Ideology keeps sticking its nose into science: An essay by Anna Krylov

November 29, 2022 • 9:30 am

Anna Krylov, a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC), has a fruitful sideline in calling attention to the invasion of science by wokeness—much to the detriment of science. I’ve called attention to one of her papers before—a critique of politicizing science that she managed to get published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal.  And she did an interview that I wrote about here. Since then, we’re coauthors—with a gazillion other “concerned scientists”—on a couple of papers on related topics, but it’s hard getting them published since no regular journal will touch anything perceived as anti-woke.

Anna’s latest piece (click on screenshot below) appeared yesterday at the Heterodox STEM  site, a site worth following if you’re worried about how science is becoming a mere appendage of “progressive” ideology. Anna lived and worked in the USSR until 1991, and draws on her experience, comparing the authoritarian forces that squelched Soviet science in her youth with the authoritarianism of the “progressive” left that afflicts and constrains us now. Here’s the abstract, and then click to read the whole thing:

My everyday experiences as a chemistry professor at an American university in 2021 bring back memories from my school and university time in the USSR. Not good memories—more like Orwellian nightmares. I will compare my past and present experiences to illustrate the following parallels between the USSR and the US today: (i) the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship; (ii) the omnipresence of ideology (focusing on examples from science); (iii) an intolerance of dissenting opinions (i.e., suppression of ideas and people, censorship, and Newspeak); (iv) the use of social engineering to solve real and imagined problems.

A couple of quotes:

Much more dire manifestations of the SJW [social-justice warrior] agenda are subverting research and education, most notably, in the life sciences and medicine [15]. Just as happened in  Soviet Russia, the new ideology is declaring entire disciplines—for example, mathematics—racist [16,17]. There are proposals, some already enacted in Oregon and California, that call to “dismantle white supremacy” in the mathematics classroom. How does white supremacy manifest itself in the classroom? By “the focus [being] on getting the ‘right’ answer” and asking students “to show their work.” Google “equitable math instruction” to see what this is all about. These programs are backed by serious institutions, such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In California, there is a proposal to do away with advanced math programs in schools. Why? Because they are racist. Why are they racist? Because their demographics do not match the state’s demographics. How can we make math instruction equitable? Instead of raising the quality of education for everyone, the SJW favor the path that socialist regimes—real [18] and dystopian [19]—took: bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

For the same reasons, proficiency tests are being dropped, grading standards lowered [20], standardized tests eliminated [21], and so on.

What will the consequences of such policies be? I think they will be devastating, possibly on the scale of Lysenkoism.

Let’s hope not! At least we’re not yet at the stage where the editors of Nature can kill anti-woke scientists, as the Soviets did to the great geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, who dared stand up to Lysenko’s insane theories. For his honesty, Vavilov was sent to the gulag, where he died.

One more quote:

Now we live in the shadows of Cancel Culture. People are being disinvited and de-platformed. Or dragged through administrative investigations and reviews, which is a form of punishment [27]. Dorian Abbot’s case is a good example [7].

Scientific papers are being retracted or self-retracted. Not because of scientific concerns—but because findings are deemed to be offensive to some. Or because they contradict the dominant narrative. Many examples are from biology [15], but this ideological intrusion is not limited to the life sciences [28-32].

The mechanism of censorship and suppression is different from Soviet Russia. It is not administered by the government, but rather by Twitter vigilantes—by outrage mobs who use social media to call for punishment of those whose views they find  objectionable [28].

But mobs alone would not be able to enforce censorship. In Western democracies, outrage mobs do not burn heretics at the stake, at least not yet [28]. They do not retract papers. They do not cancel seminars. People in positions of power do—university presidents, department chairs, journal editors. Bret Stephens called this “Coward Culture” in his New York Times opinion about Dorian’s case [32].

Sadly, some organizations are institutionalizing censorship.

Here is a recent example [29,30]: The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) issued guidelines to its journal editors to “consider whether or not any content [in a submitted manuscript]… might have the potential to cause offense.” The memos and published policies emphasize that it is the perception of the recipient that determines offense, regardless of author intent.

