New Zealand government spends $2.7 million to test already-debunked indigenous theory about the effect of lunar phases on plants

July 30, 2023 • 9:45 am

We’ve already learned that, with respect to some indigenous “scientific” theories, the New Zealand government is willing to commit the “Concorde” or “sunk cost” fallacy, continuing to fund lines of inquiry even though those projects have already been proven wrong or unproductive. A particularly egregious example, which I’ve documented before (see here, here and here) is the NZ government’s handing out $660,000 (NZ) to Priscilla Wehi of the University of Otago to pursue claims that the Polynesians (ancestors of the Māori) had discovered Antarctica in the early seventh century.  That claim was debunked by Māori scholars themselves, who discovered it was based on a mistranslation of an oral legend. The real discoverers of Antarctica were members of a Russian expedition in 1820. But Wehi was still given a big chunk of money to pursue a palpably stupid idea—only because it was based on an faulty indigenous legend.

The same thing is about to happen again, but this time involving more money. Now $2.7 million (NZ) has been given out to Māori workers to test (not really a “test”, as there’s no control) their notion that the phases of the moon affect plants to the extent that you can improve crop yield by planting and harvesting during certain propitious lunar phases.

This idea had already been debunked decades ago, but once again the Kiwis who hand out grants don’t care; they just want to proffer money to Māori, presumably as some form of affirmation of indigenous “ways of knowing”.

But read on about the government’s funding of Māori “tests” of the effects of lunar phases on planting.  Is there a control that ignores Moon phases? Not that I see. Further, the data already exists in the literature to show that this endeavor is useless. It’s not a “test,” but a complete waste of taxpayers money.

This article is from a section of New Zealand’s most widely read newspaper, the New Zealand Herald.  Note that “maramataka” is the Māori lunar calendar

Note that throughout the article there are reference to “positive results” of relying on the Moon’s phases for planting and harvesting, but no data have been published, and none are given. This is an exercise in confirmation bias, in giving money based on what people want to be true. 

Using ancient Māori knowledge of moon phases has shown positive results on pasture growth and riparian planting resilience for Bay of Plenty farmers Miru Young and Mohi Beckham.

The farmers were among those who spent two days on historic Te Kūiti Pā being guided through the Māori lunar calendar at a first-of-its-kind workshop.

They were shown why moon phases can influence aspects of plant growth, seed-sowing effectiveness and the potency of healing properties in native plants that Māori farmers have used to counter illnesses in farm animals for decades.

“We’re not here to preach maramataka (lunar calendar) but encourage farmers to observe so they can utilise the tools around us,” said Erina Wehi-Barton.

“Using maramataka and traditional plant knowledge is about working smarter not harder.

. . .Erina is a mātauranga practitioner and project specialist/kairangahau Māori for the trial Rere ki uta rere ki tai.

Note the implication below that this is a controlled study: mātauranga, characterized as “Māori science” is to be tested alongside “Western science”. But that’s the only time you hear anything about a control, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. My bolding:

The Government-funded trial explores mātauranga — Māori science —alongside Western science and farmer knowledge to improve soil health.

It is one of three place-based projects awarded funding as part of the Revitalise Te Taiao research programme. Paeroa-based Rere ki uta rere ki tai has been allocated $2.7 million to test farming methods that aim to “enhance the mana and mauri of the soil” across 10 farms.

Mana” refers roughly to “spiritual power”, while “mauri” means “life principle/vital essence”.  Both are teleological words that have no place in science.  But there’s more:

Erina said farmers already spent their days observing differences in pasture and forest growth through the seasons and were uniquely placed to gain insights over a lunar cycle. [JAC: where are the data?]

. . . The workshop came about after Erina visited Miru’s 80ha dairy farm in Pukehina, and had a conversation about maramataka.

Miru’s father Patrick and late granddad Steve had shared what they knew about maramataka, but the workshop allowed Young to learn more about each individual moon phase and how it might influence his farm.

“I grew up with maramataka from Dad and Koro (grandad), and Dad used it for gardening, hunting, fishing and diving. Now I do it for all of those, but I never thought about doing it for farming,” he says.

