Fellows of New Zealand’s Royal Society demand apology and full review of the Society after poor treatment of two members

April 2, 2022 • 11:00 am

I don’t want to repeat the whole saga of the Royal Society of New Zealand and its defense of “other ways of knowing”, but here are a few steps leading up to this post that you can glean from my collection of posts on the issue.

1.) The New Zealand government has begun a policy that will facilitate teaching Mātauranga Māori (“MM”), or Māori “ways of knowing”, as coequal to science in secondary school science classes. Many universities have taken this up as well. The problem is that MM, while containing some practical wisdom about things like when to hunt or pick berries, is also heavily larded with superstition, religious claims, morality, and legend passed down by word of mouth over centuries. MM claims, for instance, that the Polynesians discovered Antarctica in the early seventh century; a completely unsupported and unrealistic claim. MM is also explicitly creationist. Thus teaching the contents of MM as coequal to science, and not interior to it—modern science is, after all, said to be racist and “colonialist”—is a bad strategy, one that will confuse students and drag New Zealand further down in its already-low ranking of science education among comparable countries

2.) In response to the government’s policy, seven professors at The University of Auckland wrote a letter (“In defence of science”) to the NZ magazine The Listener While arguing that MM is essential to be taught as a form of cultural inheritance and a force for devising policy, “it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.” That happens to be a fact. The purpose of the letter was not to denigrate Maori culture, but to argue that its “way of knowing” was not science, as well as to defend science itself.

3.) Enraged by this fact, academics, many Kiwi academics, and writers, as well as Māori people and sympathizers, attacked the letter and its seven writers, calling them bigoted and “racists.” This is because New Zealand is an overly woke nation, so that saying that MM falls short of science itself is, to many, equivalent to saying that “Māori are an inferior people.” (In fact, one of the signers, Garth Cooper, has Māori heritage.) In response to this misperceived racism, counter-letters were written and petitions were circulated. Given the climate of the country, few people wanted to come forward to defend the “Satanic Seven” who signed the letter.

4.) Worst of all, the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), devoted to honoring those who do good science, also attacked the Listener letter and its signers by issuing the following statement (it’s now disappeared from the RSNZ site):

The last two paragraphs are particularly odious, asserting that yes, MM is science and that arguing otherwise causes unspecified “harm.”

5.) The foreign press got wind of this after several non Kiwi-scientists, including Richard Dawkins and I, issued public statements and wrote to the RSNZ about their ridiculous accusations. In the meantime, several people complained to the RSNZ that two of its members who signed the letter, philosopher Robert Nola and biochemist Garth Cooper, were guilty of unprofessionalism and of causing harm.

6.) The RSNZ launched a preliminary investigation of Nola and Cooper and, after having attacked them and their fellow signers in the now-vanished RSNZ statement, decided that the two members had done nothing wrong. The investigation was dropped. No apology was tendered to Nola or Cooper, who then resigned from the RSNZ in disgust.

But things aren’t over yet. This whole kerfuffle left a bad taste in people’s mouths, especially because many who agreed that MM is not equivalent to science were too afraid to say anything, lest they get punished or even fired (see below). I got a lot of emails from New Zealanders who sided with the Satanic Seven but were scared as hell to say anything in their defense. Talk about chilling of speech! On this issue, at least, New Zealanders were acting like advocates of China’s Cultural Revoution.

I’ve just obtained a petition/letter signed by 73 Fellows of the RSNZ objecting to the treatment of Cooper and Nola by the Society and calling for both an apology to the pair (a third Fellow sho signed had died in the interim) and a thorough investigation of the RSNZ’s practices and underhanded way of investigating its members. The petition is below the line, and a lot of what they call “big noises” have signed. The signers call for three motions to be brought before the RSNZ; the motions were proposed by Gaven Martin and seconded by Marston Conder.

I include the list of signers.

To Paul Atkins (CEO RSNZ)

The Fellows, listed below as cosignatories, wish to express their deep concern about what has been happening within the Royal Society of New Zealand over the last year, by moving and seconding the motions below for discussion at the at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship on 28th April.

Many of us have lost confidence in the current Academy Executive and Council, whose actions seemingly have brought the society into disrepute, shutting down useful debate and bringing international opprobrium from leading scientists. We are further concerned about the lack of agency that Fellows have following the many restructures of the Society over the last several years, and the spending of fellowship fees to cover lawyers’ costs and, presumably, public relations consultants to defend the Society’s very poor processes and actions.

In particular:

1. We believe that the content of the initial statement posted by the RSTA on its website in August 2021 about the controversy generated following the Listener letter on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and Science was ill-conceived, hasty and inaccurate in large part.

2. We are appalled at the mishandling of the formation of the initial committee set up by RSTA to investigate the complaint, the length of the process, and the handling of the publication of the outcome, which suggests both that the RSTA cannot decide whether mātauranga Māori is or is not Science, and impugned the integrity of two eminent Fellows.