The RSC gave 15 “indicators” of offensive content, which included content that is “[l]ikely to be upsetting, insulting or objectionable to some or most people.” That covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it?

How does that align with the publisher’s mission to facilitate the communication of high-quality chemistry research? This is a subversion of the institution of science by SJW agenda.

One difference between the “science culture wars” of the Scopes Trial days versus now is that now scientists are complicit in their own muzzling. The ideologization” of science comes from both within the field, including journal editors and funding agencies, and without (social media, of course).

Anna uses lots of good pictures to illustrate her piece, and ends with a Jewish joke at the end that she got from me. Below is one photo of the much-maligned Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s darling. (If you don’t know the story of Lysenko, his rise to power, and his strangulation of Soviet agriculture, which led to the death of millions, at least read the Wikipedia article on him.)

(from paper): Trofim Lysenko speaking in the Kremlin to the Communist Party Leadership (1935). Scientists make mistakes, form incorrect theories, and pursue false hypotheses all the time, but what makes science powerful and credible is its ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. In the USSR, the ideology took control over science, which impeded its ability to self-correct, and resulted in the catastrophe of Lysenkoism. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s Anna’s final paragraph about possible solutions.

What can be done? Here are some ideas. First, speak up. Do not submit to bullies. Refuse to speak Newspeak. If you see that the king is naked—say the king is naked. Second, organize. There is safety in numbers. Organizations such as the Academic Freedom Alliance, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, and the Heterodox Academy, can provide a platform for action and protection against repercussions [46]. Do your share in defending humanism, democracy, and the liberal Enlightenment.

It all starts—like the New Atheism jump-started an increase in secularism—by saying out loud what the ideologues consider taboo.

37 thoughts on “Ideology keeps sticking its nose into science: An essay by Anna Krylov

  1. Wow – writing and ideas that are clear, fresh, articulate – and, I guess, not boring -( an accurate word escapes me)… that is a strong, compelling, and not threatening piece of writing.

    The Bill and Not Melinda Gates Anymore Foundation has a big name, though!

    … a running joke in Russia was that, in old photographs, the number of heads does not match the number of pairs of feet! How do I say LOL-but-of-course-that-is-terrible!

    [ sigh…..]

  2. I came across an Urban Dictionary definition today:

    O’Sullivan’s Law states that any organization or enterprise that is not expressly right wing will become left wing over time. The law is named after British journalist John O’Sullivan.

    The thrust of the argument is that there’s a ratchet effect as left wingers are not as tolerant as right wingers… the result over time is that conservative enterprises are infiltrated by leftists but leftist enterprises remain the same or get worse.

    Now you might reasonably argue that a little social progress is a good thing but perhaps too much is as corrosive as too much conservatism.

    1. I like to say that moderation is generally a good thing. But moderates don’t infiltrate and gather power. Moderates don’t intimidate with Twitter mobs, shout down dissent, or pull fire alarms to shut down speakers.

  3. I had a look at what is apparently the foundational document of equitable mathematics, here: Looking at page 7, I don’t find it unreasonable frankly. For example «Curriculum developers and teachers enculturated in the USA teach mathematics the way they learned it without critical reflection.» For example, there seems to be a strong focus on PEMDAS in the US, which is not the case in my home country of France. So a French youngsters would very likely feel alienated if he moved from a French primary school or early junior highschool to a similar level in the US. The other advices like less linear a teaching, more collaborative work, presenting failures as a way to progress, they are all sound, and go way beyond ethnic minorities, but it is probably true that those are more impacted. Now, those guidelines are rather vague, and the rest of the document does not give examples, and it’s all written with a questionable style, so I don’t dismiss the possibility that it will be badly implemented. But the spirit of it, at face value, is not bad.

    1. That mathematics pedagogy in United States public education is weak and needs to change does not mean that any change will improve it :

      “My mom would teach us mathematics at home. […]. We spent quite a bit on mathematics for only one reason : it’s because they were from Singapore, and they weren’t exactly sure if they were going to stay in the United States. And I remember my parents telling me : “Let’s make sure that you learn what all of your classmates in Singapore are learning, because if we go back to Singapore, that way you won’t be (at) the bottom of the class”.”

