Scientific American continues to push ideology alongside science

November 2, 2022 • 12:15 pm

There’s no longer any doubt that one of the main missions of Scientific American involves not the dissemination of science, but pushing a “progressive” Democratic ideology on its readers. What this has to do with science is beyond me. In fact, it has nothing to do with science; it has to do with the editor, Laura Helmuth, publishing op-ed after op-ed that agrees with her own political views, as evidenced by her tweet below.  My own offer to write an op-ed arguing against the infusion of ideology into science was rejected by Helmuth, so there’s no pretense that the magazine welcomes a diversity of opinion.

Here’s one tweet, which points to the op-ed below it:

This is the article, which you can read by clicking on it (you may have to sign in, but it’s free). While I agree that we need some form of affirmative action (but dither in my mind about the nature of that action), I disagree that venues like Scientific American should be taking stands like this, as well as refusing to consider arguments at odds with their own op-eds. After all, many who push against affirmative action (John McWhorter is one example) do NOT use “race science” (aka “scientific racism”) to justify their stand:

This article immediately brings up white supremacy as a prime mover of opposition to affirmative action, despite the fact that a majority of all ethnic groups asked (white, black, Hispanic, and Asian) say that race should not be a factor in college admissions. Are these minority opponents also white supremacists? A quote from the piece:

Scientists play a crucial role in assuring equitable access to colleges and universities. Education is fundamentally an issue of human rights, and affirmative action in admissions is one tool in a larger strategy to address social injustices and shape the future of scientific research. Yet white supremacy, whether systemic or interpersonal, is still deeply ingrained in society, leading to financial and social disadvantages for nonwhite students. As scientists, we must fiercely defend affirmative action, if we wish for equity in science and in U.S. society.

The piece also makes the dubious argument that “systemic racism” is baked into science itself. Anyone actually in science knows that this is untrue. Scientists are desperate to hire minority faculty and accept minority graduate students.

As scientists, we need to improve the public’s understanding of systemic racism as an unjust social, political and legal power structure, as well as that there are no innate “deficiencies” in nonwhite people. Clearly, we will need more than 25 years to achieve such a goal.

The piece goes on to rehash arguments about why scientists like E. O. Wilson were racists because they associated with racists, and winds up calling for “centering Black and Brown students in educational law and policy.”

Affirmative action is rooted in the Civil Rights Movement, and its advocates intended to rectify overt and systemic injustices toward Black and brown students. However, leaders of primarily white institutions have altered race-conscious admissions to emphasize the importance of maintaining “critical masses” to promote “diversity” within a primarily white student population. Campus and admissions policies tailored to white students reinforce racial hierarchies and maintain the supremacist ideology that initially prevented Black and brown students from participating in higher education programs in significant numbers. We must center Black and brown students in educational law and policy to maintain and strengthen the original tenets of affirmative action, in addition to upholding it as status quo.

There is no discussion, of course, of course, of lack of equal opportunity as a cause of “inequity”. At the end, the authors (quoting geneticist Joseph Graves) suggest massive reparations in education if affirmative action is overturned. I don’t disagree entirely with their solution below, but, as some readers have suggested, the solution involves far more than throwing money at education, which hasn’t proven that efficacious:

“Should the SCOTUS overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, thus essentially ending affirmative action at historically white institutions of higher education, they must simultaneously order that all states who violated the 1879 Plessy v. Ferguson decision by siphoning funds away from black education to support white education must immediately pay those pilfered funds into black public-school districts and HBCUs. Furthermore, they must order that going forward, a moon-shot level investment in the infrastructure of HBCU/HSI/MSI and Tribal Colleges must be put in place to meet the need for equitable education for non-whites in the United States.”

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In this new article below, the author argues that the Court’s ruling in the Dobbs case upholds white supremacy because people of color suffer more from restrictions on abortion than do whites. I disagree with the Dobbs decision, of course, and am more “pro-choice” than most Americans:  don’t think that 6 months of gestation should be the upper limit for allowing abortion. What I disagree with is that that opinion belongs in a science magazine, which also refuses to publish contrary opinions. (Shouldn’t a science magazine, if it does intend to engage in politics, entertain diverse and conflicting points of view?)

Black and Latinx communities proportionally have higher rates of abortion than white people, a consequence of structural and systemic barriers in health care and society more broadly. People of color are making decisions about the future of their families without equitable access to living wages, jobs, and reliable food and housing. Their families face the living legacy of redlining and housing segregation, along with inequities in education access, all of which limit their movement and upward mobility. Mass incarceration and our flawed justice system disrupt families, their participation in the workforce and their contributions to society and voting. Widespread police violence destroys families, and Black parents fear police brutality before their children are even born.

Communities of color deal with barriers to health care and insurance and face racism and discrimination when they seek care, including narratives that blame people for social conditions that were created by the system. Worse yet, Black pregnant people face alarmingly high rates of pregnancy-related deaths in the hands of our health care system. Voter suppression and widespread attempts to disenfranchise communities prevent them from having a voice in transforming these structures that unjustly constrain them. This will beget further laws and restrictions that limit their rights and freedom—a modern manifestation of the separate-but-not-equal ideology of the Jim Crow era.

With these structures in mind—structures that primarily work to perpetuate barriers and poor outcomes for people of color—one thing about the Dobbs decision and the antiabortion movement becomes quite clear: this orchestrated attack on abortion rights sits within the grand plan that this country was built upon—the violent and oppressive maintenance of white supremacy.

I wouldn’t doubt that minorities suffer more from restricted abortion than do white people, but I question whether the Dobbs decision itself, and the people who support, it are motivated largely by white supremacy.  There is, after all, the view, motivated largely by religion, that abortion is murder. I disagree with that line of argument, but how can the author psychologize the motivations for abortion opponents and argue for a conspiracy against people of color—a “grand plan based on maintaining white supremacy”—when antiabortion bills prohibit abortion for everyone?

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Finally, should you be in doubt about how to vote next week, Scientific American is here to help you! Click on the screenshot to read:

Their message, in short, is “Vote Democratic”! Again, I agree with many of the authors’ stands, save this claim:

The science on transgender care in youth shows such care is safe and affirming, and that withholding it can seriously harm trans children’s mental health—including increasing their risk of depression and suicide.

The science on transgender health care shows no such thing. We don’t know if puberty blockers are safe (they’ve been relegated to clinical-trial status in some European countries), the science says nothing about the value of “affirmative” rather than more empathic and objective care, and there is no convincing data showing withholding affirmative care (as opposed to giving other inds of care) harms the mental health of children with gender dysphoria (the data that do exist are full of flaws).

Here’s Lee Jussim’s response to editor Helmuth’s tweet about this article.

In my view, Scientific American has become pretty much of a joke. Yes, it still publishes science pieces, and some of them are even decent, but it’s taken upon itself the job of pushing “progressive” Democratic politics. Give me a good reason why magazines that are supposed to popularize modern science shouldn’t remain viewpoint neutral on issues of politics, morals, and ideology.  They are not, after all, newspapers.

How do readers let it get away with that? Truly, if you still subscribe to this magazine, shame on you.

National Institutes of Health violates academic freedom, restricts dissemination of taxpayer-funded research

October 21, 2022 • 9:20 am

This article just appeared in the (conservative) City Journal, and is written by James Lee, a behavioral geneticist at the University at Minnesota.  What Lee reports made steam issue from under my collar, for he claims that the National Institutes of Health, a U.S. government science institute, has a huge genetics and “trait” database of several million Americans. The genetic data appear to be thorough, based on genome scans, and the traits associated with each person’s genome include education, ethnicity (“race”), intelligence, income, and occupation. You can imagine how rich that dataset is for mining. And yet the NIH is restricting scientists’ access to the data to projects it apparently considers ideologically kosher.

Remember that the NIH is completely funded by the American taxpayers, so those data were accumulated with our money. To me, this means that any researcher with a valid project should have access to the data. But apparently some projects are more valid than others.

Click to read.

Here’s Lee’s description of the hard time geneticists have in getting the data when their project sounds “iffy”, and by that I mean any project that has to do with heredity and intelligence (presumably IQ or a similar measure). Note that none of the attempts to get the data have been to do projects on ethnicity and IQ, which of course are considered taboo by many (readers may want to either echo or refute that taboo). Check out the second paragraph of the excerpt below, which I’ve put in bold.