3. It is extremely unfortunate that this process has led to the resignation from this Academy of two of its distinguished Fellows. One is a renowned philosopher of science, and the other is perhaps the strongest scientist of Māori descent in the society and is someone who has been active in supporting Māori students in education for decades, and who, along with other experts in Science, offered an expert opinion that was rejected by the Society as being without merit, and characterised as racist by members of the Academy Executive (and current and former Councillors).

We therefore move that:

1. Both the Society and Academy write to Professors Cooper and Nola, and to the Estate of Professor Corballis, and apologise for its handling of the entire process.

2. The Society reviews its current code of conduct to ensure that this cannot happen again, and in future the actions of the Academy/Council are far more circumspect and considered in regards to complaints concerning contentious matters.

3. The entirety of the RSNZ/RSTA entity be reviewed, examining structure and function and alignment with other international academies, and the agency given its Fellows upon whom its reputation rests.

Moved: Gaven Martin (Massey University)

Seconded: Marston Conder (The University of Auckland)

Cosignatories: (in alphabetical order)

Marti Anderson (Massey University)

Geoff Austin (University of Auckland)

Edward Baker (University of Auckland)

Debes Bhattacharyya (University of Auckland)

Dick Bellamy (University of Auckland)

Douglas Bridges (University of Canterbury)

Gillian Brock (University of Auckland)

Linda Bryder (University of Auckland)

Alan Bollard (Victoria University of Wellington)

Brian Boyd (University of Auckland)

John Caradus (Grasslanz)

Howard Carmichael (University of Auckland)

Garth Carnaby (University of Auckland)

John Chen (University of Auckland)

Mick Clout (University of Auckland)

Jill Cornish (University of Auckland)

Grant Covic (University of Auckland)

Dave Craw (University of Otago)

Max Cresswell (Victoria University of Wellington)

Fred Davey (retired)

Stephen Davies (University of Auckland)

Alison Downard (Canterbury Univeristy)

Rod Downey (Victoria University of Wellington)

Geoffrey Duffy (University of Auckland)

Joerg Frauendiener (Otago University)

Rob Goldblatt (Victoria University of Wellington)

Stephen Goldson (Agresearch)

Rod Gover (University of Auckland)

Russell Gray (Max Planck/UoA)

Frank Griffin (University of Otago)

John Harvey (University of Auckland)

Bruce Hayward (Geomarine Research)

Janet Holmes (Victoria University of Wellington)

Peter Hunter (University of Auckland)

John Harper (Victoria University of Wellington)

Bruce Hayward (Geomarine Research)

Manying Ip (University of Auckland)

Mac Jackson (University of Auckland)

Geoff Jameson (Massey University)

Steve Kent  (Hon.; University of Chicago)

Estate Khmaladze (Victoria University of Wellington)

Bakh Khoussainov (University of Auckland)

Matt McGlone (Victoria University of Wellington)

Neil McNaughton (University of Otago)

Miriam Meyerhoff (Oxford University)

Michael Neill (University of Auckland)

Eamonn O’Brien (University of Auckland)

John Ogden (Emeritus Fellow)

Jenni Ogden (Emeritus Fellow)

David Paterson (Oxford University)

Paul Rainey (Max Planck/Massey)

Raylene Ramsay (University of Auckland)

Ian Reid, (University of Auckland)

Mick Roberts (Massey University)

Viviane Robinson (University of Auckland)

Clive Ronson (University of Otago)

Peter Schwerdtfeger (Massey University)

Barry Scott (Massey University)

Charles Semple (Canterbury University)

Vernon Squire (Otago University)

Mike Steel (Canterbury University)

ATS (name withheld until 28 April)

Kim Sterelny (Australian National University)

Rupert Sutherland (Victoria University of Wellington)

Jeff Tallon (Victoria University of Wellington)

Marcus Ulyatt (ret)

Matt Visser (Victoria University of Wellington)

Jack Vowles (Victoria University of Wellington)

Joyce Waters (Massey University)

Geoff Whittle (Victoria University of Wellington)

Chris Wild (University of Auckland)

Colin Wilson (Victoria University of Wellington)

Christine Winterbourn (Otago University)

Gaven Martin then transmitted the motions to officials of the RSNZ with his own cover letter, below, which I have permission to publish. Here it is. The recipient list includes the Chair of the Academy as well as the President of the RSNZ. I have put the third point in bold because it shows the climate of intimidation that besets not just the RSNZ, but the whole country when it comes to issues about its indigenous people.

[From]: Gaven Martin

To: Paul, Brent Charlotte, Marston

Dear Paul (and  Charlotte and Brent and blind cc)

Please find attached three motions with a supporting letter, which we expect to be tabled at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship meeting (hereafter AGM) on the 28th of  and circulated to Fellows before then.

