Royal Society of New Zealand responds to complaints about investigations of its fellows’ free speech; and two science-supporting academics apparently get punished for their free speech

December 17, 2021 • 10:45 am

As I’ve noted before, seven professors at the University of Auckland signed a letter in the weekly magazine The Listener that criticized the governments’ and universities’ plans to teach the indigenous Māori “way of knowing,” mātauranga Māori, as equivalent to modern science, though the Māori “way of knowing” includes elements of the supernatural, myths, some practical knowledge, and so on. You can see the Listener letter here, here or here, and I’ll quote briefly from it:

A recent report from a Government NCEA working group on proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum aims “to esure parity for with the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA (particularly Western/Pakeha epistemologies)”. It includes the following description as part of a new course: “It promotes discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of Eurocentric views (among which, its use as a a rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge); and the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Māori and other indigenous peoples.”

. . . Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.

To accept it as the equivalent of science is to patronise and fail indigenous populations; better to ensure that everyone participates in the world’s scientific enterprises. Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, but it is not science.

This is pretty innocuous—unless you’re a Kiwi. For many Kiwis see all things Māori as inherently good (they are seen as an “oppressed minority”, which they were), ergo mātauranga Māori is valid science and should be taught as such in science classes—both in secondary schools and colleges (“tertiary schools”). The seven signers of the letter, three of them members of New Zealand’s Royal Society (one now deceased), were vilified widely, and I’ve written about that before. The Royal Society itself issued a statement criticizing the professors, and has launched an investigation of the two remaining signatories in the Academy, Robert Nola and Garth Cooper (Cooper is at least a quarter Māori). Nola and Cooper could be booted out of the RSNZ for simply exercising free speech, which apparently is not “free” in New Zealand if it casts doubt on the truth of Māori mythology. Here’s part of the RSNZ’s statement:

Royal Society Te Apārangi supports, fosters and recognises research within many knowledge systems.

The Society is deeply proud of the rich variety of outstanding work being undertaken across Aotearoa at present. In the past year alone, this includes Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd’s literary scholarship (winner of the 2020 Rutherford Medal), the work of Te Pūnaha Matatini on COVID-19 modelling by 2020 Te Puiaki Pūtaiao Matua a Te Pirimia Prime Minister’s Science Prize Winner (led by Professor Shaun Hendy), and the knowledge sharing of Matariki by Professor Rangi Matamua.

The Society supports all New Zealanders to explore, discover and share knowledge.

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

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

Dr Brent Clothier
President

Professor Charlotte Macdonald

Chair of Academy Executive Committee

If you read the original letter, you’ll see how weaselly this statement is. It’s simply an act of cowardice performed in deference to the Māori people and their supporters who were offended. Yes, Māori myths and legends are of anthropological interest, and their practical knowledge can be valuable, but none of that should be taking up time in science class. There are other venues for teaching it. And to demonize professors for holding that view is beyond the pale, and an embarrassment to New Zealand academics and science in particular.

Defenders of the “Satanic Seven” have been few in New Zealand, simply because Kiwi academics could be fired or demoted for defending science over myth, and so they keep their gobs shut. (There’s no First Amendment in New Zealand.) Further, the country is especially woke with respect to its indigenous population, so there’s been precious little criticism of the Royal Society in the press (or the University of Auckland, which also issued a statement demonizing the signers of the Listener letter, though the Vice-Chancellor has backed off a bit). Criticism has come mainly from outside the country, and you can see some examples here from places like the Times of London or the Daily Mail.  Richard Dawkins issued a few tweets excoriating the coequal “science” initiative.

Now the Chief Executive of New Zealand’s Royal Society, Paul Atkins, has issued another weaselly statement (click to access announcement and to enlarge):

This conflagration, which Atkins appears to deplore, is absolutely predictable, and although the Listener letter started it, it was a petition by 2,000 Kiwis, including many academics, and the outcry against the Listener letter on social media, that fueled all the rancor. He’s beefing because the pushback from overseas and from people like Richard Dawkins put the RSNZ in a bad light.

What you should notice here (beside the Maori words, which make it hard for a foreigners to understand), is this bit:

Media have reported that the Society has received complaints about the Fellows who contributed to the letter, with premature speculation about the outcome of the Society’s Complaints Procedures. Taken out of context, these comments have subsequently gained traction across a number of international networks.”