American geneticists now face an even more drastic form of censorship: exclusion from access to the data necessary to conduct analyses, let alone publish results. Case in point: the National Institutes of Health now withholds access to an important database if it thinks a scientist’s research may wander into forbidden territory. The source at issue, the Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP), is an exceptional tool, combining genome scans of several million individuals with extensive data about health, education, occupation, and income. It is indispensable for research on how genes and environments combine to affect human traits. No other widely accessible American database comes close in terms of scientific utility.

My colleagues at other universities and I have run into problems involving applications to study the relationships among intelligence, education, and health outcomes. Sometimes, NIH denies access to some of the attributes that I have just mentioned, on the grounds that studying their genetic basis is “stigmatizing.” Sometimes, it demands updates about ongoing research, with the implied threat that it could withdraw usage if it doesn’t receive satisfactory answers. In some cases, NIH has retroactively withdrawn access for research it had previously approved.

Note that none of the studies I am referring to include inquiries into race or sex differences. Apparently, NIH is clamping down on a broad range of attempts to explore the relationship between genetics and intelligence.

It’s hard to believe that the NIH is restricting data that might be used to show any relationship between genes and intelligence, even within one ethnic group.  We already have data on genes implicated in academic achievement (which is correlated with IQ); those data are a big part of Kathryn Paige Harden‘s book The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality, a book I reviewed for the Washington Post and also discussed on this website. As I recall, Harden’s genome-wide association study found nearly 1300 genomic sites associated with variation in academic achievement among the American European (“white”) population. Intriguingly, many of those sites were active in the brain. That in itself is of considerable interest, though Harden’s claim that this variation would help us create “level playing fields” for secondary-school students seemed unjustified.  But even finding genes associated with intelligence would tell us a lot about the developmental genetics of an important human trait.

Lee also explains why the NIH should NOT be a censor of valid research projects:

What is NIH’s justification? Studies of intelligence do not pose any greater threat to the dignity of their participants than research based on non-genetic factors. With the customary safeguards in place, research activities such as genetically predicting an individual’s academic performance need be no more “stigmatizing” than predicting academic performance based on an individual’s family structure during childhood.

The cost of this censorship is profound. On a practical level, many of the original data-generating studies were set up with the explicit goal of understanding risk factors for various diseases. Since intelligence and education are also risk factors for many of these diseases, denying researchers usage of these data stymies progress on the problems the studies were funded to address. Scientific research should not have to justify itself on those grounds, anyway. Perhaps the most elemental principle of science is that the search for truth is worthwhile, regardless of its practical benefits.

NIH’s responsibility is to protect the safety and privacy of research participants, not to enforce a party line. Indeed, no apparent legal basis exists for these restrictions. NIH enforces hundreds of regulations, but you will search in vain for any grounds on which to ban “stigmatizing” research—whatever that even means.

This is a no brainer. The NIH has NO business vetting the “political correctness” of research, and since nobody is investigating The Taboo Question—racial (or “ethnic” differences in intelligence—that issue doesn’t even come up. The only reason to prohibit “genetics of IQ” studies is a strict (almost Marxist) anti-hereditarianism based on the fear that there may be a genetic basis to differences in IQ. But we already KNOW that from studies of adoptions and relatives, which show that about 50-60% of variation in IQ among people is due to variation in their genes. The NIH appears to be afraid of being canceled. That is a hell of a way to do scence!

And I can’t imagine why the NIH would even think of restricting the data for any other studies. It seems to be IQ that’s the sticking point here, and that’s unconscionable. The data belong to the American public, and to American scientists, because the American public paid for it.

I’ve always object to the demonization of research that gives results that are politically or ideologically unpalatable, but this goes beyond the pale.  The government cannot withhold data paid for by us on the grounds that it might yield results that could offend people.

If a researcher has a valid reason to request these data, and the NIH refuses because of possible “stigmatizatization,” then I would say that a lawsuit is in order.

Once again science is used as a tool for enacting ideological programs

October 16, 2022 • 9:30 am

The Department of Energy (DoE) hands out a substantial number of grants for research (mostly in physics), as well as for science meetings. Here is their latest announcement about what you have to do if you want the DoE to help fund your conference.

You know what’s coming: when applying for funds, you have to submit a statement that you will increase the “equity” of speakers above that represented in the scientific community involved in the meeting, and have a plan in place, announced to attendees, that will “address discrimination and harassment.”

Here’s the announcement (indented), which you can see by clicking on the link.  I’ve put some parts in bold.

Conference Proposals

Beginning in FY 2023, applications submitted to the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC) requesting funding support for conferences will have additional requirements that must be included with the application.

The following language included in the FY 2023 Continuation of Solicitation for the Office of Science Financial Assistance Program Funding Opportunity Announcement defines the new requirement:

Conferences

Consistent with SC’s Statement of Commitment, SC does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind, including sexual or non-sexual harassment, bullying, intimidation, violence, threats of violence, retaliation, or other disruptive behavior at institutions receiving SC funding or other locations where activities funded by SC are carried out. Further, SC is committed to advancing belonging, accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion across the portfolio of activities it sponsors. For applications requesting SC funds for the purpose of supporting (hosting) a conference, symposium, or workshop, the meeting must have a policy or code of conduct in place that addresses discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, and sexual assault, and that includes processes for reporting complaints and addressing complaints. The policy or code-of-conduct must be shared with all participants prior to the conference, symposium, or workshop (hereinafter the ‘meeting’) and made easily available.

Applications must include:

  • An online link to the current code of conduct of the host organization for the meeting, or the link to where the code of conduct will be posted. If a code of conduct has not yet been established by the meeting organizers, the application must describe the process and timeline by which a code of conduct will be written, approved, and endorsed.
  • A recruitment and accessibility plan for speakers and attendees that includes discussion of recruitment of individuals from groups underrepresented in the research/professional community associated with the technical focus of the meeting, and discussion on plans to address possible barriers for attendees, including but not limited to physical barriers.

This is not as invidious as the platform Jon Haidt recently reported for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, which requires every speaker to include a rationale of how their individual talk would advance DEI. As Haidt wrote then:

. . . all social psychologists are now required to submit a statement explaining “whether and how this submission advances the equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals of SPSP.” Our research proposal would be evaluated on older criteria of scientific merit, along with this new criterion.

Informed that the SPSP would not back down on this requirement, Haidt announced he would resign.

Now I’m not adamantly opposed to amplifying the voices of those who are underrepresented in science, but I would suggest that all talks be judged on merit and suitability alone, with the diversity issues perhaps addressed in a separate symposium representing different viewpoints.  And if two proposed talks are equally qualified, I have no issue with choosing ones from women, Hispanics, blacks, and so on. This does constitute a form of affirmative action, but it is not one that lowers the bar for scientific quality. (Another method is to leave the names of proposed speakers and their affiliations off proposals, which ensures equality if not equity.)

Rather, I’m concerned with the last sentence requiring “discussion on plans to address possible barriers for attendees, including but not limited to physical barriers.”  What does this mean? My first thought was to assure the grant-givers that there would be facilities for the handicapped (i.e., elimination of physical barriers), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. If you amplify the voices of minorities by deliberately choosing some minority speakers who are as well qualified as non-minority speakers, then you have eliminated one barrier—discrimination on the grounds of sex or race.  What else can the meeting do beyond this? What is the sweating DoE trying to say?

But in some ways I’m more concerned with the paternalistic “codes of conduct” that are becoming increasingly elaborate at meetings, to the point where they may have reduced possible collaborations between men and women scientists. My view is that a simple statement like this would suffice in a conference announcement:

“If anyone witnesses or feels they are a victim of harassment or sexual misconduct, please report this to X.”

But it has gotten to the point where meetings spend a lot of money hiring professional “conduct consultants” to monitor behavior. If you want to see how elaborate they can get, have a look at the “Safe Evolution” page of last June’s joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Society of Naturalists, and the Society of Systematic Biologists, which includes four sub-pages on inappropriate conduct, reporting procedures, and so on. These elaborate procedures wind up infantilizing scientists, all seen as potential predators. It’s especially galling that almost no objectionable conduct actually occurs at such meetings, and societies already have procedures in place to deal with it.