The motions are moved by myself, seconded by Marston Conder, and have nearly 70 Fellows as co-signatories obtained over three days.

I would make the following additional comments.

    1. The inclusion of each co-signatory has been validated by an email confirmation held by two of us.
    2. A number of other Fellows have said (in writing) that they will support these motions in a vote, but do not like the idea of sending letters with lots of signatories.
    3. Sadly several other Fellows have also indicated they will vote in favour,  but because of the potential harassment and bullying they believe they would receive (from some current and former members of the Academy and the RSNZ Council, and from colleagues in senior and other positions within their University), they do not wish to disclose their names in this document, especially if it becomes public.  Many younger Fellows and others have said (again in writing) that their jobs would be at risk signing this letter.  Two Fellows (major RSNZ Medalists) said this: “Better not (sign) at this stage – … I agree with all the statements – but you can’t imagine the pressure being put on us. I will vote for the motion though.”, and “In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at UoA if I do so”.  This is a startling indictment of the situation in the research community in NZ at the moment, and of the way in which the RSNZ handled and exacerbated the controversy over the letter to the Listener.
    4. A few of the co-signatories are Emeritus Fellows,  and believe they might have no voting rights, but they sincerely wish to express their opinion on these matters.
    5. If you are not able or willing to circulate this to all Fellows ahead of the AGM,  then please let us know at your earliest convenience (and at least before 14th April), so that we can ensure it happens, and we can also let Fellows know of your inability or unwillingness to do so.
    6. We  have no wish to see the Society harmed further than it has recently harmed itself, but manifest changes are necessary to remedy the very low levels of accountability of the Council and Academy. In particular, Fellows should be accorded more agency, so that the current disconnection between RSNZ and its Fellows is reduced.
    7. As no doubt you are aware, currently there is considerable media interest in the attached document.  We have endeavoured to keep this confidential, but we cannot ensure these issues will remain in confidence leading up to 28th April


Gaven Martin

This cover letter will be distributed to all signatories on Monday 28th March.

Note that this is both a free-speech issue, bearing on the right of fellows to say what they think in public without suffering official consequences, but also an issue of the credibility of the RSNZ itself, which has publicly aligned itself with MM and thus debased real science. This is a problem with the whole educational establishment in NZ, and it starts at the top with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Maybe this has escaped her notice, but she may want to pay attention since her nation is becoming fractured by ethnic divides. Teach MM in schools: of course; teach MM as equivalent to science: no. Not unless, that is, Ardern wants her nation to become simultaneously woker and more ignorant.

The RSNZ has now distributed the signed letter/petition to its members and scheduled a meeting to discuss the motions on, as its notice says, “Wednesday, 13 Paenga-whāwhā April 2022”.  The agenda, which I’ll discuss in another post soon, is, as one person wrote me:

“. . . . larded with Māori activities that have become “traditional” in all sorts of settings (educational, governmental, even business) over the last few years of wokeness: a mihi (Māori welcome), waiata (songs: the words are given in Māori, without translation), and karakia (prayer): to conform to recent conformist practice, to establish where the RS sits in terms of respecting Māori culture, and, if you like, to exert systemic control, to establish the climate of thought which you’d be wiser not to resist.
There is no singing of either of New Zealand’s two national anthems (yes, it has two): God Defend New Zealand and God Save The Queen. That would be “colonialism.”


How can there be a fair discussion of MM in such a meeting? Well, perhaps there can be, and we can always hope that the three motions above are passed. Stay tuned.

36 thoughts on “Fellows of New Zealand’s Royal Society demand apology and full review of the Society after poor treatment of two members

      1. Jerry – Dawn Freshwater, Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor is from Britain and had a previous career as a nursing academic. That’s probably what the post is referring to.

        For the record, I think there are others far more culpable in this farrago than she is. I think it would be wrong to identify her as the chief driver of this direction in NZ education and science, or even as one of the main ones.

        You are right to indict the Ardern government, but in truth the beginning of the trend predates that as well. But they have certainly accelerated it.

  1. For comparison there seems to be a total of between 400 and 500 fellows, so 72 is a rather impressive fraction to sign the motion, especially given the climate of intimidation.

    And it reminds me of when Cambridge tried to introduce rules requiring “respect” for all opinions. Dr Arif Ahmed demanded that it be put to a vote of academics, and the rules were voted down, replaced by wording supporting the voicing of “controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of intolerance or discrimination”.

    1. Hi Coel,
      I was about to post here about Arif Ahmed’s Cambridge University motion! This is exactly what NZ society needs at large, but especially for the RSNZ, and the universities and arts groups.

      The trouble is that the chances of Arif Ahmed-style free-speech clauses being enforced in NZ are low. The root cause of the rot is that NZ’s image as an ‘egalitarian society’ is as fake as claiming the Ukraine War ‘is a special military de-Nazification liberation’.