How should we envision, then, the “context” provided by RSNZ’s initial denunciation of the letter, a denunciation that remains on their website today? Is this what Atkins feels helped “get the current discussion back onto a helpful and constructive basis that better serves Aotearoa New Zealand’s interests“? Atkins has some chutzpah!

Note as well that the RSNZ is firmly supportive of inculcating indigenous ways of knowing into science, and to “uphold the value of mātauranga Māori“.  It’s absolutely clear to me that the government, the Royal Society, and universities in New Zealand are already deeply committed to teaching mātauranga Māori as coequal with modern science in science classes, and documents I’ll show in later posts will support this. New Zealand is on an unstoppable train that leads to Bad Science City.

As for “supporting science and the principles of freedom of speech,” well, that’s bogus too. Two signers of the Listener letter, faculty at the University of Auckand, have, according to public documents, been penalized—almost surely for putting their names to that letter.

The first report comes from this article by John Ross in the Times Higher Education Section (click on screenshot, you can register for free):

Here you can see this:

For Auckland fish ecologist Kendall Clements, co-authoring the letter in The Listener may have taken a professional toll. Within 12 days of the letter’s publication, Clements was removed from two collaboratively taught ecology and evolution courses that he had helped deliver for years. And while an email criticising the authors was distributed to staff and graduate students in the School of Biological Sciences, [Garth] Cooper’s attempt to respond through the same channel was blocked.

The university says the school email distribution list was “not the appropriate medium” for this type of debate, so its moderators were told not to allow further emails on the topic. And Clements’ teaching duties were changed to balance his workload after another academic’s departure, “and to ensure that the best teaching teams were in place to deliver all courses. The Listener letter was a catalyst for actioning this, but not for the decision.”

Clements says many academics have privately thanked him for voicing concerns that they share but are afraid to express. He says he supports the inclusion of mātauranga Māori elements when they can clearly add value – in subjects on overfishing or tree preservation, for example – but questions their relevance to things like DNA replication.

Actually,I know Clements, and he’s not really a fish ecologist but an evolutionary ecologist. But no matter. Note that Cooper was publicly criticized in his department via email, but wasn’t allowed to respond. Their explanation is unconvincing, as is the claim that The Listener letter played any role in changing his courses. Why should it? That makes me suspect that yes, changing his courseload was a punishment for signing the letter.
And another signer, Professor Douglas Elliffe of Auckland’s School of Psychology, also took a hit, as reported in this issue of New Zealand Political Research (click on the screenshot, the letter is a rare local defense of the Satanic Seven and a rare criticism teaching mātauranga Māori as equivalent to modern science):

An excerpt (my bolding)

In our democratic nation we should be allowed to enter into a rational debate on the role of mātauranga Māori in our society when it impacts on other cultures, and indeed on any other knowledge or way of knowing (indigenous or not) and its relationship with modern science. The Tertiary Education Act 1989 (section 161) provides for:

. . . the freedom of academic staff and students, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions.

However, in the ensuing public debate the professors have been accused variously of racism, protection of privilege and of advancing a narrow and outmoded view of science. Subsequently, Professor Douglas Elliffe resigned as an Acting Dean at the University of Auckland in order to calm inflamed feelings within the University and the Science Faculty.

Now I don’t know Dr. Elliffe and haven’t communicated with him, but I’ll bet that he was somehow forced to resign. That’s because it’s said he did it to “calm inflamed feelings”. My own guess, for which I have no evidence, is that the “inflamed faculty” made his continuing deanship an insupportable position.

It seems clear that Clements was punished for signing the letter to The Listener (the “catalyst”) and I suspect Elliffe could not continue as Acting Dean because he faced so much opposition within his division.  I’ll try to find out more. The upshot is that two people have lost portions of their appointments after signing the letter to The Listener. My guess is that these losses reflect punishment by the woke.

Stay tuned. We have more on this controversy (but not today).  New Zealand science is heading off the rails.

 

32 thoughts on “Royal Society of New Zealand responds to complaints about investigations of its fellows’ free speech; and two science-supporting academics apparently get punished for their free speech

  1. IF (big IF) these beliefs are taught respectfully as the ”science” understood by earlier peoples, it’s a fine example of how science continues to expand, reexamine and improve its knowledge. Nothing wrong with that. But, if the Maori can’t see the difference between what was believed and what is now shown to be more accurate….they’re in trouble.

    My Creek ancestors would have sung magical chants to bring rain. Should those lyrics be taught as science, too?