“What I do with fishing and diving is I write down what I get when I go out and what the moon phase is, then I know where to go back at what time. I saw patterns, more seasonal than anything.

“But with farming, I didn’t know how it might work because we use a contractor for planting, and he comes down when he’s ready, not when I’m ready.

“After I’d spent two years writing down my planting and the moon phases, I’d built a better relationship with my contractor, and I picked a better time to plant on, and now he’ll come then.”

Miru has recorded his observations that pasture was slower to get going at certain moon phases.

During the workshop on the marae, he talked with Wehi-Barton’s “ngahere parents” — who have taught her their knowledge of the forest — and related this to his experience hunting by the moon phase.

“I could see the patterns with hunting and diving.”

What patterns? Where are the data?

Fellow Bay of Plenty farmer Mohi Beckham grew up in a big family and learned from his mother who incorporated traditional Māori knowledge into her garden that helped sustain the whānau [extended family].

He has employed contractors who use the lunar cycle to guide riparian planting times on his brother’s Scylla Farm in Pukehina, a 208ha mixed dairy farm and orchard that he manages in the Bay of Plenty.

“We’re already doing maramataka on our farm through our planting of riparian plants, and the results they’ve had are amazing,” he says.

“The contractors only work in the high energy days of the lunar cycle, which is anywhere between 12 and 20 days compared to five days a week for conventional planting contractors. But the productivity is higher in the maramataka boys.

“A lot of our stuff has been under water this year and there’s a 93 per cent survival rate for their [maramataka] plantings. Usually, you are lucky when the survival rate is at 80 per cent.”

That’s about all the data we get, and it’s not only anecdotal, but not precise.  They didn’t even record the observations! (my bolding)

Mohi says he hasn’t kept a diary to properly record observations, but had experimented with sowing pasture on different moon phases that are resting and dormant phases or high-energy phases for plant growth.

“Two years ago we planted some according to the best phase of maramataka and some a week before that high-energy period. The maramataka outgrew the first area sown, even though it was planted seven to 10 days later.”

Taranaki farmer Nick Collins, the farm engagement adviser for Rere ki uta rere ki tai, has used moon phases during his 18 years as an organic dairy farmer.

“With hay, we found it cures better on the new moon, or after the full moon, because there’s lower moisture levels in the pasture,” he says.

“Leading up to the full moon is the active phase, which was a good time for silage because we weren’t worried about drying the plant. But we found that with hay, it seemed to dry better when the plant has lower moisture levels, and that’s a waning moon.

Note: the hay “seems to dry better”.  When you hear stuff like that, remember Feynman’s remarks about  the nature of science:

“The first principle is not to fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

What we see above is simply an exercise in reinforcing self-foolery. And of course the newspaper doesn’t dare raise any questions about it.

But there’s really no need to waste this $2.7 million, because there are already many, many published studies examining whether the phases of the moon influence crop physiology or yield. They’re summarized in the paper below from journal Agronomy, published by MDPI.  And the answer is that the lunar phases have no palpable effect on crop growth or yield, mainly because the influence of the Moon’s phases is simply too miniscule to affect plants. In other words, we already know that the studies above won’t show a positive effect, because similar work has already been tried.

Click the screenshot to read.

The authors did an extensive survey of the influence of lunar phases on plant physiology and, looking at all published studies, found no effect. 

Here’s the abstract, which pulls no punches, noting that popular agricultural practices that are tied to lunar phases have “no scientific backing.” Did that stop the NZ government from handing out millions to farmers using indigenous “ways of knowing” based on those phases? Nope.

All bolding is mine.


This paper reviews the beliefs which drive some agricultural sectors to consider the lunar influence as either a stress or a beneficial factor when it comes to organizing their tasks. To address the link between lunar phases and agriculture from a scientific perspective, we conducted a review of textbooks and monographs used to teach agronomy, botany, horticulture and plant physiology; we also consider the physics that address the effects of the Moon on our planet. Finally, we review the scientific literature on plant development, specifically searching for any direct or indirect reference to the influence of the Moon on plant physiology. We found that there is no reliable, science-based evidence for any relationship between lunar phases and plant physiology in any plant–science related textbooks or peer-reviewed journal articles justifying agricultural practices conditioned by the Moon. Nor does evidence from the field of physics support a causal relationship between lunar forces and plant responses. Therefore, popular agricultural practices that are tied to lunar phases have no scientific backing. We strongly encourage teachers involved in plant sciences education to objectively address pseudo-scientific ideas and promote critical thinking.