      NZ has become not an egalitarian society, but a ‘priority’ society where ‘priorities’ are defined by politics, and people preserving their careers by aligning themselves to these political winds. One ‘priority’ is the sacralisation of Maori culture in an idealistic and culturally aggrandising vein.

      Since this is largely a science blog, and the RSNZ in its pre-Lysenkoist era largely concerned itself with science, I shall give one concrete science example about the new era of politicised priorities without social consensus.

      The current Labour government ( which ironically I voted for both times ) has authorised public subsidy of a swathe of medicines where ethnic priority runs parallel to medical priority. For the NZ health system, ANYONE can identify as ‘Maori’ or ‘Pacific Island’ without proof. See here :

      Clicking the tab in the above link for ‘prescriber information about special authority criteria’ reveals that ‘Patients define ethnicity themselves…. if someone has defined Maori as an ethnicity, that is a defining ethnicity’. This explicitly means no proof required. See also the ‘Learn more — Maori and Pacific are priority’.

      The subsidised diabetes medicines empagliflozin, vildagliptin, and dulaglutide have Maori and Pacific priority for cheap access, along with the most potent cholesterol pill available in NZ, rosuvastatin. This is even though those of Indian genetic ancestry get far more severe diabetes at normal body mass indexes than Maori or Pacific people. There is no scientific basis that those of Indian ancestry with diabetes are less deserving medically than Maori or PI, but there is NO priority access for NZ Asians.
      The influenza vaccine is free in NZ to all older than age 65, but Maori and PI above age 55.

      What does this all mean? Though my current HbA1c is 27, were I to get diabetes, I could toddle down to my own GP and say, ‘Hey, I’ve decided to now identify for the NZ health system as Maori. Even though I am Indian and Chinese, now that I verbally identify as Maori, your clinic MUST update me as Maori.’ The non-egalitarian NZ Priority Society has now made identification as Maori of great personal value.

    2. Indeed, that “impressive fraction” would be 14-18%. A minority that can easily be ignored, repressed, or otherwise disadvantaged. Maybe now they’ll get it.

    1. Mark, we deeply hope so and I agree that there’s a chance.

      I also hope that if the first motion is passed the apology is extended to the other Listener letter authors, who aren’t FRSNZ but were equally maligned by the initial RSNZ statement. They are Kendall Clements, Elizabeth Rata, John Werry and myself.

  2. “In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at UoA if I do so”. If one substituted DEI for RSNZ, and U of Anywhere for UoA, a similar sentiment would be shared by large numbers of academics in the USA. Let us hope that this NZ letter, like a related statement from U. Mass (Boston) STEM faculty members, helps to change matters.

  3. We are further concerned about the lack of agency that Fellows have following the many restructures of the Society over the last several years, and the spending of fellowship fees to cover lawyers’ costs and, presumably, public relations consultants to defend the Society’s very poor processes and actions.

    Sounds like the Society’s problems go well beyond this one incident. Does anyone know what this is referring to?

  4. This is a very good development. The RSNZ should not be allowed to walk away from its mess without seriously cleaning it up and being forced to repudiate their earlier actions. Determining that the denounced scientists were not guilty of wrongdoing is not enough. What must be done is to investigate and, if necessary, dismiss the bullies who started this controversy and put in place mechanisms to prevent it from happening again—mechanisms that guarantee scientific inquiry without political interference.

  5. A week or two after the issue came to light in the media last year, I attended a meeting at the Royal Society of New Zealand. I asked to speak to a very senior person who happened to be there on the premises. I informed him that In, their letter to the Listener, the professors never suggested that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth. He conceded that point and so I am surprised that the statement remained on the website for several months afterward.

    The situation here is out of hand and we can only hope that the country (and, indeed, other countries such as Canada), comes to its senses. Ruining the reputations of very accomplished people and potentially damaging careers is not the way to go. Genuine racism hurts those who are targeted by it. Equally, it hurts when those who comment in good faith on critical issues, such as the place of indigenous knowledge in science, are accused publicly of racism when there is no such intent.

    Evidently, the debate has polarised public opinion and has given rise to some very aggressive behaviours, but surely an open, rather than a closed, society is necessary if we are to flourish and if scholarship is to prosper.

    We should respect and preserve indigenous knowledge and teach it to future generations. However, though the mythological aspects of indigenous knowledge (including spiritual ideas) fulfil important functions, frequently they clash with modern science if they are taken literally. Perhaps we can define knowledge as the state of knowing about or being familiar with something – a state that can emerge through scrutiny of evidence. Though knowledge may require belief, it is nevertheless very distinct from belief.

    Discussing indigenous knowledge in school curricula is highly valuable and rightly celebrates the world views and histories of indigenous people, but teaching mythologies as accepted truth in mainstream science curricula at schools or universities has to be rejected. So – creation myths, for example, should be celebrated and passed to future generations – but not taught as science.