    1. Your comment reminds me of something Joseph Campbell said, that the conflict is not at root between science and religion but between the science of today and the science, i.e., body of knowledge, of 2500 years ago. Of course, that ancient science (broadly construed) early on became ensconced as inerrant and unalterable truth, hence our current conflicts. What these ancient and indigenous bodies of knowledge lack is the scientific method, which is a process of systematic doubt for the purpose of continually revising our body of knowledge as unknowns become known. It goes without saying that those who faithfully accept the inerrancy of a book or oral history are incapable of doubt.

    2. Excellent idea, perhaps you could propose this to NZ Academic community 😅 My ancestors were in awe of Thor and his lightning and thunder, they could add this as well.

    3. There is a place for such studies, but it’s a place alongside studying the “neptunist” versus “plutonist” question in the history of my own subject. The “History of Geology” group is a perfectly valid SIG (Special Interest Group) of my professional body. But it’s contributions to the SIGs on radiometric dating, reservoir modelling and ore petrogenesis are minor, to say the most.

      My Creek ancestors would have sung magical chants to bring rain. Should those lyrics be taught as science, too?

      Wellllll, if they contribute to, say, the design of a new COVID vaccine “spike” antigen, maybe. Otherwise … my History teacher, who I quite liked, would hate me for saying this, but “into the dustbin of history they go”. They are as practically useful as 5000 year old cuneiform taxation records – which we diligently conserve in museums, prosecute illicit trade in, and mine – painstakingly – for insights into the nature and mores of the society that generated them. But use them to design next years village council budget ? … nope.

  2. One common human characteristic is the inability to admit when one is wrong, and as the old adage goes, to stop digging when one is in a hole. The NZ society and Auckland U must surely understand by now that they are defending something indefensible, that Maori mythology is equivalent to modern science. Predictably, they will keep digging.

      1. I did that. Strange angry place. Some of the apparently good-willed posters saw inclusivity value in introducing units on, say, the tides and seasons with traditional beliefs about how they worked, just as we teach the Ptolemaic universe. I guess the teacher is supposed to smile indulgently at the Indigenous students while doing so. But they miss two obvious differences:

        1) We teach about Ptolemy to show how he was wrong, not out of respect for his culture. You must respect Tycho Brahe’s skill at observation but you still have to teach his model as a failed attempt to save the geocentric universe. And the poor Indigenous students you have been stringing along with their “knowledge” about tides and seasons still have to be brought back to earth with the clear unambiguous understanding that those views are wrong, or at least incomplete. Some will say this is cultural violence and was not what they were promised when their stuff was put in the curriculum.

        2) These “colonial” wrong views of the cosmos nonetheless provided frameworks for later scientists who could use those written records to test and improve their own models as technology (particularly lenses and clocks) advanced. Maori wrong views add nothing because they were already known to be wrong when European scientists first encountered them. So we teach Ptolemy to show how observation falsified him. Bringing in Maori ways of knowing just to show that they too, fail almost seems gratuitous. The quicker students will be asking, “So why are we spending so much time on things you are showing to be false just to show us they are false, but that didn’t help us find the truth.” And if you aren’t going to falsify wrong information, then you just leave it hanging in the air as a legitimate alternative explanation.

        This is about power (defined as the ability to get someone to bend to your will), not science.

        1. “Strange angry place.”

          Gary Hurd was angry and possibly a little strange, but I thought that everyone else on that thread was cogent (not counting Robert Byers, who is allowed one incoherent ramble on each thread) and polite. Usually we have fairly interesting discussions.

      2. The anthropologist was not able to distinguish the sociology of science from science itself. PZ Meyers once claimed on his blog that math was a social construct and all of that nonsense and even most of his commenters told him he was wrong, Kind of left poor old PZ with Pi all over his face.

        Why do so many social ‘scientlists’ (ideaologues) claim to be pro-minority and all they can do is spew is anti-white hatred? Reminds me when my fellow Canadians claimed to be pro-Canada when all they did was spew anti-American hatred. It’s much better now, we tend to say positive things about Canada in showing our pro-Canadian bias. We grew up somewhat. I hope the far-left social-science idiots can do the same.

    1. as the old adage goes, to stop digging when one is in a hole.