      – Po-Shen Loh, interview (1 of 3) with Eddie Woo, 22 January 2021, at t=1:36 :

      … its weakness is precisely why the superficial mathematics pedagogy in United States public education is at significant risk of ideological pollution. It needs to change in fundamental ways.

    2. I read it a while ago and they try hard to sound reasonable. But I am afraid what this really means is less systematic traditional teaching and grading (empirical research says the traditional methods tend to work quite well), more distraction, irrelevant sidelines, less discipline in the classroom, less examples to work through, making it more difficult precisely for the children who don’t have a strong family backgrounds. “Collaborative work” will be used as a way to achieve “equity” in grades. Traditional math instruction doesn’t have to be reformed, it’s just that most US schools have too little of it compared with the rest of the OECD world.

    3. PS: I recently read the (semi-autobiographical) novel Americanah, and in one scene the main character, a recent immigrant from Nigeria, realized with horror that her little nephew is actually learning less math in his New York public elementary school than he would in Nigeria.

  4. Brilliant. This is an important article, written with great clarity. I hope that some of the larger outlets will see this and use their megaphones to call further attention to this problem. CNN, New York Times, CBS, Associated Press: This is important. Pay attention!

    One more thing. I had originally intended to add the above comment to Krylov’s post itself—and I typed it into the box—but doing so would have required me to enter my name and e-mail address. I admit that I didn’t want to create yet another pathway for people to contact me, so I posted my contribution here instead. Yes, I self-censored.

  5. Michurinism—the name Lysenko & Co. used for their ideological substitute for what in the west was called Genetics—was enforced in the Soviet academic and research world for fewer than 20 years. Nonetheless, its period of ascendancy selected for academics who were adept at following an enforced line and mouthing Michurinism statements, which influenced the character of Biology in the USSR for many years longer. Perhaps our current imposition of Diversity statements will confer similar benefits on scholarship in all subjects in the USA.

    It might be recalled that honest biological scientists did find places to shelter in the USSR. One trick was lodging in academic departments with a safer title, such as Cytology or Radiology. [For example, Zhores Medvedev worked at an Institute of Medical Radiology.] Another was sheltering in locations far away from the center of power, such as the Siberian Academy of Sciences institutes near Novosibirsk. So, as the DEIshchina takes over the centers of US academic life, we might see a flight of honest scholars to universities in Alaska. We might help our grad students most by advising them to get used to cold temperatures.

  6. “But mobs alone would not be able to enforce censorship. … People in positions of power do—university presidents, department chairs, journal editors.”

    This is, I think, at least half of the problem — if outrage mobs weren’t given into, the tactic would wither and die. Yet it receives much too little attention. Jonathan Haidt’s excellent introductory talk at the Stanford conference linked the sudden emergence of wokery in Anglophone universities to the arrival of the first cohorts of GenX students around 2014, and the sudden change that marked from a curiosity-driven educational culture to a safety-driven one. But he didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: who was responsible for the upbringing of that generation of students, and what aspect of that upbringing had made the students think their approach and behaviour was acceptable? Clearly they were brought up by the generation before (millennials). And which generation is it that, from 2014, was likely to be the gatekeepers of institutions, journals etc? Also millennials. So the same generation that taught or modelled the bad behaviour in their children, also gave in to that bad behaviour when their children required them to. For whatever reason (and doubtless it’s some aspect of their own upbringing by boomers), millennials are the key here: it’s they who have betrayed the mission of the institutions they lead.

    1. Many, many of the most egregious examples I see of cowardice from leaders involves CEOs/chancellors/presidents who are in their 50s and 60s. No doubt, the next generation of cowardly executives will probably be Millennials, but I won’t cast the blame on them just yet!

      1. This may seem tangential, but it applies:

        In the ’90s a woman named Judith Albino served as president of the University of Colorado system.

        Near (very near!) the end of her tenure, she was put in the position of defending a football coach and program that had become embroiled in a really distasteful situation.

        As a stunt, the previous coach had brought on a female place kicker, the first female in that capacity on a Division I (as it was still called) football program. But the new coach was not happy about it, and he said incredibly lousy things about her and his players not only harassed her, but some were accused of sexual assault at parties. Etc., right?