    OK. I worked at the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2007. The less I say about that year, the better. Unfortunately, along with the current woke ideology, we have a workplace bullying problem here – as in other countries. I am trying to do something about this other problem and have formed the view that public exposure of bullying is the only effective way of mitigating it. For example, I write letters (emails) to public service employers on behalf of people who have been bullied out of their jobs. I demand to speak to top people or face exposure in the media. I warn them that my emails and their carefully-worded responses, could go public, but I am reluctant to make this stuff public unless the bullying persists. Well – they say that the threat is stronger than the execution!

    Also – I have published several articles on bullying in New Zealand, one of which is here:


    David Lillis

    1. >We should respect and preserve indigenous knowledge and teach it to future generations. However, though the mythological aspects of indigenous knowledge (including spiritual ideas) fulfil important functions, frequently they clash with modern science if they are taken literally. . . .

      >Discussing indigenous knowledge in school curricula is highly valuable and rightly celebrates the world views and histories of indigenous people, but teaching mythologies as accepted truth in mainstream science curricula at schools or universities has to be rejected. So – creation myths, for example, should be celebrated and passed to future generations – but not taught as science.<
      [My emphasis]

      David, why should "we" concede even the bolded portions, other than out of fear of cancellation?

      Why should we, — the secular state that runs public education in modern liberal democracies — teach the creation myths, even labelled as myths, of one constituent culture but not those of others? What's special about indigenous myths that requires that we celebrate them and ensure they are passed on? We don't teach Genesis even as cultural anthropology in public schools except to debunk it in science classes. We don't teach Afro-West Indian animism or Hindu creation myths or the seven lucky Shinto gods, even though all those cultures are well represented in modern Canada. If members of those cultures want to teach their children about them, and celebrate them, or even believe them, that's their business, on their own time. They can even do it in their own language if they want to. If the old tales are forgotten, what's that to the rest of us? It's not like losing the evidence for evolution.

      I get that you might not want to sound gratuitously inflammatory or derogatory to allies in NZ who are willing to meet you only half-way on this issue; your focus is properly to protect science as science. And since each bolded statement is followed by the negatory "but" or "however", perhaps you don't really mean what is contained in the bolded bits anyway. But really, what business do we have celebrating indigenous mythology on the public dime in any context? My son is many years past primary school. I do hope his children, or the children of struggling or striving (it varies) immigrants from other cultures, aren't going to be wasting class time learning that Indigenous people believe North America is a great turtle. Or even more damagingly and self-servingly that Indigenous people just somehow know infallibly that pipelines should never be built anywhere (especially near their condo + casino developments), or that trees should never be cut down anywhere except when the Native land stewards want to sell valuable trees on their land to lumber mills.

      1. Hi Leslie
        Society works best when we respect each other and when cultures respect other cultures. Indigenous (or traditional) knowledge has value in its own right and collectively forms a significant part of the history of mankind.

        I do not believe that school kids should spend significant time on indigenous knowledge, but enough to be aware of the traditions and knowledge of cultures of the past and, indeed, the present. Of course, science has greatly superseded traditional knowledge in most respects (apart from ethics and morality). Science, free from negative and self-serving politics and based on principles of critical observation, rationalism and falsifiability, could be the best chance we have of creating a better world. However, to earn respect, first we show respect, even to those with whom we disagree.

        If we take a falsificationist approach (which I do), then indigenous knowledge largely falls outside the parameters of modern science – but the door is open. A Popperian definition excludes traditional knowledge as science until it has been tested by the methods of science. The same applies to any theory or proposition – even if advanced by our top scientists.

        Actually, though I have very little Irish DNA, I grew up in Dublin because my parents worked there. However, as a secondary student, I took my studies in native Irish language (Gaelic) very seriously, as I believed then, as now, that the Gaelic language is worthy of respect and should be preserved. Similarly, indigenous knowledge is worth preserving but not insofar as it impacts negatively on critical areas of academic study for young people.

        As a person trained in the sciences (physics and mathematics, in my case), nevertheless I feel that the history of the world’s cultures, their knowledge, as well as their languages, are valuable from ethical, cultural and historic perspectives. Indigenous perspectives can sometimes complement research in a productive way; for example, in protecting the world’s environments, ensuring sustainable resource management and in caring for others.

        David Lillis

        1. Hi David

          This is an interesting discussion, and the courteous tone is a refreshing change from what we too often see locally. I see your point, although my sympathies are more with Leslie’s views. Talk of respect reminds me of the philosopher Simon Blackburn’s excellent paper on “Religion and Respect”


          I wonder if what we’re seeing in NZ isn’t an example of what Blackburn describes as “respect creep” here:

          ‘Respect’, of course is a tricky term. I may respect your gardening by just letting you get on with it. Or, I may respect it by admiring it and regarding it as a superior way to garden. The word seems to span a spectrum from simply not interfering, passing by on the other side, through admiration, right up to reverence and deference. This makes it uniquely well-placed for ideological purposes. People may start out by insisting on respect in the minimal sense, and in a generally liberal world they may not find it too difficult to obtain it. But then what we might call respect creep sets in, where the request for minimal toleration turns into a demand for more substantial respect, such as fellow- feeling, or esteem, and finally deference and reverence. In the limit, unless you let me take over your mind and your life, you are not showing proper respect for my religious or ideological convictions.