And the conclusion:


Science has widely established different evidences: (i) the Moon’s gravity on the Earth cannot have any effect on the life cycle of plants due to the fact that it is 3.3 × 10−5 ms−2, almost 300,000 times lower that the Earth’s gravity; (ii) since all the oceans are communicated and we can consider their size being the size of the Earth, the Moon’s influence on the tides is 10−6 ms−2, but for a 2 m height plant such value is 3 × 10−13 ms−2 and, therefore, completely imperceptible; (iii) the Moon’s illuminance cannot have any effect on plant life since it is, at best, 128,000 times lower than the minimum of sunlight on an average day; (iv) the rest of possible effects of the Moon on the Earth (e.g., magnetic field, polarization of light) are non-existent.

The logical consequence of such evidence is that none of these effects appear in physics and biology reference handbooks. However, many of these beliefs are deeply ingrained in both agricultural traditions and collective imagery. This shows that more research should be undertaken on the possible effects observed on plants and assigned to the Moon by the popular belief, addressing their causes, if any. It would also be interesting to address these issues in both compulsory education and formal higher agricultural education in order to address pseudo-scientific ideas and promote critical thinking.

Well, the “research” being undertaken above is not scientific, as there’s no control—but perhaps “control studies” are an invidious artifact of “Western science”. Because of this, it doesn’t count as the “more research on possible” effects called for by Mayoral et al.

If this was a proposal submitted to the U.S.’s National Science Foundation, it would never be funded for two reasons: it flies in the face of what’s already established knowledge in agronomy, and preliminary studies haven’t been done to show that there’s a likely effect of lunar phases on crop yield.

Mayoral et al. also warn that studies like the one above border on “pseudoscience” and can pollute science teaching. I’d leave out the words “border on” and say “are pseudoscience.”  From the Agronomy paper:

We are concerned about the insidious spread of pseudo-scientific ideas, not only in the field of plant science (which determines many of the behaviours, habits and techniques of many farmers in rural areas) but into the broader population through both formal and informal education. As science educators, we are especially concerned about the widespread belief in pseudo-science throughout the general populace and especially in science teachers. Solbes et al. showed that 64.9% of a sample of 131 future science teachers agree or partially agree with the expression “The phase of the Moon can affect, to some extent, several factors such as health, the birth of children or certain agricultural tasks”. [If they surveyed the Māori, the proportion would be higher than 65%.]

Given this worrying scenario, teachers must promote critical thinking as an essential part of citizenship development. . .

Is that going to happen in New Zealand? Again, not a chance. It’s considered “racist” to denigrate Māori practices or Māori “ways of knowing”. Yes, there are some empirical trial and error bits of knowledge in MM, but none of them are based on the kind of hypothesis-testing used by modern science. This study is just another bit of unscientific work. Further, it has the potential to damage Kiwi agriculture, basing it on traditional lore rather than hard scientific tests. And, as the authors note, it has the potential to damage the scientific education of New Zealand’s youth as well, for the government under PM Chris Hipkins is determined to teach mātauranga Māori in science classes as equivalent to modern (“Western”) science. (Note that science isn’t “Western”; it’s the purview of workers throughout the world.)