        At any rate, Albino was being deposed or otherwise grilled (I can’t remember exactly) and her defense leaked to the press. Among the most ridiculous contortions she made was to claim, straight faced, that in referring to the female kicker as a cu*t, the new coach was using “a term of endearment.”

        Now, there is no chance in hell that Albino believed that. But her *interest* lay in doing the thing that, she believed, would cause least harm to the school.

        As I say, she was soon gone (my wife at the time reveled in the many strange/unintentionally humorous headlines about her: “Albino says slur is ‘term of endearment'” or “Albino testifies before committee” or “Albino fired” … yes, yes, because, you know…. didn’t say it was mature).

        But I see some of these current presidents’ kowtowing to extreme woke balderdash as doing much the same thing. They are surely too smart to believe the nonsense, but out of self interest, and that of the school (or so they believe), they are willing to say and do outrageous things.

  7. The wokeness that has infested science and academia in general in recent years is another manifestation of the culture war that has been going on for decades. Opposing this development are many sincere people that desire a return to an era when politics and ideology did not impinge (at least overtly) on the pursuit of knowledge. But, the appearance of wokeness is a gift to the fascist Republican Party. It has the largest megaphone to become the crusaders against wokeness. Those people that oppose wokeness and the Republican Party will go largely unnoticed by the general public. In other words, wokeness is a vote generating machine for fascism. It is probable that most of the woke do not realize this and those that do don’t care. Such is the nature of ideologues. For those of us that fervently support democracy and understand fully the threat of fascism while opposing wokeism, the outstanding question is this: can wokeism be effectively fought without aiding and abetting fascism? I do not know the answer to this question, but in times of cultural panic people tend to veer far right. Those that eschew the extremes often get squeezed to death.

  8. As a graduate student in a biomedical STEM field, I think a lot of this (the strong DEI push in STEM) is a bottom-up issue – it comes from the trainees (grad students + postdocs). My peers who fall for this narrative (which is a majority of them) often get their news from media such as NPR, NYT, Washington Post, etc. that have historically had a strong reputation for being factual (and I think they still are mostly!) but have clearly trended towards promoting an identitarian narrative, and this gets amplified by the celebrity figures that they follow on social media as well as their peers in other fields – by definition, trainees in STEM have advanced education and thus are immersed in the same environment as everyone else who has advanced education. This is on top of their pre-existing bias towards progressivism due to the science denialism of right-wing conservatives in the US – and when progressives start espousing these narratives, they believe it must be true because those same progressives supported the scientists on issues like climate change and evolution against the denialism in right-wing circles. And given that STEM does tend to be rather lacking in URMs and historically have been unkind to women (and indeed, historically have attempted to justify that in a “scientific” way), that gives a rather strong impetus to carry this kind of zeal towards DEI that we see today. I notice that they often decouple their “science brain” (where their analytical skills are sharp and in keeping with scientific practice) from their “social commentary brain” (where they cherry-pick, refuse to account for confounding factors, fall prey to confirmation bias, and rely on anecdotes), so it’s not that they don’t know better – it’s that they have to maintain a narrative for themselves to craft an identity around and because it’s what the “experts” think (as aspiring scientists, they want to be taken seriously as experts themselves, and so they often have a “trust the experts” mentality). The PIs get it from a combination of listening to their trainees and from also consuming the same news media. In this environment, it is little wonder that scientific institutions gleefully adopt the biases of their constituent members and evangelize towards those ends, to the detriment of the perceived credibility of the scientific community.

    I think where I am different from them is that 1. I grew up as a poor immigrant who saw first-hand how false a lot of these narratives are (especially that the DEI narrative “speaks for marginalized minorities” – most of the lower-class minorities I grew up around have no idea and wouldn’t give two shits about any of that), and 2. I try to think analytically even outside of my research projects. I will say that I don’t blindly adopt contrarianism – from what I can tell, the actual science being conducted is still sound and valid. The IDW destroyed its own credibility by adopting such a blind contrarian stance that some of them would even deny vaccine science because it came from the “experts” – I think that is worse than the DEI excesses that I see. But I do think that this intrusion of political ideology into STEM institutions is pernicious, leads to widespread distrust of science (due to the perception that scientists are no different than any other “woke activists”, which unfortunately many in our community gleefully contribute to), and stems from how the younger generation of scientists are trying to show solidarity with their activist peers in other fields, have a pre-existing bias towards progressivism due to right-wing science denialism, and consume increasingly biased sources of information.