          1. Jumbo – I see your point. And Blackburn’s paper I have just scanned and intend to read more carefully very soon.

            Nothing is simple or straightforward! A few years ago I took my ten-year-old son on a short holiday in Arnhem Land and Kakadu in the Northern Territories of Australia. We were shown around parts of the outback by Aboriginal guides and it was truly a memorable visit. OK – we can conjecture how long a group of theoretical physicists would last if helicoptered into those vast wastelands and left to their own devices.

            Of course, the traditional knowledge of Aboriginals over tens of thousands of years enabled them to survive in that harsh environment. Some of that knowledge has scientific elements and even their mythology served a purpose – perhaps to sustain courage and hope and maybe in forging and reinforcing common bonds between and across groups. Possibly there was even a degree of evolutionary advantage in sustaining those myths and legends over millenia.

            Of course, we don’t take those myths and legends as truth but we should recognize that they are important for those people and are part of the great history of mankind. The same for the cultures and world views of all indigenous societies and minorities. There is no harm in teaching our children to respect the views of others and a few sessions of class time is surely not too much to ask.

            Many indigenous people lost their lands and their freedom to western colonisation and, nowadays we recognise this fact. We also recognise that indigenous people were not always kind to each other; that some were not kind to their environments, and that many have gained a great deal from education, medical and health care and from legal structures that offer greater protections and ensure, for the most part, that we treat each other better than in former times. In New Zealand we recognise the historic negative experiences of Maori and that’s why, in the view of many people, we should assist them and other disadvantaged groups to achieve better outcomes – educationally, socio-economically and in their health and wellbeing.

            However, looking at the statistics on health and wellbeing in New Zealand, we see that Pacific people are even more disadvantaged than Maori on certain indices. It seems logical to some of us that New Zealand directs resources to achieve improvements to the health of the Pacific community – and not only to Maori, simply because their ancestors were here before others.

            The question is how better outcomes can be achieved. Each of us may have a different view but there is a solid argument for proportioning resources into education and into programmes that assist disadvantaged groups and minorities, especially in relation to education and health and wellbeing. Many people, including myself, do not favour making one demographic group more special than others and certainly do not favour raising the world view of one particular group to the status of modern science. Instead, why not proportion resources to areas of greatest need; in other words, to those whose present disadvantage can and should be addressed?

            On the question of respect – possibly many leading scientists respect indigenous knowledge for what it is, without taking all of it at face value. For example, many of us, including myself, enjoy listening to the Christopher Hitchens of ten or twenty years ago. We can admire his wit and articulation (as I do) and even agree with most of his opinions (as I do). However, sometimes we may feel that stamping on the feelings of others and scoffing at the cultural or religious beliefs of others was not the most effective way of convincing them. On occasion, here and there, we see him deliver a public rebuttal that most probably left the other party feeling just a little annoyed. A decade or two later we can smile at his humor, but those on the receiving end smiled very rarely. Did he succeed in changing their opinions? Well – the jury’s out on that one, but one suspects that the safer bet is that he did not.

            Equally, it should be possible for us to respect the world views of religious and ethnic minorities and accede to them their right to hold those views. In the end, for indigenous people and other minorities, true social and economic progress is to be found in education, and that includes education in the sciences; in encouraging people to want to contribute to the wider society rather than exclusively to their own group, and to think for themselves.

            David Lillis

      2. For what it’s worth, Leslie, I greatly enjoyed as a child learning about Māori mythology and indeed Greek/Roman/Celtic/Norse etc mythology. Kids love stories and not everything in school has to be cold hard fact or risk “wasting class time”.

        The important thing is that science is labelled as science and that creationist myths are also labelled as such, which is I believe what David is saying.

  6. Request 2 – “2. The Society reviews its current code of conduct to ensure that this cannot happen again, …” cannot be fulfilled given some reasonable assumptions. The process:

    If there is a complaint – even if it’s completely cuckoo nonsense woo ridiculous – an investigation must be opened.
    If an investigation is opened, there must be an opportunity for presenting supporting evidence, rebuttal, response to the rebuttal, ad nauseam.
    Authorities cannot pre-emptively pre-judge a complaint before full process, with all evidence completely presented.

    There needs to be a better solution than saying stupid idiot complaints should be discarded immediately and the complainers denounced as stupid idiots. Because that’s not going to be allowed, for fear of abuse in ignoring legitimate complaints.