The worst part of this joint meeting is the presence of “Evo Allies”. This is a synonym for “conduct spies”, society members with tags who roam about the conference halls and poster presentations, overhearing conversations and looking for inappropriate behavior. They are empowered to report such behavior even if no participants do:

Started in 2019, Evo Allies are members of our community who have been vetted by a safety officer and trained to help support individuals who have experienced or witnessed potentially inappropriate behavior during the conference, including informing them of their options. They commit to creating safe spaces at the meeting by serving as active bystanders. The inspiration for this program came from the https://entoallies.org program.

Anyone, whether an Evo Ally or not, can make a report directly to the meeting safety officer for investigation; Evo Allies are not involved in investigation nor sanctioning, but instead serve as peer supports and help to make the meeting a more welcoming place.

Evo Allies are chosen through a nomination and vetting process; we anticipate that the next call will be for the 2023 meeting. Any vetting process is imperfect; if you have concerns about any Evo Ally, please reach out to the meeting safety officer.

In other words, the Big Brothers have to be Big Brotherized as well!

This Big Brotherism will result in chilling speech and behavior that can be inimical to scientific discourse. If you doubt that, read Luana Maroja‘s piece at the Heterodox STEM forum, “Extreme emphasis on sexual harassment stifles productive scientific discourse between men and women.”  She went to the 2019 meetings of the three societies named above and reports this:

In 2019 my professional society (The Society for the Study of Evolution – SSE) hired a consultant to help “prevent sexual harassment at the [annual] conference.”  The initiative consisted of training volunteers to be “allies” (they got buttons and walked among us signaling their role as meeting police), projecting messages (powerpoint slides) on the walls of the poster session saying “stop harassment now,” and putting posters in all bathrooms along with anonymous boxes for depositing complaints about harassment.  This came at a cost: about $10 dollars increase in registration fees per participant, resulting in tens of thousands in the consultant’s pocket.  But aside from cost, are these initiatives a net positive or a net negative for scientific interactions?

I have been attending the SSE meetings since 2003.  Compared to conferences in my home country, Brazil, SSE conferences were a paradise – nobody ever grabbed my rear end, said nasty things in my ear or followed me around.  Yes, there was the normal degree of flirting, but it was polite, with people backing off when they were rebuffed.   Perhaps I have thick skin, but I don’t think anyone would say that serious harassment or sexual violence were commonplace at the American meetings, and there were already procedures in place—involving both the local police and the conference administrators—to deal with serious offences.  Many people think it’s a good thing to raise awareness about even minor actions that might be perceived as unwanted attention.  But is it?

When I saw what the organizers were doing, I was immediately concerned about the chilling effect it would have on interactions between the sexes.  In my life I have benefited from great relationships with my male advisor and other senior male researchers.  I would not want men to be afraid of talking, interacting and collaborating with me merely because their actions might be misinterpreted.  Wondering if men were actually more cautious about interacting with women and in particular junior women (in general, not only at conferences), I started asking around.  As I expected, many men secretly confided to me that yes, they do not volunteer to mentor junior women and are circumspect when talking to junior women PhD students out of fear of misinterpretation.  I could swear I even saw people taking a step back as the “police allies” walked past them!  However, my sample is not only small, but biased – I could ask only men I already knew well and was friendly with, not a random sample of the research population.  But now we have data – the first study looking at the effects of the #MeToo movement on female research collaborations in economics:  Gertsberg, Marina, The Unintended Consequences of #MeToo: Evidence from Research Collaborations (May 10, 2022). Available at SRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4105976 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4105976.

Maroja then presents evidence (not dispositive but correlative) that the #MeToo movement was significantly associated with a reduction of new collaborations between male and female scientists, particularly (as would be expected) for scientists within rather than between institutions. If this is an effect of fear of accusations, then it’s inimical to scientific collaboration, especially to women. As Maroja notes,

The data shows clearly that new collaborations are strongly and significantly reduced inside institutions (where the fear of harassment accusations will be highest). The paper also shows that, where the fear is highest (in institutions where harassment accusations are common and policies are vague), the reduction in collaborations is also higher.

This represents a huge loss to both men and women, but it especially harms women.  Indeed, the academic output of females fell significantly after #MeToo (a decrease of between 0.7-1.7 projects per year, with the loss in male collaborators explaining 60% of this decline), while the output of males did not (they were apparently able to find other male collaborators).  This decrease in collaboration is apparently also happening in other fields, such as fundamental physics [she then gives more data]. . . .

Now nobody here, including Maroja and me, is saying that men shouldn’t be punished for sexual harassment of women (and vice versa), nor that people should not be aware of the consequences of such behavior. The point is that this kind of policing has gone too far at scientific meetings, to the point where roving spies are empowered to report suspicious incidents.  Scientists should not be treated like potential criminals or harassers. As Maroja notes,

It’s clear that well-intentioned actions (protecting women from harassment) can be taken too far.  I hope that our scientific professional societies will absorb these data and start taking steps to bring people together rather than separate them.  Good starts would be clarifying harassment policies and keeping “harassment consultants”, who profit from promoting the idea that harassment is everywhere, out of conferences.  Another important step would be to eliminate anonymous complaints, which set the bar for a complaint too low and can be used for revenge and to bring down competitors and enemies. Both of these effects lead men to worry about what they might be accused of and to thus limit interactions with women. Finally, any sexual harassment judgements should only be made after a pre-defined, fair process where the accused can challenge the accuser– a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I’ll finish by saying that while it’s the government’s responsibility to help the disadvantaged of society, regardless of race or sex, that help must be more than performative or superficial. It must involve expensive, long-term interventions by the government, like Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program. I approve of these, as it’s really the only way to open the “intake valve” of the pipeline to success. Requiring talks or meetings to have a specific ideological bent is far less helpful, and in some ways can be counterproductive. The purpose of scientific societies is to advance science and its communication, not to further the goals of progressive politics.

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UPDATE: I just found an op-ed piece on the DoE policies by Lawrence Krauss at the Wall Street Journal (where else could it be published?): “Now even science grants must bow to ‘equity and inclusion”.  He mentions the meeting policies noted above, but also says that the DoE now requires “equity and inclusion plans” in every grant proposal:

Starting in fiscal 2023, which began Oct. 1, every proposal responding to a solicitation from the Office of Science is required to include a PIER plan, which stands for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research, to “describe the activities and strategies of the applicant to promote equity and inclusion as an intrinsic element to advancing scientific excellence.” In the words of the announcement, “The complexity and detail of a PIER Plan is expected to increase with the size of the research team and the number of personnel to be supported.”

He adds that none of his own past work funded by the DoE had anything to do with diversity and inclusion, but were concerned with scientific questions involving gravity waves, dark matter, and other intriguing issues. Now he, like everyone else who wants a DoE grant, will have to dissimulate to get money:

Scientists will respond to these new demands with boilerplate to the effect that they will make every effort to seek graduate and postdoctoral students from minority communities and encourage new outreach programs. This is lip service at best; it doesn’t address true societal issues of inequity. People qualified to work in these esoteric areas have all gone to good graduate schools and carried out credible research projects. They may be minorities, but they haven’t been marginalized. They are thus not appropriate targets for what should be useful societal diversity initiatives.

It is the job of government agencies, and not ones concerned with advancing science, to carry out such political policies. If we’re going to turn scientists and their societies into arms for achieving approved societal aims, why do they always involve racial or gender “equity and inclusion”? Why not deal with socioeconomic issues, which include marginalized racial and gender groups, or with the disadvantaged in other countries—something that our government already has as a primary goal?

Better yet, why don’t we let scientists and scientific societies do what they do best—find out stuff about the universe and report it—and let government policies be carried out by the appropriate agencies?  Diverting the efforts of scientists to fixing societal issues turns us into arms of public policy, detracting from what we are trained to do best: science.

h/t: Anna

Once again: did the Maori discover Antarctica?

August 11, 2022 • 9:30 am

Nothing better shows the kind of “knowledge” that promoters of New Zealand’s indigenous “ways of knowing” (mātauranga Māori ) want taught in science class than the claim that the Māori—or rather, their ancestral Polynesians—discovered Antarctica in the 7th century A.D. (The Māori could not have done it at that time since their East Polynesian ancestors didn’t colonize New Zealand until the fourteenth century.) Nevertheless, as I described in two posts in January—here and here—the controversy was hashed out in three articles in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand (JRSNZ) and Nature Ecology & Evolution. These aren’t free online, but judicious inquiry can yield copies.