    1. Hi-five, Hanfei. I largely agree with your analysis. It does help to have an immigrant background. Many people, who are genuinely concerned about past and present inequalities, get fooled by the DEI narrative. But DEI acts as “Bait&switch” — it promises one thing, but delivers something entirely different.

      1. I think DEI comes from good intentions, and different people have different interpretations of DEI. Indeed, there are many much-needed reforms that are now taken up by DEI activists such as better mental health support for trainees, higher stipends for grad students, better work-life balance, and holding genuinely predatory/toxic PIs accountable (all of which would help diversify STEM without compromising merit principles). What I don’t like is the illiberalism and the reductiveness of all disparities to a single cause. Not all of the myriad problems that exist in the STEM pipeline are the result of racism or sexism among scientists. Many of them are problems of the wider world that scientific institutions can’t solve by themselves or try to put band-aids over by holding people of different genders or ethnicities to different standards, censoring research/researchers, or by mandating that prospective faculty members write a statement on their application.

  9. While I am glad that she can compare the horrors of academia under the new PC movement and the Soviet movement, I’d also like to draw people’s attention to the similarities with Nazi policies. The German Jewish linguist Viktor Klemperer wrote LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii detailing his experiences in the Third Reich. The atrocities of authoritarianism, whether right or left, are simply beyond words.

    1. Klemperer’s books are indeed highly relevant — both “LTI” and his diaries, “I will bear witness”.

      My German friends–who grew up in East Germany (DDR)– tell me they used to call Soviet-time German Newspeak LQI — Lingua Quarti Imperii.

      Klemperer’s diaries show the process of how illiberalism gradually takes hold of the society. This is something we should keep in mind — the horrors and atrocities of totalitarian regimes do not happen overnight. They take time to mature and it is the complicity of the people that lets them to grow, ripen, and to eventually fulfill their full murderous potential. That is why it is important to fight now, before it is too late.

      1. Thanks for your response, Professor! Klemperer’s diaries were eye-opening; it’s difficult finding words to express how amazing the books are, given how horribly dystopian they are.

        I try not to look at things too much in terms of Left and Right. The excesses of both sides have a lot in common with each other. I’m thinking in terms of the Nolan Chart now, I’m wondering if the danger we see now is exclusive to the authoritarian/illiberal corner of the chart, especially when people attempt for some kind of ideological Gleichschaltung between politics, education, and research.

        I do love the term ‘illiberal’. I find it hard to use in some countries like Australia (where the Right has co-opted the term ‘liberal’) and the US (ditto for the Left). Most other places ‘liberal’ is synonymous with what Americans call ‘libertarian’.

  10. For those readers interested in a curiosity – I am married to a Muscovite who shares my birthday (1 September). I met her in Moscow at the Tretyakov Art Gallery where she showed me around and to the Central Chess Club, the Kremlin etc. We were both on holiday at that time (August 2000) and she showed me around Moscow. On my last evening she invited me to meet her parents in a suburb called Parkovaya. Both were scientist/engineers and her father had won a prize as the team leader who designed and maintained the landing system for the Soviet Space Shuttle. He spent his career flying around the Soviet Union (later, Russia) installing and maintaining anti-aircraft surveillance systems.

    But – my God! – they were as poor as church mice, living on about US $100 per month. Tiny apartment in a decrepit block, lots of graffiti, set in a field filled with rusting car wrecks, discarded syringes, rain-filled puddles, 30 cm deep or more, and packs of wild dogs that periodically attacked the locals, and locals who might beat and rob you on your way to the train station. That’s what you got as a scientist in Russia during those days!