  7. They “utterly reject” the notion that MM is not a “valid truth”. What’s that supposed to mean? I have never heard anyone suggest maths as a whole are a “valid truth”, or physics, or biology, or anything in science. Are we missing out in the northern hemisphere? From what I can tell, MM is not only a “valid truth” but also a “knowledge system”. Perhaps we ditch western science and jüdische Wissenschaften in favour of this real valid true knowledge system.

    People who express themselves like that are true believers. Either that, or it sounds like the waffling from the “decolonialising” post-structural muliticulturalist ideology, aka, postmodernism, where everything is simultaneously a matter of one’s standpoint and feeling that day, but also an utmost sacred “lived experience” that is perhaps the ultimate real “valid truth”.

  8. Each time I read about this Mātauranga Māori kerfuffle in New Zealand, I find myself imagining a national “science-off” pitting MM and science as carried out under the scientific method.

    I mean, this would be possible, wouldn’t it? Not sure what the parameters would be, or what question(s) might be addressed, but it would be fascinating to see or read about teams of scientists using the respective methods (solely) to examine a hypothesis and derive conclusions based on the data obtained.

    As I’ve written here before, I interviewed two young women scientists for a publication at a large, public research university in the Western United States a couple of years ago about an organization they had created. When they began talking of “other ways of knowing,” I pressed them to describe what they meant. More or less, the answer was that if “Western” scientists were in a locale (a Central American jungle was the example, I believe) examining some question about that environment, they should consult local “indigenous peoples” about their “wisdom” and take it into account.

    “Well, that seems like a smart move,” I said (all this is recreated from memory). “But in the end, once the scientists had gathered data on the question, it would and should be evaluated using the traditional scientific method, shouldn’t it?”

    At this point, one of the young women began criticizing me for my age, race and sex, and became increasingly flustered.

    Head to head, surely these “other ways of knowing” can’t withstand a contest with actual science.

      1. Exactly. Maori “knowledge” like any other is subject to the scrutiny of actual science. That the RSNZ failed to recognise that speaks for its incompetence.

      2. “The only way to know if a statement about the World is true is to test it i.e. to do science.”

        This is false. There are many statements about the world that must be assumed in order to do science to get to what is true, though. Causal regularity, for example. No matter how many times you test producing event X and event Y follows, you can’t claim that event Y has any real relationship to event X. The next time, or all the times you don’t observe event X, event Z or some other event or no event at all may occur. In order to really claim any truth about event X, you need causal regularity and that isn’t something that can be studied scientifically.

        1. As has been discussed here many times, the assumptions of science (i.e., the laws of nature are the same everywhere in the universe), and so on, are not simply a priori philosophical assumptions, but assumptions that have been TESTED over and over again. Because they work (i.e. science gives us truth), we can assume for practical purposes, as a working assumption, that they are true. We don’t “study the assumptions” scientifically, we use them as they are the only practical way to find out replicable truths about the universe.

          This is a common philosophical and theological error: to say that because science rests on untested assumptions, it’s a form of faith–ike religion. As Dawkins once said, “Science WORKS, bitches!”

          1. The comment before yours presents a false dichotomy. It’s calling science as the sole arbiter of what’s “true and false”, but Western science rests on controlled repeatable tests in a vaccuum while excluding things other knowledge – as an example, what is harmful and what is not. It’s divorced from holistic thinking. There’s a reason why Ethics has to be imported in as a completely separate topic and almost an afterthought when university students are studying STEM.

            “Science works”, alright: to RECREATE experiments. It works also to create pollution, the hole in the ozone layer, climate change, mass extinction, the depletion of resources and species. The laws of nature are the same everywhere, but the Way Of Knowing Western Science HAS meant ignoring many “laws” of nature until now.

            Maybe the key difference was as simple as ‘Do No Harm’ that never got divorced from non-Western approaches to studying the world around us. And because the divorce happened with Western Science centuries ago, some folks here look down on other approaches as fossilised and not worth investigating.

            I have no more Creationist beliefs than the secular thinkers in this comment section, nor do I know much about specifically Māori methods of investigation; but my goodness if a lot of viewpoints in this comment section are not narrow, exclusionary, inflammatory and hurtful.

            You should take a hard look at yourselves.

    1. Note the total absence of any examples of “science equivalent” knowledge derived from MM, even from those who passionately defend it. I went looking and, other than a technique for catching eels and knowledge of celestial navigation, I’m yet to find any concrete examples. I think you might struggle to find anyone willing to take the MM side in a “science off”.

      1. Like I mentioned in my other comment, I can’t speak abou Māori ways of knowing. But as an example, all the Western knowledge about botany and biology and forestry and approaches to managing land certainly did not help against the fires that ravaged Australia in the summer of 2020, whereas Indigenous wisdom about the land had been used to ameliorate fires for thousands of years.