I was sent the Herald article by three separate New Zealand scientists who found it wrongheaded and foolish. One of them sent me a thoughtful take on it, which I reproduce with permission:

“If the proponents of this lunar phase proposal had a commitment to using both science and mātauranga Māori they would have done some homework on the relevant scientific literature beforehand. Rather, it appears that either they were happy to ignore existing scientific data that challenges their claims, or they believed the scientific data didn’t count because it wasn’t done from a mātauranga Māori perspective. It is currently unclear in epistemological terms what would constitute a legitimate test in mātauranga Māori. Another important question is whether there is a commitment to publishing negative results of the proposed work

Framing this as “Western science” versus mātauranga Māori thus opens the door to ignoring previous work. This will lead in many cases to wasteful duplication of previous research, some of which should disqualify proposals based on discredited ideas. This is the point that Jonathan Rauch makes in “The Constitution of Knowledge” about the importance of societies having to agree on a common set of facts. Once we abandon that, as we must if we buy into postmodernist cultural relativism, we’re condemned to some form of process argument based on political power. This would inevitably involve direct comparisons between mātauranga Māori and science that would benefit no one. Much better to treat each as distinct and of value for different reasons. Many proponents of mātauranga Māori agree that it is distinct from science, but if that is the case why is it being taught and funded as science?

One obvious difference between the two is the epistemological commitment to testing hypotheses that is inherent in science. Both mātauranga Māori and science involve careful observation. Science generally also involves some form of test or experiment. Proponents of mātauranga Māori may argue that trial and error counts as this, at least to some extent. What science seeks that mātauranga Māori does not is an additional layer of understanding: causal explanations based on theories of mechanism. This is the difference between science and technology. The latter just needs to work. We don’t necessarily need to know why. However, distinguishing between cause and effect is a key component in science, and this involves distinguishing between causal factors and correlation. Maramataka is a very detailed body of knowledge based on seasonal and lunar correlations, but it doesn’t explain why things happen at certain times, only that certain events coincide. The flowering of the pohutukawa tree doesn’t cause the gonads of sea urchins to ripen and thus become good to eat: the two events are both driven independently by environmental temperature. Inductive reasoning can be effective at making predictions under constant conditions, but when things change, as they are under climate change, such patterns are likely to become increasingly unreliable.”

It’s time for New Zealand’s scientists, both Māori and non-Māori, to stop this nonsense. Indigenous knowledge has its place, but it’s not equivalent to modern science. And the taxpayers of New Zealand continue to throw millions of dollars away on worthless studies funded only to propitiate the indigenous culture. Is that worth destroying science in New Zealand? After all, this $2.7 million could have gone for real science or medical research instead of trying to prop up a confirmation bias based on spirituality and tradition.

45 thoughts on “New Zealand government spends $2.7 million to test already-debunked indigenous theory about the effect of lunar phases on plants

  1. It’s possible that, not only in New Zealand, funding like this is being used as a way of transferring money to favored groups without expectation of any actual product.

  2. Meanwhile, the government does nothing to step in and prevent NZ universities from going ahead with mass redundancies for *actual* scientists. At Massey University the proposed redundancies are in the order of 100 from the College of Sciences alone.

  3. A bit of a correction, the American Society of Agronomy’s journal is called Agronomy Journal. The journal Agronomy, which contains the review you cite, is not affiliated with the American Society of Agronomy but is published by MDPI, which is far from respected and often considered a predatory or disreputable publisher. Since I reviewed an article for MDPI’s Agronomy earlier this year, I can also say that the quality of article being submitted there is not exactly high. (I only reviewed it because I was curious how MDPI handled reviews.) I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with the review article itself though.

  4. We need a term like blackface for this kind of writing that takes a cultural phenomenon like MM and paints a scientific patina over it (“energy”).

  5. Deal with any popular but pseudoscientific claim (psychic powers, space aliens, alternative medicine, astrology, etc) and it doesn’t take very long before you discover that most people have a piss poor understanding of science. They think it’s trial-and-error till you find something that “works” or “makes sense” or “fits.” They also think skeptical criticism or demands for more rigor are “mean.”

    “Studies” like this only serve to cement this weak and illusory preconception into the public imagination. It’s an insult to everyone involved.

  6. Waste of money. Worse, at least to me, it muddies up what science is all about and sets a bad example for others—particularly young scientists just entering the profession (or the professoriate). Scientists have refined their experimental methodologies over many decades (centuries, even) to establish criteria for what constitutes a good study. Control groups, double-blind protocols, all the rest. This kind of nonsense sets us all backwards. It’s not just the money that is wasted; it’s also that we now have to fix the damage done to scientific practice. And it’s not just a one-off. It’s a concerted effort to destroy what has taken so long to build and what has been so effective at solving real problems.

