we see how wrong our world view can be when there is no umpire to declare their arguments out of order.

  4. Every possible future of social media seems dystopian. Every time I see a Facebook or Twitter post referenced anywhere, my eyes glaze over and I skip to something else. I’m not complaining about their inclusion on this site, but I am looking forward to a post-social-media future.

    1. You have to take all social media postings (particularly from people one doesn’t “know”, i.e. not our host, Pinker, Dawkins, etc) as graffiti on a toilet wall. That’s how I view it when I encounter tweets or social media posts.
      “OWG” (what a bigoted idea, what a preening, virtue signaling halo polishing jerk using it).
      NYC (formerly of NZ)

  5. I think the academic Elect in NZ are trying to surf down an avalanche that they had no small role in starting.

  6. My questions: What do Maori ways of knowing (MWK) suggest as the proper way to deal with Covid, and will the government of New Zealand accept that alternative as the equivalent to a person’s being vaccinated? And if MWK say that people don’t need to mask, social distance, or quarantine, will the government accept that?

    1. Good point.
      But it would I think see the Government straight to a “vote of no confidence “ which they would loose without a doubt. This would be a bonus for NZ, so MWK unlikely but possible I suppose.
      Regards, I always like your posts.

      1. NZ has a ban on nuclear power and related. They broke up the ANZUS treaty by refusing to allow nuclear-powered US ships dock in their ports.

        So I’m guessing the main insight will be “it’s evil.”

        1. Was the concern with “nuclear powered”, or was it with ‘nuclear weapon laden’, ships? Let’s not get the two confused and overly intertwined in general, not just re a perfectly understandable action which was clearly entirely derived from opposition to nuclear war, not to nuclear reactors, IIRC.

          It may very well be that the survival of the human species against climate change will depend on convincing the ignorant voters in many countries to think clearly about this distinction, about deaths and years of life lost already from coal-fired generators versus nuclear accidents, and for those countries to adopt more, not less, nuclear reactors, until such time as fusion reactors become practical.

          1. NZ’s nuclear policy does not prohibit nuclear power stations or land-based research activities, although none exist.

            Nuclear armed and nuclear powered ships are alike prohibited from New Zealand ports.

            Since the end of the USSR in the early 1990s, US Navy surface ships no longer embark nuclear weapons and this includes the air wings on the aircraft carriers.

            The fleet attack carriers are all nuclear powered and so barred.

            USS Sampson, a conventionally powered destroyer exercising in the region with ships from other navies, stood off to provide emergency assistance after the 2016 earthquake. She was invited to make a port visit after the Prime Minister was able to be satisfied she had no nukes embarked. According to Wiki, she was the first American warship to dock in 33 years.

      2. You don’t meed to go that far, what about something māturanga māori could be closer to, such as the efficiency of PVs? I’m sure māturanga māori can improve their efficienfy?

  7. Please keep up the good work. There is a large number of people in NZ outraged at the Maori-supremacy ideology being enforced undemocratically in academia and other parts of society by a very vocal minority of regressive-left activists.

    1. I’m just doing this to help my colleagues in NZ and realize that a lot of this won’t be of particular interest to readers. But it sure does interest me because I’m fascinated by what “progressives” do when two of their values come into conflict, as they do here.

  8. Looks like chemistry did better than biology in the link, as the native terms appeared to just be papered over the standard notion of atoms, molecules, electromagnetism, etc. But…then there’s this:

    Chemistry allows us to predict how substances may alter when the surrounding conditions change, how they react to form new substances, and how the mauri [lifeforce] of the taiao [ecosystem…best translation I can think of] is affected when this happens.

    Gotta admit, I’m really curious about that. Two thoughts spring to mind:

    The first is that this is one of those situations where our best response may be to simply hand our academic opposition the mic and have them explain their idea in detail. There’s probably nothing a chemist can say that will debunk or undermine this faster than having our intellectual opposition tell us exactly what they plan on teaching on the subject of how a chemical reaction affects the lifeforce of the ecosystem. What’s the laboratory practical associated with observing how the mauri is affected by adding reagent A to B?

    The second thought is: if I have to sit through your explanation, please at least come up with a better story for your mauri than Lucas did with the force.

    1. There’s also this from the “Chemistry and Biology Learning Matrix Curriculum Level 6”:

      “Recognise that mauri is present in all matter which exists as particles held together by attractive forces”

      Even Lucas never claimed that midi-chlorians were present in inanimate matter.