      Gods below, but I hate that adage!
      I hate it as someone who has spent decades being paid for painstakingly digging holes for extremely good reasons, and getting exactly that comment when we spend several days digging a “logging pocket” of no utility at all, except to allow us to measure the properties of the hole we’re actually interested in.
      Meanwhile, from the Department of Digging Holes for Masochism, Self-flagellation and Discovery of Caverns Measureless to Man (aka, the caving club’s “digging section”), we also get into holes and keep on digging for extremely good, well thought out reasons, with continual re-evaluation of the vital question of “where’s the draught” and “where does that water go to/ come from”.
      If someone is going to introduce a Global “Burning of hated adages” Day, I’ll carve that one into a pew from a deconsecrated church and drag it along for the bonfire. I’ll bring some tatties too, to get benefit from it.

      1. Delightful. I fully concur. Much of civilization consists of digging exactly the right holes.
        The people of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia who now have their transportation links substantially restored have the Diggers to thank.

  3. One Faculty at Massey University in Palmerston, NZ, is relevant to this discussion. It is the School of Maori Knowledge, the website of which explains its mission in these words, copied directly: “We emphasise research that promotes a Māori world view.”

    New Zealand’s population is relatively small, and the population of academic scientists there is thus even smaller. I wonder whether the behaviors of the Royal Society, Vice-Chancellor Drainwater, and the rest, all reflect a kind of cultural founder effect in operation. That is, a set of clichés and postures relating to anything Maori (which correspond to the doctrine of the holy DEI in the US) have very nearly gone to fixation in the academic/cultural sphere.

    If this analogy is correct, then it is already game over in Aotearoa, but our larger population size in the US may, just possibly, protect us from going altogether to fixation. It was perhaps an earlier version of cultural Founder Effect that explains why Ernest Rutherford was so intent on getting away, reaching first Canada and then Manchester and then Cambridge in his flight from the land of the long white cloud.

    1. I think they are afraid of the Maori. Not just afraid for their mortal souls in a guilty-woke way but in a existential feel-it-in-your gut sense that Lt. Bligh must have felt out there in the wastes of the Pacific Ocean when he became aware that control of the Bounty was slipping away from him and it might soon not be a King’s ship any more. Until one day it wasn’t.

      From the U of A’s website: “In 2021, [26 July] the University of Auckland was gifted a new Māori name by the people of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei in an official gifting ceremony. Our new Māori name, Waipapa Taumata Rau, represents our ongoing partnership with iwi and champions building respect for Māori knowledge. It challenges us to understand that we are part of a whakapapa of historic and current relationships. Evolving the University’s identity to reflect Waipapa Taumata Rau is under way. We are on a journey to create an identity that connects with our diverse student, staff, alumni and whānau audiences, while reflecting our unique place in the world.”

      To be fair, the University already had a Maori name. But this one is better, apparently. Someday it won’t be the University of Auckland at all.

      Which makes you wonder what drives people to move the other way. The vice-chancellor is a PhD nurse from Nottingham. Started in touch-feely academics at Leeds, moved to Australia after 3 years as Pro Vice-Chancellor. Career gap of 2 years, then appointed (out of the blue?) to U Western Australia as Deputy Vice. Promoted to vice-chancellor internally, lasted 2 years in the role and now fetches up in what is on paper a lateral move but is in fact to a lesser university in Auckland. Big fish in progressively smaller ponds until she finally finds warm waters?

      Had to chuckle. Her Wiki bio credits her(self, presumably) with having “led [at UWA] the first Inclusion and Division strategy”. If that’s a typo I am not calling their attention to it.

      1. Victoria University of Wellington is already actively rebranding as “Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington” with the “Victoria University of Wellington” bit being increasingly disregarded.

  4. A little while ago I had considered the idea that bringing up Maori beliefs and mythologies would be a fine way to add a little bit of spice to various topics in a science class – but that then the modern understanding of universal science would of course dominate the lesson. This sort of thing is common enough here and probably in every other country on the planet.
    But from what I’ve seen in their plans, the abundant inclusion of Maori traditional viewpoints looks to be pretty much jammed in everywhere. A little bit of tabasco can be good. But the whole bottle??

    The only effective countermeasure would be a wide disputation from teachers and academics from across NZ. Only by sheer numbers will they gain protection from the retribution that the other side claims isn’t happening.

  5. In a less fraught area, I distinguish between the science and the lore of beekeeping. The former is a body of facts, reliable even if restricted in scope and still provisional, hard-won by observation. The latter is simply all the things that older beekeepers tell the newer. It is a combination of facts confirmed by the science, things that may be true even if not as generally as asserted, and complete rubbish.
    The lore is sometimes useful and sometimes all one has but by no means the equivalent of the science.
    But old beekeepers as a class were never oppressed by privileged scientists and so the distinction can be made without … all this mess.