(By the way, the generally accepted date for the discovery of Antarctica, and by that I mean seeing the continent, is January 27, 1820, when a Russian expedition saw an ice shelf connected to Antarctica.)

The first paper, by advocates Wehi et al., described “evidence” that Polynesians were the first to see Antarctica in the seventh century, AD—over a thousand years before the discovery by the Russians.  They supported their claims by relying on oral legends, the “gray literature” (semi-scholarly but tendentious analyses of oral legends), and dubious interpretations of those legends. For example, the East Polynesians weren’t sailing then; the supposed boat that saw Antarctica was said to be built of human bones (and even a wooden one could not survive Antarctic waters), and the scenario relies heavily on a word almost surely translated as “the frozen sea” by the authors of the first paper below:

The first claim:

This claim was uncritically accepted by many in the press, including the credulous Guardian (click screenshot below to read):

A rebuttal (a “short communication”), written by a group including Māori scholars, was then published in the same journal. It pointed out all the problems noted above: the use of orally transmitted legends (not written down until the mid-19th century), the improbability of Polynesian sailing vessels (especially ones made of human bones) making it to Antarctic waters; the fact that East Polynesians weren’t sailing in the seventh century; that there is no archaeological evidence of their voyages, much less incursion into Antarctic waters; and the likelihood that the crucial phrase translated as “the frozen sea” probably meant “sea foam” instead. Here’s the rebuttal paper by Anderson et al.

This “rebuttal” was handled very oddly by the Royal Society of New Zealand (more on that below). The original authors then responded, but in Nature Ecology and Evolution, which also included the dubious claim of Polynesian discovery of Antarctica in its timeline below (click to read):

From Figure One of the Nature E&E paper (my emphasis, click to enlarge). Doesn’t anybody review papers any more, or are standards simply more lax when indigenous “ways of knowing” are involved? The box encloses a statement that is surely false. Come on, Nature!

Now The Listener (site of the original fight about whether mātauranga Māori should be taught in NZ science classes alongside real science) has just reprised the whole controversy and added some new comments by the authors as well as some material about how the “rebuttal” got published. That article is below, and there’s no free link.

The authors of the original paper appear to have backed off their claim about Polynesians discovering Antarctica in the seventh century, but the critics are saying that the fight is useless anyway because much of mātauranga Māori isn’t really evidence-based science, though part of it could be. (Yes, it’s confusing.)

Click to read, or make a judicious inquiry for a copy, as I can’t copy excerpts from this Listener article:

A few quotes:. In the first, one of the original authors backs off:

Dr. Priscilla Wehi said it wasn’t about which humans were in Antarctica first, but about “linkages that have gone on for many hundreds of years and will go on into the future.”

She’s not telling the truth. If you read the original paper, there’s a large section supporting the claim that Polynesians saw Antarctica first, tendered as a tribute to their endeavors and to the equality of Western and Polynesian “science”. And certainly the world press interpreted the article as meaning that!

The Listener notes that “the two papers” (original and rebuttal) “used totally different research methodologies.”  That of Wehi et al “looked at oral histories as well as ‘grey literature,’ described as ‘research, reports, technical documents, and other material published by organisations outside common academic and commercial publishing channels.” In other words, Wehi et al. used transcribed oral legends spread as a kind of conspiracy theory.

There’s also this:

When you fail to produce convincing evidence, you just assert that you weren’t really making a truth claim, but simply showing how legends work their way into modern practice. One thing the advocates of mātauranga Māori love to argue is that its superiority to Western science lies in mātauranga Māori’s ability to show that everything in the Universe is connected. Well, physics shows that, too, but as Dick Lewontin once said, the troubling of a star doesn’t mean he has to take that into account when digging in his garden.

In the section below, the first author of the rebuttal makes a crucial admission (matauranga Maori isn’t the same thing as science), but also claims that sometimes we should accept historical claims from legend—presumably only when these are supported by empirical investigation—i.e., science writ large!

I’m not sure what Anderson means by saying that mātauranga Māori is a “different form of knowledge and understanding than science.” The understanding of legends may differ from how we understand science, but Anderson needs to realize that “knowledge” means the general acceptance of truth ascertained by empirical methods”—i.e., by science.

And yes, some legends may be true—but not this one. In the first paragraph above the authors show why mātauranga Māori should not be taught alongside science in New Zealand schools as an equally valid form of knowledge. Nevertheless, this is going to happen some day, all because the Woke, fearful of looking like racists, are afraid of rejecting indigenous ways of knowing as science.

The new Listener article gives more reasons why Anderson et al. find the legend of Antarctic-discovering Polynesians in conflict with empirical evidence.

Finally, there’s a bit about how the Royal Society of New Zealand treated the Wehi et al. claim and the Anderson et al. rebuttal differently. If you’ve followed my reporting on this, you’ll know that the Royal Society of New Zealand is a pack of slippery eels, trying to pretend they’re a scientific organization while at the same time trying not to offend the Māori and their claims of having “other ways of knowing.” I’m sorry, but those other ways of knowing are sometimes wrong, and the Antarctic claim is one example.

Here’s how the Listener describes the preferential treatment given to papers on mātauranga Māori as opposed to refutations of those papers:

I’m not aware of any scientific organizations that sends critiques of a paper out to the authors of that paper for review. Yes, if the critique is accepted, then the original authors may be given it and afforded a chance to respond. But that’s not how the RSNZ rolls. What they did is certainly not “a best practice” for reviewing papers. As usual, the spokesperson for the RSNZ lies, saying that they just followed what is normal. They didn’t.

The slippery behavior of the Royal Society is one reason why two of its Fellows resigned after they were “investigated” for arguing that mātauranga Māori was not the same thing as science.

Denis Noble goes after Darwinian evolution again, scores own goal

August 7, 2022 • 11:00 am

Denis Noble (born 1936) is a British physiologist highly regarded for his work in that field (he has an FRS). Wikipedia notes his accomplishments:

He is one of the pioneers of systems biology and developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960.

What the article doesn’t discuss is that Noble has spent the last period of his life attacking neo-Darwinism, asserting that its most important foundations are either wrong or overemphasized. Noble is regarded by colleagues I respect as a bit of an enthusiast, bordering on an unhealthy obsession, though he’s much admired by the “Third Way of Evolution” group who argue that neo-Darwinism either needs a serious revision or a trip to the garbage can.  Noble shows us that you can be a great physiologist but a lousy evolutionary biologist.

In an earlier post I wrote, “Famous physiologist embarrasses himself by claiming that the modern theory of evolution is in tatters“, I emphasized five assertions Noble made in a 2013 paper in Experimental Physiology, and then I criticized them as being either deeply misguided or flat wrong. Noble’s claims:

  1. Mutations are not random
  2. Acquired characteristics can be inherited
  3. The gene-centered view of evolution is wrong [This is connected with #2.]
  4. Evolution is not a gradual gene-by-gene process but is macromutational.
  5. Scientists have not been able to create new species in the lab or greenhouse, and we haven’t seen speciation occurring in nature.

Wrong, partly right but irrrelevant, wrong, almost completely wrong, and totally wrong (speciation is my own area).

And yet Noble continues to bang on about “the broken paradigm of Neo-Darwinism,” which happens to be the subtitle of his new article (below) in IAI News, usually a respectable website run by the Institute of Art and Ideas.

Noble is especially excited because he sees himself in a war for the soul of biology, a soul currently occupied by the modern theory of evolution. And so, in this article (see below), Noble once again raises the specter of Lamarckian evolution: the idea—which he sees as both very important and unduly neglected—that adaptations can arise from modifications of an organism’s heredity directly by the environment. (The classic example is a giraffe stretching its neck to reach leaves on trees, and that usage elongates the neck, an environmentally-induced change that somehow worms its way into the mechanism of inheritance so that giraffes eventually evolve long necks)

Darwin himself held a form of Lamarckism, positing that cells of organism, induced by the environment, could feed “pangenes” thoughout the body in a way that could modify its inheritance. That’s why Darwin was always emphasizing “changed conditions” as a source of heritable variation. The problem with this view is that tests of environmental modification as a source of inherited variation have almost never succeeded, and even when they do, they have not created adaptations. The idea that Lamarckian inheritance is an important cause of adaptation is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. (I note here that DARWIN WAS WRONG about inheritance.)