  9. The Department of Biological Sciences at University of Auckland is hiring a teaching fellow to implement these policies. The job ad itself seems innocuous, sort of cultural indigenization of undergraduate teaching (like at many Canadian universities). I guess the devil will be in the details.

    That is a great biology department. I wonder what faculty members think of this effort.

  10. We can surely look forward to experts in Rongoa (Maori medicine) prescribing a combination of certain plants and the appropriate incantations to deal with covid, not to mention other infectious diseases, diabetes, cancer, and everything else. It is all co-equal with pakeha science, remember.

    Do readers of this site remember how the silliness began at Evergreen State College? It began with an exercise of sentimental indigenous symbolism—-everyone at a college meeting was invited to “get on the canoe” to demonstrate their wokeness. [Bret Weinstein failed to do so, thus aligning himself with the colonialist Old White Guy system of oppression.] Prof. Weinstein more recently pointed out that Evergreen is everywhere now—including, somewhat to our surprise, the land of Peter Jackson, where university Vice-Chancellors and the NZ Royal Society are turning handsprings to get on the outrigger.

  11. Siouxie Wiles wasn’t very polite, either, characterizing her critics as “dinosaurs”. I’m gonna look at this one “glass half full” and say at least they are accepting the existence of dinosaurs. 🙂

    1. According to matauranga Salish, there were no dinosaurs. However, in pre-historic times animals (and shrubs, trees, and mountains) could talk—an early form, one might say, of Diversity Consultancy.

  12. So what kind of research is going on in mātauranga Māori? When was the last time something new was added to the body of knowledge?

    Our society spent time and energy and resources fighting to establish that science would be independent of cultural and political and religious systems. Science in India, Japan, China, Germany, France, and the USA is all the same science. It used to be in New Zealand as well. Research everywhere contributes new findings to science every day.

    People in New Zealand seem to have a wrong idea about science, that it is somehow a competitor to mātauranga Māori, that it is some sort of cultural or religious system. They need to discover what science is.

  13. I wish I ‘d seen this earlier before I commented (somewhat conciliatory) on The Panda’s Thumb. It is pretty clear that this program has really gone unnecessarily too far, while a more modest approach might have been fine. The lesson plans for the sciences now seem very cult-ish, which is sad.
    I predict the planned symposium will not go well since the progressives who have bought into this new curriculum Can Not. Will Not. frame their arguments without describing their detractors as racist white colonizers. Not making those denunciations will prove to be impossible for them.

  14. All that negativity here! I’m personally exited about Maori contributions to science, and can’t wait to hear their take on gluons, transcription factors and neural manifolds.

  15. It would be interesting to see what a parent would say if they found that their child failed a significant science course because deficient in Maori ‘knowledge’. What if that child was not accepted into a prestigious University because of that ‘failure’? If the parent was a lawyer…

  16. In the future NZ, manufactured products should be labeled to indicate whether they are built according to traditional science or Maori words which mean nothing to me. The public can then choose which product to buy, assuming they are functionally competitive. Same thing as medicine vs “alternative” medicine.

  17. Does anyone know what the NZ Skeptics are saying about this? For what it’s worth there’s not been one single mention of this on the Australian Skeptics ‘The Skeptic Zone’ podcast and you’d think with Creationism being in the mix they would comment.

  18. The second response from Dawn Freshwater is potentially encouraging, but it remains to be seen how the proposed symposium next year plays out. I see she is also proposing to add “Pacific knowledge systems” to the mix. Personally I would not be at all surprised if the Auckland student body started a campaign to protest about the university giving a platform to “racists” and get the whole thing shut down. I fear that this sort of response to the original Listener letter is typical of the level of discussion we can expect:

    As people have pointed out, the debate is partly being driven by a sense of grievance amongst Maori about historical injustices and the systematic undervaluing and suppression of their culture – it is within living memory that Maori children were beaten for speaking te reo at school. Unfortunately this has lead, in my opinion, to unjustified claims for some aspects of Māori culture, including the pretence that mātauranga Māori either is science or is an equally valid alternative to science, and the claim that Māori have a uniquely deep and intuitive bond with nature and the land – this despite the extinction of the moa and extensive deforestation on arrival. The deforestation was of course carried on with a vengeance by European settlers.

    As our host points out, the discussion may not be of interest to all followers of this site, but I for one am extremely grateful that he is giving wider coverage to the issue. For those not exhausted by the topic, I highly recommend watching a video of a program which appeared on Māori television shortly after the Listener letter appeared. It gives an excellent idea of the flavour of local discussion, such as it is.

    I am told that it may be difficult to watch this outside of NZ, but people have reported success using browsers supporting Tor – eg Brave ( , which like anyway for its ad blocking and privacy features.