  6. New Zealand science is in deep, irretrievable doo doos.
    Pressure to ‘maorify’ the school science curriculum seems to be one more requirement of the Treaty of Waitangi, according to which Maori and colonists must be equal partners in every walk of life, including academia.
    Of indirect relevance to the ‘maorification of High School Science has been, and continues to be, the total lack of academic rigor in High School Biology, in which leading biology teachers have a poorer subject understanding than the brighter students. The reference below tells the tale:

    https://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2021/02/guest_post_something_is_rotten_in_the_state_of_education_high_school_biology_in_new_zealand.html

  7. History shows us that totalitarian regimes eventually destroy themselves by getting rid of their best minds. I wonder when the exodus of scientists, artists and other intellectuals from NZ will begin in earnest.

  8. The Royal Society Te Apārangi CEO Mr Atkins, statement that the “Royal Society Te Apārangi remains committed to supporting science and the principles of freedom of speech” opens a Pandora box on the state of science in New Zealand that goes beyond the current issue of mātauranga Māori and science. This is because Mr. Atkin’s statement is just plain wrong. It is not true that the Royal Society Te Apārangi remains committed to supporting science and the principles of freedom of speech. Far from it. In June of this year the Society established a Panel to address a complaint that some members were acting in ways incompatible with the ethics principles of the Society. Among these activities was the call by these ‘scientists’ for the suppression and censorship of a competing research program that they opposed. These ‘scientists’ were not content with debating the issues in the open market place of ideas, but rather they wanted to eliminate that which they disagreed with altogether.

    The research program they wanted to suppress is known as panbiogeography – a research program in evolutionary biogeography that addresses the spatial-temporal origins and evolution of organisms (which has direct implications for evolutionary biology). The Society panel decided that suppression was indeed compatible with the Society’s ethics and an acceptable behavior. So here we enter a world in which a major scientific institution accepts suppression of science which is an action more akin to totalitarian regimes than it is of science as it is claimed to be about the exploration and development of knew knowledge. Where would we be if COVID science had been suppressed this way (rather rhetorical since we already saw the consequences for the thousands who died needlessly). There is something definitely wrong with the state of science in New Zealand when suppression and censorship is the order of the day and an ‘ethical’ practice. What a mess.

    1. It might be noted that Dr Charlotte McDonald who signed the original respose is an historian specialising in NZ colonial and women’s history and the President from 2018 up to earlier this year, was Prof Wendy Larner, a geographer “whose research sits in the interdisciplinary fields of globalisation, governance and gender.” The clause that is central to this complaint [“Be respectful to other people, including acting with cultural intelligence and intellectual rigour (pūkenga), and respecting diverse values and communities (manaakitanga);”] does not seem to have been included in the pre-2019 code.

      1. Silly me. I had assumed the Royal Society of NZ was a society of scientists, not a bunch of intersectionalists in grievance studies.

  9. The RSNZ message from Paul Atkins may be found here:

    https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/fellows-and-members/forum/forum-raumati-2/message-from-chief-executive/

    I agree that it is indeed weaselly. One sentence I noted with special concern is this:

    “We are continuing our work programme to deepen understanding of mātauranga by launching a new initiative ‘Mātauranga Māori and its Interface with Science’, to be run through our expert advice function, co-led by Professor Rangi Matamua FRSNZ, School of Māori Knowledge Te Pūtahi-a-Toi, Massey University.”

    Professor Matamua will not be known to overseas readers, but I have followed his career with mild interest for a while. His Wikipedia page is here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangi_Mātāmua

    From a background in Māori studies he has developed an interest in Māori astronomy, about which he has many interesting facts to impart, and has written an entertaining book about Matariki, the “Māori New Year”, our latest public holiday.

    https://e-tangata.co.nz/korero/rangi-matamua-matariki-and-maori-astronomy/
    https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/the-inheritance/
    https://www.amazon.com/Matariki-Star-Year-Rangi-Matamua/dp/1775503259

    His views on science may be gleaned from quotes such as this:

    “He says science is just catching up with what Māori have always believed and practised. Genealogies can be traced right back to the lights in the sky – ‘We have always said in the beginning Rangi and Papa were stuck together in this small tight embrace, not dissimilar to our understanding of the singularity,” says Matamua. “We talk about the separation of the sky and the Earth—that was the Big Bang. We always said we were descended from the stars, and we got laughed at.'”