    Back to woke. It’s still going strong in New Zealand and the problem is that today’s Māori indeed experience unequal outcomes, backed up by well-meaning others who see this current generation as on a crusade. An unceasing torrent of news items on colonialism and white supremacy. Inequity in education, income and health is down to racism and persistent calls to decolonize science and everything else. All of this prevents us from focusing on the true causes of inequity in the present.

    Recently, I attended a meeting of scientists at the end of which two Māori women called for decolonization of science. We understand them in relation to past oppression and their need to reinvent pride in their culture and traditional knowledge. But, unfortunately, it comes from a place of near total ignorance of science, as do moves to include traditional knowledge in our high-school science curriculum. Many of those in our Education ministries who oversee this initiative have little or no science background and some have no education background either. Frightening!

    I attended another meeting of researchers at the Royal Society Te Aparangi and spoke of the need for respectful dialogue from all parties. Royal Society Te Aparangi staff discussed the controversy (regarding the letter from the seven professors, which stated that traditional knowledge falls short of science) from their perspective and how difficult the situation had been for them. Matters became acrimonious and surely the lesson is that we have to do better. It may have been believed widely that the Royal Society Te Aparangi had a fixed endgame in mind (expulsion) when embarking on an investigation of certain of its fellows but I believe that this was a misapprehension. It behoves us all to be fair in our dialogue of contentious subjects, particularly in today’s world of social media.

    Advocates of traditional knowledge have a right to be proud of their knowledge, accumulated over millennia, and also to be proud of their cultures. Let’s support them while remaining firm on what it is that constitutes science and stand up to well-intended but misguided thinking on science and education though, admittedly, stemming the current tidal wave of woke will not be easy. Let’s also give the Royal Society Te Aparangi the opportunity it needs to recover from the recent dispute and emerge as the proponent of science that in truth it is.
    David Lillis

  11. Like the religious BS from the Right.

    Now, I’d always speak out at blatant racism and acknowledge it when it’s more a bad habit. But how is raw, secular and emotionless mathematics anything? I’d just put it down to students being hopeless at it.

    As for the term “secular”, that may be a good new term what what some are called “Western Science”,

  12. Professor Coyne.
    The Royal Society Te Aparangi is still doing good things in science. At the last meeting, Dr. Roger Ridley gave a fine presentation on the Society’s current initiatives. He covered these topics and others:

    For the top executives it must be difficult to chart a course between what you believe as a scientist and what Government expects you to articulate in public. I worked for the Royal Society in 2007 and saw first-hand that it had to kowtow to Government, which provided partial funding, and to a bullying minister.

    New Zealand is on a difficult path – one of advantaging a small minority on the basis of genetics. Our media present that endgame almost exclusively. The following article is characteristic:

    The author is undoubtedly a decent human being who has the courage of his beliefs and, as a person of color, may well have experienced bias and racism. He favours re-defining New Zealand as a bicultural nation and has no problem with the reality that Māori constitute less than 17% of the population and very few are full Māori. Like others, effectively he casts disagreement as racism. He says:

    “In a changing and challenging world of shifting geopolitics and existential threats, there is a natural tendency to hold on to old and familiar cultural ideologies.

    Aotearoa New Zealand is a rare place where a treaty between a majority migrant population and an indigenous minority is being interpreted to explore and fashion a new identity, new laws and nationhood. It’s a difficult task in the best of times, but in a time of a contracting economy, this task is about to get fractious.

    [Those who disagree – my words here] are not going to help, but surviving the severe test coming up in 2023 would mature us as a multicultural society in a bicultural nation.”