    The first part of the program is an interview with one of the signatories of the letter, the late Professor Michael Corballis. In the second part, this is discussed by three Māori academics. The discussion does convey extremely well a great sense of grievance. Unfortunately none of participants appears to know much about science. Tina Ngata, the author of the rant about colonial racism I linked to above, appears to believe that Ernest Rutherford invented nuclear weapons. Rangi Matamua seems like a nice chap, and has a genuine enthusiasm for his subject, which I would describe as Māori astronomical folklore. But then he says things like this:

    “If Māori say everything began in a small place with Rangi and Papa and was exploded outwards… that’s ‘myths and legends’. But when it’s a singularity and a ‘big bang’, it’s science. Same as you know, when we say we’ve got genealogy to stars, they say ‘how ridiculous is that?’ Now, everything begins its life in a star – every molecule, everything that makes up the entire world.”

    So again I despair.

    1. I think you’re right to be concerned. This is not just a local issue confined to New Zealand. I live in California, and I’ve seen anecdotal evidence that many people on the far left have an odd attraction to indigenous cultures and “other ways of knowing.” I remember when I was in college in the late 90s (I’m younger than many of the readers here) I attended a presentation on Native American storytelling. The lecturer, a non-native white woman, insisted on referring to the stories as “teachings” — not “myths” or “legends,” but teachings, a word that seems to give them a kind of factual legitimacy. (I don’t remember much else about the presentation, but that choice of words remains permanently etched in my mind.)

      By the same token, I run across many educated people who revere South American shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, Ayurveda, Feng Shui, and other pre-modern, non-scientific belief systems that would have been labeled as superstition a generation ago. Christianity is declining among the educated elites of Western culture, and they’re looking for something to fill the void. Anything primitive, ancient, and exotic seems to fit the bill. Also, I can’t help but think that many westerners haven’t fully shaken off the myth of the Noble Savage, and they’re projecting it onto the Maori and other tribal peoples.

      Again, these are just my impressions and I haven’t done any kind of formal study, but maybe others have had similar experiences.

      1. When nominally “educated” individuals express reverence for superstition systems—whether old-timey, postmodern, or Indigenous—a simple test will distinguish seriousness from play-acting. One
        has only to find out whether the individual, when suffering from a toothache, consults a dentist.

    2. Andrew: I think you are spot on in your observations conveyed in this and your other posts, and I see you ended up at many of the same primary sources as I have over the past months. So thanks for bringing this to the attention of others and for making me feel less alone. In the interview you link to above, the first question Matamu is asked is “what is mātauranga Māori?” and he immediatley deflects this. I am curious to learn your opinion of his appearance in the following clip

      This is where I think it becomes flat out dangerous, because a message seems to be conveyed by a full university professor that indications of COVID may or may not be picked up from “the environment around us” and it could be seen as response from Nature due to pollution. And not only a full university professor, but at celebrated one

      If someone asked a scientist if he/she had seen any signs in the sky that relates to coronavirus, I would expect an unequivocal, “No, that is not physically possible”.

  19. You have suggested that this topic may not be of much interest to general readers and you are doing it out of honourable duty to your NZ colleagues. I will chime in with the many who already have that the topic is of great interest and I do hope you will share with us everything you get.

  20. This article ( suggests one of the seven professors might have regretted signing the Listener letter:

    ”That some of them may have regretted co-signing the letter is suggested by the fact that one announced his resignation from his Dean role, a few days after the scandal broke. This resignation is an example of the real-world consequences of such a letter”

    The author, an expert in Mātauranga Māori, also asks if those seven professors really know anything about science:

    ”So we may conclude that most or all of the seven professors were making judgemental claims about Māori knowledge that were well outside their professional brief – but the second, more interesting, question to ask is: What do they actually know about science?”

    The only thing that comes to mind is this: The lunatics are running the asylum! What a pity Carl Sagan is not around to see all of this.

    1. It certainly was. Thank you, and thanks to the authors for such a comprehensive and fair contribution.
      (I wasn’t surprised to see the fingerprints of UNDRIP all over this controversy.)

    2. Just one interesting detail to add: It seems the son (Dr Tim Corballis) of one of the seven professors (Prof Mike Croballis) signed the protest against the Listener letter. Link:

      I thought that was interesting …in support of academic freedom! Ah well, I think despite the likes of Carl Sagan and many others who have tried so hard to educate the masses about the nature of science we have failed somehere. But then at least this shows academic freedom is well and alive …

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