    1. Let’s not have an over simple idea of “what science is all about”. A central part of the development of modern science was the establishment of the heliocentric view of the solar system. If that view is correct, early scientists argued, there would be an observable shift of the position of the fixed stars during the course of a year. This wasn’t observable at the time, and this quite properly was regarded as a problem. Here is an important part of the development of modern science, which is not directly connected to experimental methods. Ultimately we do get an account of the astronomical phenomena which can make sense of the original failure to observe stellar parallax ( and in which experimental methods are crucial). But experimental methodologies have different roles in different sciences. Traditional Māori knowledge fails to be scientific, but this isn’t simply because they haven’t got hold of any body of knowledge validated by experiments. They also haven’t got hold of a body of knowledge comparable even with observational astronomy as it was in Galileo’s day.

      1. Sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re on about. Gilinsky’s notation about what procedures are standard in modern science is correct, and yes, there are other procedures, but Gilinsky didn’t propose to provide a complete list. And what you say about the heliocentric solar system is just PREDICTABILITY, another part of western science that isn’t so much present in indigenous sciences.

      1. ? NZ’s Head of State is that well known mystic horticulturalist Charles III. His mother HM Elizabeth II is dead.

  7. I’m surprised that the Maori aren’t insulted that the government would want to spend so much to “test” their “ways of knowing.” Why would you test the knowledge, if you believed it! This is like the government saying: “We bet you NZ$2.7M that you’re wrong!”

  8. Shades of the Michurinist doctrine that dominated Soviet agrobiology for two decades. It included practices in crop rotation and planting procedures, as well as Trofim Lysenko’s brilliant discovery of vernalizing seeds. The basic doctrine was: “Changes in heredity, acquisition of new characters and their augmentation and accumulation in successive generations are always determined by the organisms’ conditions of life.” Lysenko had generous funding for research along these lines in his model farm and institute in the Lenin Hills outside Moscow. He continued to announce dazzling improvements in the mana and mauri of his crops and dairy animals, but state support finally ended after serious investigation of the farm in 1965 revealed rampant slovenliness and fraud.

    1. Wow that last example really shows that it’s the form of these things that matter, not the content.

      Here in BC we have some road signs that give place names in a local indigenous language but written in International Phonetic Alphabet which very few people can understand, including the 6% of the population who are indigenous. Other places in BC have large majorities from different Asian culture and language groups, where it might actually be helpful to have road signs in Hindi, Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, and Punjabi.

      I think it shows how performative rather than functional the indigenous signage is in both NZ and BC. “We won’t actually give the land back, but here have some road signs.” Seems insulting.

      1. The official stance is that NZ is a bicultural society, following on from a recognition of past injustices and a more even handed approach to Maori people and culture, informed by the Treaty of Waitangi. The conundrum that NZ has many cultures is less well addressed.

    2. Ahh, those road signs in Welsh. I found them even more baffling than the experience of driving a rightside-drive car in a left-side drive country. Fortunately for the UK, the revival of Cymraeg didn’t include an insistence on a special Welsh Way of Knowing. Or did it?

      1. Thank goodness, we have not so far been confronted with the notion that there is a unique WWoN.

        I am English, and I have had occasion to drive in Wales from time to time, and I must say that I have found the bilingual signs potentially dangerous, because it takes even the most alert driver several extra milliseconds to decipher what is in front of him or her.

        I’m all in favour of people learning their own historical languages. Learning Welsh has been compulsory in Welsh schools since 1990. The most recent survey suggests that fewer than 18% of Welsh people speak the language. One has to ask the extent to which this policy, and its imposition in the public space, are really justified.

    3. I’m all in favour preserving Maori language and culture (basically all threatened languages and some cultures), but not for equating Maori ‘science’ to real science.
      Those bilingual road signs are a positive, methinks, the arguments against it appear frivolous, but equating MM to science is definitely not a positive, to put it mildly.
      Agreed, the sentence at the end is hilarious.