    It looks as though we are being bludgeoned into a new normal, against the wishes of the majority. Indeed, we live in a multi-cultural society. Drive to the Wellington suburbs of Lower Hutt, Avalon or Newtown and we see many immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. They need a helping hand just as much as Māori and everyone else.
    He Puapua is a sort of wishlist for the future of New Zealand but many take it. See:

    Objectives include:

    1. mātauranga Māori (Māori traditional knowledge) to be valued equally and resourced equally to “western science”

    2. Tikanga Māori (practice and values) will be functioning and applicable across Aotearoa under Māori (national, iwi, hapū, whānau) authority and also, where appropriate, under Crown/kāwanatanga authority

    3. Māori will be providing for Māori

    4. The public service is bicultural and understands the ways in which it must support rangatiratanga (self-determination and ruling themselves)

    5. Law, policy, processes and entities will support a successful bicultural joint sphere of governance and management of resources, taonga (treasures) and Crown lands

    5. A bicultural, mātauranga-informed state service/kāwanatanga Karauna

    6. Māori co-govern and/or co-design deliver services

    7. Law, policy, processes and entities will support a successful bicultural joint sphere of governance and management of resources, taonga and Crown lands

    Are such objectives, and others, right for the people of New Zealand? Many of us fear that they are not because we are a democratic multicultural society rather than a bicultural society – but, indeed, we should remain open to constructive dialogue. We should remain willing to change our minds if we hear compelling arguments, but surely we must think of the good of New Zealand as a whole rather than mainly of one cultural or ethnic group.
    David Lillis

    1. A good term to replace “Western Science” would be with “secular science”.

      We are a nation of many people from around the world now.

  13. Hi Professor Coyne.
    Recent figures are: 70.2% European (3,297,860 people) 16.5% Māori (775,840 people) 15.1% Asian (707,600 people) 8.1% Pacific peoples (381,640 people)

    On the question of inequities as a rationale for change – let’s look at health outcomes. In recent years we have heard repeated claims that the New Zealand Health System is systemically racist and that Māori health outcomes are compromised as a result. Lots of politics on this one. For example, Came et al (2021) argue that constitutional transformation and decolonization are potentially powerful ethical sources of disruption to whiteness and structural racism.

    Support for such claims includes the fact that Māori live on average approximately seven years fewer than other New Zealanders (Ministry of Social Development, 2022). Knight (2022) discusses another assertion – that Māori experience poorer health services than non-Māori and that decolonising the health system will improve Māori health and longevity. Partly in response to such claims, the Māori Health Authority was established in 2021, ostensibly to work with the Ministry of Health and Health New Zealand in ensuring that the health system works well for Māori.

    Knight believes that systemic bias and racism most probably do not exist in our health system. I think that these problems could be present, but are relatively minor these days. Knight reports what is already known among researchers and policy organisations; that disparities in health outcomes across demographic groups emerge largely from socioeconomic factors (especially in relation to housing), differences in genetics and lifestyle choices (e.g. exercise, consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs, and smoking).

    Here it is worth considering the World Health Organisation’s perspective on the social factors that influence health – the social determinants of health. They are defined as the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life (World Health Organisation, 2022). They exert great influence on health inequities within and between nations. The World Health Organisation provides the following list of social determinants of health:

    1. Income and social protection
    2. Education
    3. Unemployment and job insecurity
    4. Working life conditions
    5. Food insecurity
    6. Housing, basic amenities and the environment
    7. Early childhood development
    8. Social inclusion and non-discrimination
    9. Structural conflict
    10. Access to affordable health services of decent quality.

    The World Health Organisation suggests that the social determinants can influence health more greatly than healthcare or lifestyle choices and that they could account for between 30% and 55% of health outcomes. In addition, the contribution of sectors outside health to population health outcomes exceeds the contribution from the health sector (World Health Organisation, 2022).

    If these findings are true, then these are the factors that must be addressed, rather than invoking racism as the primary or exclusive cause.
    The same thinking should apply to education and other domains.

    Came, H., Baker, M. and McCreanor, T. (2021). Addressing Structural Racism through Constitutional Transformation and Decolonization: Insights for the New Zealand Health Sector. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry volume 18, pages 59–70.

    Knight, K. (2022). Fact checking the Māori Health claims that have led to The Futures Health Bill.

    Ministry of Social Development (2022). The Social Report 2016 – Te pūrongo oranga tangata

    World Health Organisation (2022). Social Determinants of Health.

    David Lillis

      1. Michael.
        You can’t balance it with “one person, one vote”. We are being told that New Zealand is moving to a new kind of society and with a new name – “Aotearoa”.