    It’s also interesting to read an article entitled “The science and practice of Mäori astronomy and Matariki “of which he is a co-author in a journal published by the New Zealand Association for Science:

    https://scientists.org.nz/resources/Documents/NZSR/NZSR76(1-2).pdf

    Particularly interesting is the discussion of the Maori time system, maramataka, displaced by the Gregorian calendar which, we learn, “was used by European settlers and missionaries in Aotearoa as a colonial act to target the minds, culture and the timing mechanisms of Māori.”

    I have nothing against Prof Matamua. He seems like a nice chap with a variety of interesting facts to impart, hopefully more accurate than those imparted by the great E.L.Wisty:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnxXkjD6VmE

    .But is he the kind of person qualified to give expert advice on scientific matters?

    Off the rails indeed, and, to mix metaphors, full speed ahead for the rocks.

  10. They started peppering the (official) language with Maori phrases and vocab in about the 1990s and it has continued apace. I find it annoying: Despite formerly being a member of their society I hardly understand a word of Maori and NEITHER DO MOST NZers, including most Maori people!

    The practice is decorative, confusing, does NOTHING to help any group and is totally performative. In a multi-cultural world we need to REDUCE barriers of communication, not erect new ones for woke show.

    D.A.
    NYC

    1. Personally I have no problem with Māori phrases and vocab if they help to clarify the intended meaning, or express a concept that has no exact equivalent in English, or contribute to the general richness of the language. I like the way that “mana” has become part of the English language – pretty sure either David Lodge or Malcolm Bradbury used it somewhere in one of their novels. I myself use the German word “gemütlich” to express a concept that has no exact equivalent in English. But the practice of scattering around Māori words that almost nobody understands seems to me a fairly recent phenomenon – it’s crept in over maybe the last two or so years, I’d guess.

    2. English does this all the time — its richness is its eagerness to borrow, especially for concepts that don’t already have a serviceable English word. A tête-à-tête is not the same as a head-to-head. When a foreign phrase first enters English, the convention is to italicize it until it is solidly entrenched, like dirigisme but not coup d’etat.

      OK, everyone knows that. But at least in Canada, English writers never drop in French or Anishinabe words for beavers or maple syrup just to indulge the sensibilities of these speakers. Most would feel patronized and Anglo readers would feel annoyed. Indeed, an Anglo bigot would respond, “You can take your “stir up de rabble” and stick it you know where!”

  11. One of the dangers of science jumping onto mātauranga Māori is to make a parody of both mātauranga Māori and of ‘science’ (however defined). This is evident in the way the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) says that it uses “Te Mana o Te Taiao, the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy” that “aims to guide collaboration with Māori” with a strategy that “adopts the He Awa Whiria approach to implementation…as developed by Māori scholars through Māori research methods.” and “draw from multiple scientific disciplines and ways of seeing and understanding the world including mātauranga Māori.”

    So what does this mean in reality.? Well, when it comes to DOC ‘science, it seems to result in absurdities more applicable to Alice in Wonderland than anything else. According to some articles on Māori perspectives, Māori tradition recognizes the interconnectedness of place. That viewpoint is not ‘science’ as such (or at least not as I understand science), but it is concordant with evidence based scientific research that does indeed show empirically (thought maps of taxa) that different localities in New Zealand (and globally) are interconnected through evolution. This interconnectedness means that no individual locality or area exists as an isolated entity in evolutionary space and time (however isolated they may seem in today’s geography).

    But despite that scientific demonstration (published in numerous international books and journals, including prominent publishers such as the Oxford University Press), DOC has either actively opposed (documents released under the Official Information Act), or studiously ignored these findings. Instead, DOC wedded itself to the idea of dividing the biodiversity landscape into discreet units – known as ecological areas. This concept of separation and division has a long history, going back at least to the time of Roman Imperial administration. It is a way of imposing one’s authority over biodiversity rather than living with it. But worst of all, it is contrary to both the interconnectedness concept apparently accepted under Māori tradition, and evidence based scientific research (see for reference, Heads, M. 2017: Biogeography and Evolution in New Zealand, CRC Press, Boca Raton). So, is DOC just pandering to Māori tradition, or does it not really care? Personally I think there is great value in understanding the diversity of Māori perspectives, both positive and negative, and how they may be addressed by science. Failure to do so may lead to absurdities that seems evident to me for DOC science – or is it really DOC ideology?

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