  9. I was scouring to find an article about whether Matauranga Mahabharata is more moronic than Matauranga Maori. Lots of crackpot google hits on ancient Hindus discovering the principles of astrophysics, Quantum mechanics etc.
    But the Times of India at least incorporates dubunking quotes by reputable scientists, which the Keyaurastan Herald does not in MM articles. This quote is relevant for the ‘proud Maori mind’ : “There is no magic or miracles. The universe is based on logic […] People found it difficult to accept that they have fallen far behind, and hence circulated these myths as realities’.

    And this is exactly what has happened in Keyaurastan New Zealand. The self-styled ‘revivalists of Maori culture’ [ not limited to ethnic Maori ], overvaluing concepts such as ‘pride and honour’ [ there are various Maori words for this ]. The result is overcompensating in risible fashion because they find it difficult to accept Maori had fallen far behind the technological and intellectual progress of the Eurasian continent ever since settling here circa 1280 AD.

  10. “we already know that the studies above won’t show a positive effect” No. I don’t know that, and I suspect they will show a positive effect. Confirmation of bias is predictable here, especially with the loaded background.
    I fear NZ will spend much more than 2.7 million NZ$ on this woo. ‘Luckily’ NZ is still rich enough to spend millions, if not billions, on this ridiculous (since already decisively debunked) endeavour.
    NZ can afford to regress, until they can’t anymore, of course.

    1. Nicolaas I admire your open mind re road signs and their benefits. There really are indigenous people in Canada and New Zealand who want the land back, and find land acknowledgements and road signs patronizing and useless. Those acts might have some benefit for non-indigenous people in Canada, but I don’t see those things as a positive for indigenous people (admittedly I’m not giving my land back either).

      Agree wrt confirmation bias. From the Results section of the upcoming journal article, “We found that plants grow better when planted during the positive energy phase of the moon. Surprisingly, the most propitious days for planting during the positive energy phase tended to precede days with gentle rainfall followed by several days of warm sunshine. Further study is needed to better understand this unforeseen coincidence.”

  11. People here in Ecuador also universally believe this moon stuff. I’ve heard it so much that I admit I would like to see a test done, as long as it were done properly (and probably over several years). One could argue that it would be a great teaching moment, no matter how it turns out. I think the unfortunate part of this study proposal is not the proposal itself but the fact that the outcome seems pre-determined and controls are not discussed.

    Regarding the arguments from physics, those are the same arguments I always give to local people, but it is always possible that something we have not thought of may play a role, for specific cases. For example, it is possible that “pest” insects, which might lay their eggs on seedling crop plants, fly less during full moons to avoid bat predation. Or on the contrary, maybe some nocturnal pollinating insects (especially those too small to be bat food) depend on sight to visit and pollinate flowers, and do better in moonlight. Nocturnal mammals and amphibians might also have activity patterns related to moon brightness, and sometimes this might affect plants. It’s hard to rule out all possible effects, for all possible cases. So I for one would like to see a good study of this.

    The concluding paragraph of the Mayoral et al. paper relies entirely on physical arguments. Biology is complicated, and I don’t find these arguments to be convincing rebuttals to the existence of an effect, though they do debunk the commonly-asserted causes of the claimed lunar effects.

    Some friends of mine did test the almost-universal belief here that the moon affects the weather. That was easily disproven using weather records that go back many years. It was really nice to have that result up our sleeves when people in the countryside here would argue that there was an effect.

    1. +1
      The small size of the physical influences described does not rule out other possible effects such as you propose. In fact it appears to me that ruling these out entirely might require case by case tests on different crops in different environments. As you say, a well conducted study would be valuable and it’s unfortunate that this one does not seem likely to fill that role.

  12. I am confident that the media and government will anoint the results of this glorious study with unbelievable hyperbole of how it really will improve the practice of farming.

    Then if you read the reports it will be pure piffle.

    It is almost a form of population abuse whereby reality is ignored and wishes are celebrated and honoured. The whole thing will do some people’s head in.