Nevertheless, Noble persists—in the face of all the facts—to make the same tired old assertions. Click to read, and shame on IAI!

First Noble argues that environmental modifications can produce traits that become inherited, though only for a short while. This is true, but the phenomenon is rare.

Noble:

Modern physiology has vindicated Darwin’s idea. The small vesicles, called exosomes or extracellular vesicles, poured out by all cells of the body can function precisely as Darwin’s idea proposed. They have now been proven to communicate such acquired characteristics as metabolic disorders, and sexual preferences, to the germ-line via small regulatory RNA molecules. We can therefore be sure that Lamarckian use-disuse memory can be passed across generations. Weismann’s assertion that the inheritance of acquired characteristics is impossible was therefore incorrect. The debate now centres on two questions: “how often this happens and, when it does, for how many generations do the changes persist?”

The standard neo-Darwinist defense against this clear break of the Weismann Barrier has been to suggest that it only happens in unimportant circumstances and persists for very few generations. There is assumed to be no permanent transmission. The DNA continues “hard” transmission while “soft” inheritance inevitably dies away.

Yes, and soft inheritance can also be mediated by epigenetic (environmentally induced) modification of the DNA, usually by putting methyl groups (−CH3) onto the DNA bases.  As Noble admits, these forms of inheritance gradually go away, with nearly all epigenetic modifications erased during the process of reproduction.  That’s one reason why this kind of inheritance can’t be the basis of long-term adaptation. But wait! Noble says that short-term adaptation is of great value!

This defence fails to recognise the great virtue of “soft” inheritance, which is precisely the possibility that it can be temporary.

Yes, and so can adaptation based on genes (think of the increase in beak size of the Galápagos finches, which was reversed in a single generation when the size-inducing drought went away). If there’s substantial variation, these reversals can be fast. But Noble fails to recognize that most adaptations hang around for many generations, and those cannot be based on “Lamarckian” inheritance. It’s almost as if Noble is claiming that this form of inheritance, by some kind of group selection, has been installed in the organism to facilitate short term adaptation!

Here’s one example that people like Noble trot out when attacking modern evolutionary theory:

Consider a species under extreme environmental stress, such as the Dutch population during the starvation winter of the 1940s in the Second World War. The inherited signs of that stress have now been passed down three generations, to the great-grandchildren of the 1940s population. The chances are that it will progressively die out as the later generations experience good nutrition. And so it should!

The “Dutch famine syndrome” was caused by epigenetic modification of fetuses in utero when their mothers were starving during the Dutch “hunger winter” of 1944-1945. I’m not sure about the three generations, but I’ll let that pass. What we know for sure is that these offspring show DNA methylation changes probably due to starvation.

BUT this was not adaptive! The epigenetic changes reduced the health of their carriers, as this article shows. From its abstract (my emphasis):

This paper describes the findings from a cohort study of 2414 people born around the time of the Dutch famine. Exposure to famine during any stage of gestation was associated with glucose intolerance. We found more coronary heart disease, a more atherogenic lipid profile, disturbed blood coagulation, increased stress responsiveness and more obesity among those exposed to famine in early gestation. Women exposed to famine in early gestation also had an increased risk of breast cancer. People exposed to famine in mid gestation had more microalbuminuria and obstructive airways disease. These findings show that maternal undernutrition during gestation has important effects on health in later life, but that the effects on health depend on its timing during gestation. Especially early gestation seems to be a vulnerable period. Adequate dietary advice to women before and during pregnancy seems a promising strategy in preventing chronic diseases in future generations.

Now is that, on top of the inherited stress, an adaptive change? I think not.

It is intellectually irresponsible for Noble to suggest that the Dutch Famine syndrome has anything to do with adaptive change, much less evolution. In fact, I know of not a single adaptation that rests on epigenetic modification. I may have missed one or two, but when adaptive genetic changes in animals (including humans) are localized, they invariably are found to rest on base-pair changes in the DNA. When you map adaptations in humans, like changes in lactase persistence or adaptive skin color, you find that they are based not on methylation or episomes or micro-RNAs, but on good old-fashioned mutations that change the sequence of DNA. And so they must be, because these changes have lasted for many generations.

It’s intellectually irresponsible of Noble not to mention that, too.

Further, Noble cites the well-known phenomenon of “genetic assimilation,” in which an environmental change exposes genetic variation that can then be subject to selection, as if this were some kind of refutation of neo-Darwinism. (One hypothetical example: if you starve plants, it may, by stunting them al, hide genetic variation for height.) Noble says that studies of genetic assimilation, which are in all the textbooks, are actually discouraged by evolutionists who don’t like their non-Darwinian implications:

Given the importance of the question, why have so few attempts been made on the genetic assimilation of “soft” inheritance since Waddington’s work? The answer is that funding organisations would not be willing to support such work. If you submit a Lamarckian inheritance project to standard grant bodies, you will be almost certain to receive a firm rejection. Such is the hold of the Neo-Darwinian paradigm on innovative ideas in evolutionary biology.

Get this straight, Dr. Noble: GENETIC ASSIMILATION IS NOT LAMARCKIAN INHERITANCE! As every evolutionist with more than a handful of neurons knows, in these cases the environment exposes standard DNA mutations, allowing them to be selected in the classical neo-Darwinian fashion.

One clue that genetic assimilation depends on genetic variation and not changes in the environment becoming genetic variation is this: Conrad Waddington, who popularized the phenomenon of genetic assimilation using experiments in Drosophila, had a student repeat those experiments with an inbred strain of flies, a strain that had almost no genetic variation. Voilà: no genetic assimilation, no change in the trait. If the Lamarckian theory were correct, there should still have been changes in the character in inbred lines.

Once again we smell the odor of intellectual mendacity in Noble’s prose.

At the end, Noble beefs about how a 2016 Royal Society symposium he organized, on “New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical, and social science perspectives,” was protested by 20 other fellows of the Royal Society.  He couches this as censorship against discussing new ideas, but he’s wrong. Many of the speakers at the symposium were touting ideas that had already been already refuted, and the purpose of the meeting was to show that neo-Darwinism is dead. It’s as if there were to be a Royal Society symposium on Intelligent Design (the ID people, by the way, loved that symposium). Of course one would object if someone who knows jack about evolutionary biology organizes a symposium designed to dismantle its modern form. It’s like a fox organizing a symposium on how to breed chickens.

I’m not saying that Noble has no right to weigh in on modern evolutionary biology simply because he was a physiologist. No, I’m asserting that Noble’s claims about the death of modern evolutionary biology should be ignored because there is virtually no data to support them.  His claims should be ignored because he is ignorant, and willfully so. (Others have corrected him many times.)

I’m through with Noble; he says the same thing over and over again, tilting at the windmill of modern evolutionary biology with a soda straw. I probably should have ignored Noble’s mush, but the laws of physics compelled me to write. At least the readers here can be aware of his numerous errors and misstatements, even if Noble plays the same tune until he’s underground.

h/t: Daniel

Lots more debunking of the Turban et al. study on gender dysphoria

August 6, 2022 • 11:30 am

On Thursday I wrote a post about a new paper in the journal Pediatrics by Jack Turban et al., a paper arguing against “rapid onset gender dysphoria” in adolescents and the attendant view that transgender identity is often spread by “social contagion”.  Turban et al. argued that the ROGD hypothesis—and social-contagion views of all gender dysphoria—were disproven because he found that, in a sample of adolescents from two years (2017 and 2019):

a. More males than females claimed to identify as transgender, whereas ROGD supposedly predicts the opposite.

b. There was no increase in the number or proportion of adolescents from 2017 to 2019 identifying as transgender, again supposedly contradicting the social contagion view

c. A higher proportion of transgender adolescents than cisgender adolescents reported having been bullied, which Turban et al. says is evidence against a “social contagion” hypothesis, for why would you assume a gender identity that would get you bullied?

d. A higher proportion of transgender adolescents than cisgender adolescents report attempting suicide. Turban et al. claims this is also evidence against a social contagion hypothesis, though I don’t see how.