        The term is “co-governance”. But what does co-governance actually mean? Lots of online explanatory material here. For example, see:

        “Essentially, it’s the Treaty of Waitangi partners, the Crown and Māori, having equal seats around the decision-making table. The clue to its meaning is in its very name – “governance”. It’s not about handing over ownership, it’s about partnership in management”.

        Though I believe that many adherents mean well, there’s power and money to be had when an ethnic or cultural group has decision-making rights over, for example, water. ‘Three Waters’ concerns the delivery and management of clean drinking water supply and regulation – wastewater (sewerage) reticulation, treatment and disposal; and stormwater management. Two weeks ago, Government added coastal and geothermal water to the list.

        The Treaty of Waitangi does not mention partnership and Māori are 16.5% of the population. We are part-way down the co-governance track. Is it a good journey for New Zealand – or is it not? Many of us fear that it is anti-democratic and will lead to division. We can indeed address inequity through other means, specifically though programs that try to meet peoples’ and families’ individual needs, rather than administered on the basis of genetics or self-reported ethnicity.

        1. I know David, no need to lecture me, I was being cynical and sarcastic. I don’t trust Iwi leadership often as it comes off as feudalistic in nature with aristocracy and nobility at the top and the peasants at the bottom. A few friends of mine said basically that about their leadership. I’m no expert though on how Iwi leadership is made, my impression is it’s passed on and similar to feudalism in a way. Anyway, look at the gravy train fat cats in their 4WDs and nice suits.
          I admit to not keeping to up to track on the 3 Waters debacle, but I’d listen to an engineer and simply take their advice on how best to manage it.

          I’m mostly here for the scientific controversy and not the political one and would certainly take issue if all votes are not equal. Even that 3 News article wasn’t all that much new.

  14. Anna’s presentation at the conference (see youtube) was impressive, and kind of scary. Scary how it gels with what similarly situated former citizens of the P.R.China, veterans of the Cultural Revolution, have said.

  15. Anna’s presentation was indeed impressive.

    Many of us here in New Zealand and elsewhere agree with the sentiments of the seven professors’ original letter to the Listener and agree that traditional knowledge and religious interpretations of life and the world we live in should not be confused with science or taught as science until tested through the methods of science and shown to be valid. That stricture discounts almost all of religion and mythology but leaves the door open to certain aspects of traditional knowledge.

    Many people mean well when they propose traditional knowledge as the equal of science and probably it is also true that many scientists know little of traditional knowledge. However, the earnestness with which various people assert the equality of the two domains is quite disarming and often their view is based on a limited understanding of science. More unexpected is when this this view comes from professional scientists.

    However, it is useful to remember that sometimes traditional knowledge embodies real and demonstrable science and that traditional knowledge served a very valuable purpose throughout the evolutionary history of our species. Can we call science and traditional knowledge ‘partially-overlapping magisteria’? To some extent we have to make judgements on the delineation between science and that which does not quite count as science. If we use Popperian Falsification as the demarcation, then even here we have to make a call as to exactly where the line is to be drawn. Thus, does testing the edibility of fruit of an unfamiliar tree count as falsification or is it simply trial and error? Does Popperian Falsification require a higher level of abstraction and the proving or disproving of an hypothesis? To an extent, we have a value judgement to make here.

    I, too, have gone on record in support of the professors and stand against the unclear, if well-meaning, thinking that posits knowledge of centuries ago as the equal of the science of randomized controlled trials, evolutionary biology, particle physics, radio astronomy, waste management and climate change. However, we should indeed recognize that traditional knowledge has added value and indeed embraces elements of true science.

    My own perspective, for what it’s worth, is that all traditional knowledge ought to be valued and preserved, but no traditional knowledge of any cultural group, anywhere in the world, should be taught as science until tested and shown to be valid through the methods of science. Nor is there the slightest justification for resourcing traditional knowledge equally to science, however valuable that knowledge may have been in the past. We have duty of care to define clearly what sits within the ambit of science and that which lies beyond (recognizing that the demarcation is partly subjective), just as we have a critical obligation to exercise the utmost rigor when we test the efficacy of newly-proposed cancer drugs and other treatments.

    David Alexander Lillis

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