    Next Incoming headline … why are more people having mental health problems and crises? Scientists baffled.

  13. Just wait until we start presenting this stuff at international conventions. It’ll be like a Monty Python skit!

  14. A cynical government could fund this sort of stuff, appear to be supporting the protagonists and their cause, and when the results come out showing it’s the bunkum that it is be like, “oh well, we supported you. Shame about the results. I guess we can’t use this in science class.”

    Of course not what’s actually going on in NZ, and elsewhere, but allow me to hope for a moment.

  15. These beliefs fit well under the definition of a “woozle.” This term refers to a notion that is so intriguing, sexy, ironic or otherwise attractive that its disproof is ignored. A classic example is the “observation” that psychotic incidents in mental health facilities spike around the time of a full moon. A paper supporting the notion was published back in (I believe) the 1950s. This is, of course, very interesting and most people who heard about it remembered it. Subsequent studies, however, showed statistical problems with the original study and no investigation since has supported the notion that the lunar phases correlate with instances of psychotic incidents or crime or anything else. But people still believe it and some psychology professors still mention it in their lectures. The initial assertion was fascinating, studies undermining it were boring.
    (The term comes from a Winnie-the-Pooh story where two characters are walking through the woods after a snowfall and they come across tracks in the snow. One of them asserts that they are the tracks of a Woozle and, intrigued, they follow them. By and by, another set of tracks join those of the Woozle and they decide that a Skeezle has joined the Woozle. If memory serves me, a Skeezle is thought to be dangerous, but they follow the tracks anyway until yet another mysterious creature appears to join the Woozle and Skeezle. Long story short, they eventually realize that they initially walked in a circle and have been weaving a story that increases in complexity every time they return to the spot where they first encountered their own track. But the story, as interesting as they made it, was based on nothing.)
    It is likely that the whole notion of native wisdom showing us that plants respond to lunar phases will be immune to any evidence to the contrary.

  16. Says Jerry: Note the implication below that this is a controlled study: mātauranga, characterized as “Māori science” is to be tested alongside “Western science”. But that’s the only time you hear anything about a control, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. My bolding:

    The Government-funded trial explores mātauranga — Māori science —alongside Western science and farmer knowledge to improve soil health.

    I didn’t get from the full news story any indication that there were any cotnrols planned. They farmers are getting money to use mātauranga “alongside” regular science. That doesn’t mean a controlled study. It just means the same as almost everyone who takes alternative medicine for cancer takes it “alongside” standard medical treatment. They invariably ascribe any improvement to their peach pits or whatever and any deterioration to the toxicity of the chemotherapy (which, admittedly often doesn’t work, keeping alive the hope that peach pits will work better.) But there is no sense in which the two treatments are being compared. The patient is simply availing herself of whatever measure of both treatments she wants for her psychic need to be in control of events.

    This mātauranga study is just a demonstration of how the folklore is applied: “working smarter not harder”. There is no comparative evaluation at all. Not even a comparison that could be gamed by the usual crookedness like “random” allocation that really wasn’t, and “blinded” assessment of group outcomes where the assessor peeked at the assignment code before weighing the produce….and where the assessors are under strong moral pressure to make the study show what its sponsors need it to. None of that is going to happen here because there is no comparison at all, corrupted or not. There is no science at all, just story-telling.

  17. Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see a link to the funding of this maramataka “research”. Can you post a link, Jerry? If it funded by the Royal Society of NZ?

    1. Hi Chris, it’s taken me about an hour to try and work out the money trail (and please don’t ask me to reproduce it here, because there are at least three levels of bureaucracy involved!), but as best I can tell, the funding originates ultimately from New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE).

    2. The stuff discussed in the article is paid for by the “Our Land and Water National Science Challenge”, which seems to have been set up in 2016 by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment” with funding of up to $96.9 million over 10 years.

      The specific stuff discussed in the article is one of three projects carried out under the heading of “Revitalise Te Taio”. More information than you want to know can be found here:

      One would hope that not everything done under the auspices of “Our Land and Water” is complete garbage. It’s entirely typical of the NZ media to focus on the parts that most obviously are.