I pointed out problems with all four of these claims, and now, it turns out, people with more knowledge than I have raised these same issues with the paper of Turban et al. (Turban seems to be a tendentious researcher who, says Singal below, has a tendency to misquote even his own data, and is on a single-minded drive to support “gender affirmative” treatment.)

There are three pieces to read, and I’ve read the first two below. You can access all three by clicking on the links. The first was published on Singal’s Substack site, the second at the City Journal, and the third is on SocArXiv Papers

The pdf of the note below can be downloaded here.

I was heartened that the authors found the same issues I singled out as problematic, but also found other issues as well. That’s not surprising, for, as a group, these authors have far more knowledge than I about the rise in transgender identification among adolescents and children—particularly Singal, who has spent much of his recent career minutely and critically examining papers about gender dysphoria.

All three of these papers take strong issue with the paper of Turban et al. (Pediatrics is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which, Sapir maintains, has a history of pushing gender-affirmative care, to the point of rejecting outright any papers that question it. One is mentioned below) The main issues raised by Singal and Sapir are similar to those I mentioned, and I’ll summarize them briefly.

1.) Asking children “what is your sex?” conflates biological sex, which is what we want to know, with what sex the interviewee sees themselves to be. If there is a difference, and Singal says there almost surely is, then this could underrepresent either the two groups AMAB (“assigned male at birth”) and AFAB (“assigned female at birth”). Indeed, there is some evidence that AFABs identify themselves as males, counter to Turban’s claim that it’s mostly biological males afflicted with gender dysphoria.

That information comes from Michael Biggs, who, says Singal, submitted what’s below as part of a critical comment on the Turban et al. paper, but the comment was rejected by Pediatrics within an hour of submission.  How could it have been properly reviewed.

Biggs:

Predicting height separately for each sex, OLS regression (adjusting for age and race) reveals that transgender respondents who identified as male were on average 2.5 cm shorter than non-transgender male respondents (95% CI: 1.3 … 3.8 cm, total n = 87,568). (There was no discernible height difference between transgender respondents who identified as female and non-transgender female respondents.) This height difference is evidence that some of the transgender respondents who identified themselves as male were natal females.

Singal’s gloss:

This means that if biological sex had been reported accurately, a number of members of the “male” category would instead be in the “female” category, which would nudge everything in exactly the direction that is unfriendly to Turban’s and his colleagues’ theory (that’s if you accept their logic).

For my part, I don’t see why the claim that observing more biological females than males afflicted by gender dysphoria needs to be part of a ROGD “hypothesis”. It could be the other way around, though clinical data (see below) suggests that it isn’t.  But a sex imbalance says nothing about social contagion. A hypothesis should not include in its assumptions what has already been observed.

2.) Turban’s claim that there are data showing that asking “what is your sex?” gives reliable information about biological sex is not supported by other studies. (I didn’t mention this issue, as I didn’t know about it, but Singal did. He looked up the three studies cited by Turban et al. as showing his method of asking about sex is reliable in pinpointing sex assigned at birth, and none of the three studies cited addressed that claim.  If this is the case, then Turban et al. are guilty of severe distortion of the literature.

3.) Turban et al.’s claim that gender dysphoria is on the wane is contradicted by multiple sets of data from multiple countries. These data are from clinical studies in which young people present themselves for treatment, so there are two explanations. First, more females than males suffer from gender dysphoria of a severe fashion—severe enough to go to a clinic. That would explain why the female bias seen everywhere in clinics conflicts with what Turban found, which is a survey on self-identification of high school students. Second, Turban could simply be using unrepresentative data.

We don’t know the answer to this, but it’s a flaw in the Turban et al. paper that they don’t really discuss this disparity (they give two citations to clinical data but then criticize them). But it’s the clinical data that are important, as I said, because people fighting for empathic rather than affirmative care are concerned not so much with what gender adolescents feel themselves to be as with whether they’re driven to take medical steps that may be harmful and irreversible. And those are the young people who go to clinics.

4.) Singal notes that Turban et al.’s study has sampling problems, and this issue is discussed in the last paper above, which I haven’t yet read.

5.) That children who identify as transgender report a higher rate of bullying does not refute the “social contagion” hypothesis. As several authors have pointed out (Singal at length), children with gender dysphoria tend to suffer from mental issues, and could be bullied because of that—or simply because their gender confusion makes them ripe for bullying. If these children then tend to seek like-minded people as a way of escaping from the bullying, then you get the correlation that is observed by Turban et al. Singal uses the example of bullied “goth adolescents, as “gothism” doesn’t have anything to do with biology or gender, but the point is clear. A correlation between identifying as transgender and being bullied says nothing about the absence of social contagion, and may well support it.

As for increased rates of suicide among youth identifying as transgender, that could have the same explanation as above: dysphoria is connected with mental distress and mental illness. Rates of attempted suicide say nothing to me about social contagion.

Singal in particular has followed Jack Turban’s papers and statements (including on Twitter) for a long time, and his paper is a litany of a scientist who seems tendentious and, well, dishonest about the data in the interests of ideology.

I’ll end with Sapir’s conclusion:

In a field known for its weak methodologies and even weaker scientific conclusions, Turban’s study sets a new low. Even trans activists in the academy who detest the ROGD hypothesis wrote a letter in which they take Turban to task [JAC: that’s the third screenshot above]. While the Turban study’s intentions are “admirable,” these authors write, its “results were overinterpreted and . . . the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of the article run the risk of being more harmful than supportive.”

That a study like this can pass the peer-review process unscathed, especially at a time when European countries are shutting down or putting severe restrictions on pediatric transition, is a sorry statement about the quality of knowledge gatekeeping in the medical research community. American journalists tout its findings without giving readers relevant information about its flaws, while left-of-center journalists in Britain have been busy blowing the whistle on the pediatric gender-medicine scandal. The U.S. has a long way to go to bring medical practice in line with scientific knowledge and common sense.

Note that the NBC News story I originally cited was completely uncritical, and I gather that other media outlets have parroted Turban et al. without the slightest notice of its flaws. That could reflect ideological bias, or simply arrant ignorance of how to vet a scientific finding.

_________________

h/t: A lot of readers who directed me to these sources. Thanks!

London’s Natural History Museum commits the naturalistic fallacy—repeatedly

June 30, 2022 • 9:15 am

It appears, from the tweet below, that London’s famed Natural History Museum has taken its place in the Woke Parade, for the tweet below clearly means to validate different human gender identities and parade the Museum’s pro-LGBTQ+ credentials by publicizing the several lizard species that don’t require male sperm to have offspring. This phenomenon is called parthenogenesis, meaning “a form of asexual reproduction in animals that does not require fertilization by sperm.” In effect, all members of a parthenogenetic species (if one can call them “species”) are female.

What irks me is that this has NOTHING to do with LGBTQ+ people, who do not reproduce without fertilization. None of us do! This is simply virtue-signalling using animals to support human behaviors (I suppose it’s relevant to gender identity in this case, or if you are an extremist, the superfluity or toxicity of males). And vindicating human behavior by pointing to animals is a form of the “naturalistic fallacy“: the view that “whatever is natural must be good.” If you think I’m overinterpreting the intention of this series, have a look at the second video below or full Monty tour (a 26-minute video) produced by the Natural History Museum.

Of course humans don’t have parthenogenesis, so connecting it with LGBTQ+ in a video tour (see below) is simply mistaken. The naturalistic fallacy, too, is mistaken: that’s why they call it a “fallacy”.  There are plenty of natural animal behaviors that we would not want to see in our species, including infanticide, murder of conspecifics, cannibalism, eating one’s mate after copulation, robbery, adultery, theft, and the whole gamut of crimes and sins.

Yet Leftist biologists in particular are prone to this fallacy, constantly pointing to the diversity of sexual behavior in animals to somehow justify the diversity of sexual behavior in our own species. If I hear one more person bang on about how the clownfish—a sequential hermaphrodite that can change from male to female when a female in a group dies—I’ll scream. (Note that there is a definite change from one binary sex to another: a change from producing sperm to eggs.) Gender or sex change in humans need not be justified by pointing to its occurrence in nature: it’s something to accept and respect regardless of whether it occurs in nature. (And if it didn’t, would that make transsexuality bad because it’s “unnatural”?)

The orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) much beloved by biologists who commit the naturalistic fallacy. Nemo is of course one of these.

But I digress. Offspring produced without male fertilization are common among invertebrates, especially insects. Vertebrates can have it too: it’s been seen not just in lizards, but in snakes, sharks, fish, and birds. In some of these (like the Komodo dragon), parthenogenesis may occur alongside normal reproduction, and so two sexes are not just present, but “needed”, for without males, the parthenogenetic variant would eventually disappear. (Whether to call parthenogenetic lineages that are genetically different as “different species from each other” is, as I implie above, a matter of taste.)

Komodo dragons MATING. Yes, males are needed to keep the species going.

Parthenogenesis in reptiles, is, as the video below shows, usually results from hybridization between two species. The hybrid offspring have two different genomes, one genome from each of the parental species, and this may mess up the normal process of meiosis that forms sperm and eggs. If it gets messed up in hybrids that, without fertilization, eggs can go on to develop into adults (and these eggs must still have two genomes), we have parthenogenesis.

Sometimes the asexual reproduction persists and we get a new “species”, but a feature of parthenogenesis like this is that it is very often an “evolutionary dead end.” For reasons probably connected with a lack of genetic variation, parthenogens don’t hang around for long as a group. They tend to go extinct well before other species. We know this because looking at the genes of the parthenogenic individuals show that they’re very similar to those of the parental species, which means that the new asexual form hasn’t been around long enough to genetically diverge from the two parental species. The “dead end” nature of this asexual process isn’t mentioned by the Natural History Museum!

Even in parthenogenesis, two sexes are sometimes “needed”, because in many forms of the trait, even in reptiles, sexual activity is needed, even without fertilization. This can take the form of a female mounting another female (“pseuocopulation”), or even copulation with males from one of the parental species—copulation that doesn’t cause fertilization. For some reason we don’t understand, the process of egg development may require a behavioral trigger of copulation or pseudocopulation. Thus the Natural History Museum is also misleading in saying that “two sexes aren’t needed.”  In some cases they are, though they’re needed in one of the two parental species.

Finally, the Natural History Museum errs by saying that all parthenogenic reptiles are clones (genetically identical to the mother). This isn’t true. There are a variety of ways that animals can produce offspring without sex. Some of these involve all the offspring being clones, producing eggs by simple development of an egg that happens to have the same genomic constitution of a mother, i.e. two copies of each chromosome. This form, called apomixis, produces offspring that are all genetically identical to themselves and to their mother. These are all clones.

But there’s another way of reproducing without sex that produces genetically diverse offspring. It’s called automixis, and can occur in several ways. One is that meiosis (production of gametes) produces genetically diverse egg cells, two of which can fuse to form a diploid egg that’s capable of becoming an adult. Since the eggs themselves are genetically different, the diploid eggs will differ from each other too, and  thus the offspring that result will not be clones of each other—or of the mother. Some lizards use this method of reproduction, and so the offspring are not “clones”.

That’s the biology lesson, so you can see that there are at least two errors in the Natural History Museum tweet that I’ve put below again.. However, the tweet’s purpose is not scientific accuracy, but to imply that reproduction without sex somehow supports LGBTQ+ people. As I said, it doesn’t, for no LGBTQ+ folks, or any other human, reproduces parthenogenetically. Readers may wonder what mindset made someone decided that parthenogenetic lizards are part of the “LGBTQ+ tour.”

The video below, labeled above and on YouTube as another part of the LGBTQ+ natural history tour, is pretty anodyne, and in fact doesn’t even mention the L+ sequence. But look at the one below that,designed to vindicate human homosexuality by showing that some beetles have same-sex behavior!

Oy vey! The advantage of the video below is that it’s short. It describes same-sex sexual behavior in insects. Why? Because it’s meant to show that homosexual behavior in humans. because it occur in animals, is “natural”. Ergo, we can’t criticize it. But as I said in my review of Joan Roughgarden’s book Evolution’s Rainbow, a review published in the Times Literary Supplement, this argument doesn’t hold water:

But regardless of the truth of Darwin’s theory, should we consult nature to determine which of our behaviours are to be considered normal or moral? Homosexuality may indeed occur in species other than our own, but so do infanticide, robbery and extra-pair copulation.  If the gay cause is somehow boosted by parallels from nature, then so are the causes of child-killers, thieves and adulterers. And given the cultural milieu in which human sexuality and gender are expressed, how closely can we compare ourselves to other species? In what sense does a fish who changes sex resemble a transgendered person? The fish presumably experiences neither distressing feelings about inhabiting the wrong body, nor ostracism by other fish. In some baboons, the only males who show homosexual behaviour are those denied access to females by more dominant males. How can this possibly be equated to human homosexuality?

Ironically, while narratorJosh Davis, says that the early entomologists describing same-sex copulation in insects did so to justify homosexuality as “natural” in humans, Davis doesn’t go on to say that this whole endeavor is meaningless.  What if there were no same-sex behavior in insects or other animals? Would that mean that human homosexuality should be deemed abnormal and deplorable? Of course not!

This whole “LGBTQ+ four of the Natural History Museum appears to rest entirely on the naturalistic fallacy (see the  26-minute video, too). Whatever happens vis-à-vis sex in animals has nothing to do with how we regard homosexuality (or any other non-cis sexual behavior) in humans. We do lots of things that animals don’t, and judging our behavior, morally or otherwise, must rest entirely on human considerations like the morality we’ve developed that isn’t seen in animals. It’s ironic that in their desire to be au courant with woke ideology, biologists have reverted to adopting a fallacy that they rejected long ago.

The Natural History Museum has fallen into a real trap here, and it’s embarrassing that it are producing these videos. But of course science is now increasingly prey to “progressive” ideology, and so much worse for science.

Be sure to watch the long video that claims that “some sheep are homosexual”—in the human sense. That is, they choose to be homosexual—as if human gay people choose. It’s all a big mess.

h/t:  Luana, Greg Mayer

 

The Royal Society of New Zealand blows off those complaining about its treatment of the Satanic Seven; refuses to apologize for mistreating them

April 15, 2022 • 8:15 am

I don’t want to recount the whole story about how seven professors at Auckland University, three of them members of the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), wrote a letter to a magazine (“The Listener”) questioning whether Maori “ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or “MM”) should be taught along with and coequal to science, as the government is planning.

Because they questioned whether MM,, which is a collection of myths, superstition, legend, morality, some practical knowledge, and misinformation (i.e., creationism) should be taught as “science”, the “Satanic Seven” were largely demonized as racists. Two of the members (one recently died), were chastised in a tweet from the RSNZ, and then were investigated by the RSNZ because there were ludicrous complaints that their letter caused “harm”. They were eventually exculpated, but at the beginning the RSNZ put this statement on its website:

This statement criticizes the signing members by asserting that MM is science, that the modern definition of science is “outmoded” (presumably it should include creationism), and simply rejecting the assertions of their three members. This announcement is invidious, and eventually the RSNZ, after what seems to have been a complaint from London’s Royal society, took it down.

You can read more about this, and see the petition described below, at an earlier post. In the meantime, 73 fellows of the RSNZ—a substantial portion of the members—signed a petition complaining about the Society’s behavior  and making three motions:

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.

The RSNZ responded that it would hold a special meeting on Wednesday to consider this petition. It did, but, as the notes below show, the RSNZ didn’t do squat, much less even vote on the motions.

An RSNZ member who will remain anonymous conveyed these notes to me abut the meeting. (Note: “RSTA” in the text below, which stands for “The Royal Society Te Apārangi”, is the same thing as what I’ve been calling RSNZ—”Royal Society of New Zealand”—whose full name is “Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi.” The notes taken by the member are indented, while the are mine. Note the quotes from Māori experts affirming that MM is not science!

Notes on RSTA meeting 13 April 2022

The RSTA meeting involved about 100 people on site in Wellington and over 100 people online.

The meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule, which means participants can report on the “information received” but not on the identity of the speakers or their affiliation. This is supposed to facilitate open discussion. Of course participants were not allowed to discuss the Rule.

The next procedural matter participants were told was that there could not be a vote on any of the motions proposed.