        There, that’s an approach where Western Science, which is completely and entirely about “Ceteris paribus”, is not superior for looking after society.

        1. How do you know that aboriginal knowledge ameliorated fires in Australia? Merely stating that Indigenous wisdom “had been used” doesn’t mean it was effective, even for them. Do you not think that aboriginals ran from the flames when the bush was burning? If aboriginal fire management is claimed to be beneficial, let’s put it to the test instead of arguing mystically. Then we are doing science, not political advocacy.

          As to your other comment, science has never claimed to be about moral values. It offers an explanation of how things come about instead of appealing to the supernatural. Those discoveries allow the invention of technology that people want to buy to make their lives better. Those negative externalities you lay at science’s door are the results of human choices to use the fruits of technology. So far, with the exception of banning chlorinated fluorocarbons to repair the ozone layer, human beings have so far shown no evidence that they regard those negative externalities as sufficient reason to stop doing things that produce them. By their actions, they demonstrate that they consider them to be acceptable costs of the Good Life, which is based fundamentally on eliminating energy poverty. Sermons that they ought to rank the values differently are falling mostly on deaf ears. That’s not science’s fault.

          1. News article about Aboriginal knowledge which supports what I said:


            A Royal Commission report by the Australian Government acknowledging ancient burning practices and ‘hmm maybe we should have listened all those years’ once the terrible flames went away: https://tinyurl.com/3ax8u2pk

            Actual scholarly article on this subject, how Aboriginal Australians’ prescribed burning helped with ecological resilience:


            I will reflect on and respond to the second half of your comment.

          2. Nobody is denying that indigenous people have practical knowledge, for crying out loud, though I’m not terribly impressed with what’s in the article since it’s not clear how useful indigenous brushfire techniues are. But the topic is whether MM AS A WHOLE should be taught as coequal to science, not whether MM has any practical knowledge, which it does. But it’s practical knowledge, and can be covered very quickly.

            Remember what the topic is.

          3. I believe WordPress has held my other comment for moderation because it contained links. In it I provide a news article, a scholarly article, and a Royal Commission report from June 2020 in which the Australian Government concedes that they should be adopting Indigenous methods of prescribed burning to manage land.

            There’s merit to be had in this discussion with distinguishing between “science as a body of knowledge” and “science as an ontological approach to the world”. My point that from a non-Western perspective, ‘Science’ as the latter is impoverished when it comes to addressing ‘the world’ in all its dimensions – social, political, psychological, economical. Perhaps this became an unavoidable aspect of Western science from the moment Isaac Newton showed us his law of Cause and Effect – the West shifted away from superstitious thinking that had pervaded up to then.

            Science is a fantastic tool – I practice it every day in my work. As a tool, it is as sharp as a knife. We’ve been cutting through our ignorance with for a long time. To argue that anything that doesn’t look like a knife has no place in humanity’s toolkit and shouldn’t be examined – that is no more science’s fault than the fault of a myopic butcher.

          4. Science (let’s leave out the “western” since it is global as presently practiced) is a method to question and generate knowledge. Humans can use the outcomes to inform their understanding of the universe and themselves. Alternatively, they can “know” about those things in other ways. Science’s most important contribution to human society is through its unrelenting questioning, revision, and, in some cases, rejection of existing knowledge from whatever source. It can be very deflating to have one’s knowledge trashed. Just ask any practicing scientist after they have received a negative review! But in science, life goes on because it is the process that makes the knowledge that survives so useful. This is what should be taught in science classes at any level, not lists of facts and certainly never any knowledge that has not been through the process.

  9. Not a member of the Royal Society, but I can vouch for the comment that many NZ academics were scared to speak on this issue, and many (including Professors from Doug Elliffe’s Department of Psychology) were only too keen to pick up the pitch forks and try and weed us out…

    1. Yes, and there’s a danger now that this weeding out is becoming regular policy, creeping into our university strategic plans.

      On a brighter note, Sir Tipene O’Regan (last week named NZ of the year) used his time on RadioNZ with Kim Hill on Saturday to make clear his stand on the danger of the ideological lunacy.

      1. The interview with Sir Tipene may be found here:

        Some of it may only be of local interest, but he does mention that Maori discovering Antarctica paper that aroused some derision here and elsewhere – he was a co-author of an excellent rebuttal paper, and ends up by saying “We’ve still got plenty of people out there dwelling in the lands of fantasy.”

  10. You are correct that “it starts at the top with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern,” but she is not alone. Our ruling Labour party has a highly influential Maori caucus of eight MPs, including former Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis and current Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. They are of course enthusiastically in favour of MM. Mahuta is particularly egregious in her high-handed rejection of democratic principles.

    What is most perplexing is that the main opposition party in New Zealand is relatively quiet on these matters, for fear of being tarred as bigots or racists. And so, they yield the ground without a fight.

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