  18. The paper you linked to was very good. It highlighted that many in the west had also been obsessed with the idea of lunar cycles affecting biology.
    This is highly, highly implausible. If only they’d consulted a physicist.
    e.g. (from the paper) Gravitational or tidal effect. The tidal effect of the Moon on a 2m tall living being on the Earth’s surface is about 1000 times lower than the effect of a 1kg mass 1m above said being.

    1. See my Comment 13 above. I do not think we can rule out effects because of physics. Biology is complicated and we should follow the scientific method and settle this to everyone’s satisfaction through experiments, not by a priori claims about theoretical impossibility.

      The amount of energy carried by an individual visible-light photon is ridiculously small. How can less than ten photons (and maybe just one photon) move a 150 pound body 50 feet in one minute? Physically impossible, right? Not if those photons reach a human retina and get amplified into a signal that makes the human take a walk.

      1. The ten photons don’t move a 150 pound body 50 feet in one minute.
        Humans have sensory organs (pretty well understood) and we process information which sometimes results in locomotion.
        The lunar example is completely different. Plants do not have an organ to detect lunar gravity. Why would they ?
        Also, such an organ would be practically impossible. Instruments which can detect tiny perturbations in gravity have to be enormous. The LIGO detectors are kilometres long.

        1. Yes those ten photos moved the body, in the sense that they caused a large macroscopic effect. That’s biology (and well understood). Based solely on the energetics, it is impossible, but biology is complicated, and impossibility proofs are rarely sufficiently broad to cover all the possible scenarios.

          I guess you responded without reading the Comment 13 that I referred to. There are plenty of other ways besides gravity for small causes to have large effects, especially when biology is involved. And the light difference between a full moon and no moon is not even small; it is immense, obvious to anyone who has walked at night in a dark forest. It’s a signal that could easily entrain biological rhythms and could even have a direct effect. It seems to me that we should concentrate on data and experiments and not rely on very vague impossibility arguments, nor on folk tales.

  19. The danger is, that without proper controls, and who knows the sample size selected, that the ‘test’ will actually find there IS an effect!
    That is the real danger – an ideologically driven pseudo-test, even if not purposely manipulated, can (with small sample sizes, discarding of certain data, no control, no criteria for what an ‘effect’ is…) be manipulated.
    I predict they WILL find that moon phases affect crops. Of course they will. And then if you challenge THAT, you are even more racist.
    Even a positive result, that is later shown to be erroneous, will generate enough doubt and activity, that more such funding and indigenous science validation will be created, and the momentum will carry it past dissenting voices.

  20. Could you clarify a few things? The timeline doesn’t seem right. The project funding started in 2022 and the workshop was a few weeks ago. But one of the farmers was recording things for two years and another “used moon phases during his 18 years as an organic dairy farmer”, which means they surely weren’t funded by this project.

    If studying correlations with the lunar calendar is part of the project, why did they not introduce it until half-way through?

    I couldn’t find anything on the project page describing an effort to study lunar influence. I did find another NZ Herald article about the research done at one of farms, at .

    It includes “trial paddocks” and extensive before/after testing “well beyond what’s normally calculated for farm soil health in New Zealand.” The project also include concurrent “research on 10ha of Lincoln Research Farm”, and shows it has explicit controls.

    That’s sounds like a lot of work, and mainstream agronomy. Surely that’s where the large majority of the NZ$ 2.7 million is going, yes?

    Do you have any way to double-check that the study is actually trying to establish a correlation with the lunar calendar, and/or the amount budgeted for that specific research? Alternatively, could the journalist have misreported things? Perhaps Erina Wehi-Barton was being tactful by not outright denying local folk beliefs, which got interpreted as tacit support for them?

    I mean, I know there’s a lot of people who wrongly believe in dowsing, and if you tell them outright they are wrong then they will be less likely to want to work with you.

    1. I don’t know anything more than what was reported in the news article. It’s clear that someone is getting government funding for studying the effect of lunar cycles on plant growth. I’m not an investigative journalist, so if you want to dig into this, be my guest.

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