One of the two facilitators explained that the President of RSTA, Brent Clothier, and the Chair of Academy Council, Charlotte Macdonald, would not be answering questions since this was about “you having your say.” To many it seemed, rather, that the facilitators were there to serve the RSTA executive in damage control. In accord with this rule the President and Academy Chair did not have to answer questions, repeatedly put, about how the message they both signed, denouncing the Listener letter-writers for things they did not actually say, and kept on the RSTA website for months, was decided upon and worked out.

After the mover of the motions spoke to them at length and corporate governance was then also spoken to, there was a little discussion of the ruling that there could be no vote on any of the motions proposed. But further discussion was blocked (except for one objection) when it was reiterated by the “independent” facilitators that it was “inappropriate” to have votes today, “not possible” because the rules of the Society do not allow it. True enough: this was one of the complaints, of course, that there is almost no way Fellows can have input, either by putting items on an AGM or calling for another meeting (at least RSTA agreed to this meeting, knowing that the widely-supported request for it had already become an embarrassingly public fact) or voting on issues.

There was some discussion of mātauranga Māori and science, including one early speaker who claimed that there were racist tropes in the Listener letter [JAC: You can read the letter here.] because it claimed that “indigenous knowledge is not science” and this was like saying “indigenous art is not art.” It was not said at the meeting that it is very strange to claim that it is racist to suggest that “indigenous knowledge is not science,” in view of the fact that leading Māori advocates of mātauranga Maori, Professor Sir Mason Durie, and of the decolonisation of education and research, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, say the same thing:

You can’t understand science through the tools of Mātauranga Māori, and you can’t understand Mātauranga Māori through the tools of science. They’re different bodies of knowledge, and if you try to see one through the eyes of the other you mess up. “

Sir Mason Durie, Vision Mātauranga Rauika Māngai [2nd Ed], 2020, p. 26

Indigenous knowledge cannot be verified by scientific criteria nor can science be adequately assessed according to the tenets of indigenous knowledge.  Each is built on distinctive philosophies, methodologies and criteria.”

Durie, M. (2004) ‘Exploring the Interface between Science and Indigenous Knowledge’. 5th APEC Research and Development Leaders Forum. Capturing Value from Science.

And from the intellectual leader of the decolonisation movement, Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2016):

“[S]ome aspects of IK mātauranga are fundamentally incommensurate with other, established disciplines of knowledge and in particular with science, and are a much grander and more ‘mysterious’ set of ideas, values and ways of being than science.”

Smith, L., Maxwell, Te K., Puke, H., Temara, P. (2016)  ‘Indigenous Knowledge, Methodology and Mayhem: What is the Role of Methodology in Producing Indigenous Insights? A Discussion from Mātauranga Māori’. Knowledge Cultures 4(3): 131-56.)

But it was said that while it would now be racist to claim that indigenous art is not art, partly because art has fuzzy boundaries and because indigenous art contains such treasures, science has much sharper boundaries and rules, especially that anyone can propose or challenge ideas in science, and that there is no final say—positions directly at odds with the claims about mātauranga Māori by leading Māori:

Māori are the only ones who should be controlling all aspects of its retention, its transmission, its protection.”

Aroha Te Pareake Mead, Rauika Māngai, A Guide to Vision Mātauranga, p. 33)

Most of the discussion of MM (and there wasn’t much) consisted of affirmations that it is valued (often as if this is an argument for its being science). No one of course argued otherwise at the meeting, and the Listener letter writers had explicitly affirmed its value, including for science, and that it should be taught—just not as science.

More of the discussion was on governance and RSTA’s engagement, or lack of it, with Fellows, and discouragement of free speech. There was certainly widespread agreement that there was insufficient engagement or space for input or discussion among Fellows.

A number of Fellows independently called for the apology to Garth Cooper, Robert Nola and Michael Corballis’s estate in motion 1 to be sent out by RSTA, and no one spoke against it. No one maintained that the RSTA acted correctly in their website denunciation or the removal of the exoneration of any suggestion of bad faith on the fellows’ part from the report of the Investigating Panel. To many, however, it seems unlikely that RSTA will take this request on board, although signed by the seventy-plus signatories of the letter to RSTA and supported again viva voce in the meeting.

On the other hand it does seem likely that the RSTA officers will have to take on board the widespread criticisms of the lack of accountability and engagement. But that seems entirely up to them and their readiness to move beyond protecting their positions. There is no concrete pressure on them except the moral pressure they may feel from the unhappiness of many about the current system.

The two “independent” facilitators will write a report to go to the RSTA executives, which they can then do what they like with it.

Those present at the meeting in person or online have also been given an email to write to, until late (5pm? midnight?) on April 14 (i.e. the day after the meeting) where they can send in written comments to the RSTA executive. [JAC: Of course I don’t have this email, and even if I did I would not publish it because it is for Fellows alone.]

So there it is: a meeting RSTA didn’t have to call (although it would have elicited still more international embarrassment had they not), but with the predetermined rule that there was to be no vote on any motion; and with wide affirmation of MM and RSTA’s support for it (whether or not as science was much less clear); and wide criticism of RSTA’s corporate structure and lack of accountability, of its poor engagement with its Fellows and discouragement of free speech; and an emphasis on the RSTA’s need to clarify its function and to shape its form to fit this function. But this criticism is at this point to be responded to entirely as they see fit by a self-policing executive.

In other words, the Royal Society of New Zealand feels no responsibility to respond to its members’ motions, or to investigate its own behavior. It can if it wants, but if it doesn’t want to—and I suspect this will be the case—it doesn’t have to. They’re likely hoping the kerfuffle will blow over. As for “meeting”, it was simply window-dressing: giving its members a chance to blow off steam.

The RSNZ has come out of this with not just egg on its face, but a massive omelet draped over its body.  They were wrong to demonize and publicly disagree with their members, they were wrong in their characterization of MM as “science” (do they even know what science is?), and they were wrong to stonewall and not respond to the members’ call for apologies and structural form.

The two members who were investigated, Drs. Robert Nola and Garth Cooper, have resigned from the RSNZ. A large number of the other members are disaffected. The RSNZ won’t do the right thing because it would be considered “racist”.

The institution is ridiculous and and should be mocked.

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

Regards

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.

Why Robert Nola quit New Zealand’s Royal Society

March 21, 2022 • 8:15 am

As I’ve written before (see here), philosopher Robert Nola and his Auckland University colleague Garth Cooper were “investigated” by New Zealands Royal Society (RSNZ) after they and five others co-signed a letter to a popular magazine-like site, The Listener, arguing that Mātauranga Māori (MM), the indigenous Māori “ways of knowing,, should not be taught as co-equal to science in science class, though should certainly be taught as history of sociology. The charges were diverse, ranging from unethical behavior to creating (unspecified) “harm”.

Ultimately, Cooper and Nola were exculpated of all charges. Then, a few days ago, both resigned from the RSNZ. I applaud this decision, and were I a member of the RSNZ I would have done the same thing. I asked Robert, whom I knew before all this fracas, why he resigned. He wrote out his reasons and allowed me to put them here.

I’ve placed Robert’s entire statement below the fold, but one of the crucial issues is of freedom of speech, which the RSNZ abrogated by “investigating” fellows who simply wrote a letter to a magazine. Another is chilling of that speech contrary to the Māori-valorizing views of New Zealand’s politicians and educational officials. I’ll just give the last point of the 13 Robert made, but if you have been following this controversy, click “read more” below to see the whole statement:

  • In sum, why resign? The main issue underlying this dispute has to do with freedom of speech in the area of science. It has been long recognized that science best advances when it is open to the critical discussion of any of its doctrines, whether alleged to be indigenous or not. This is something found in the 19th century discussion of freedom of speech by John Stuart Mill. If anything is given privileged protection from criticism, then this undermines the advance of science. At the moment the dogmatic stance seems to be in the ascendancy for the RS. And it is supported by the acceptance of a Code of Ethics which can be used all too easily to curtail free speech.

The remark in the letter that indigenous knowledge is not science has clearly been taken by many within the RS to be an unacceptable claim to make, given the way in which it has been challenged by reprimands and investigations. But this stance should never have been accepted if the Royal Society NZ was a fully “open society”. A resignation can be a sharp reminder that it ought to provide a better forum for the discussion of contentious views instead of condemning them on websites or having panel investigations into them.

Click “continue reading” to see the full statement:

Continue reading “Why Robert Nola quit New Zealand’s Royal Society”