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”

Nola and Cooper resign from New Zealand’s Royal Society after being exculpated for criticizing indigenous “ways of knowing” as “science”

March 18, 2022 • 11:45 am

For a while now I’ve been discussing the row in New Zealand about whether  indigenous “ways of knowing”, Mātauranga Māori (“MM” for short), should be given equal treatment in the science classroom to modern science. The short answer for those with any neurons is “no”. While MM does comprise some “practical knowledge” like how and when to pick berries or catch eels, it also comprises a mélange of legend, superstition, moral dicta, and palpably false empirical claims (one being that Polynesians discovered Antarctica, another being divine creationism as the source of life).  As a whole, MM should be taught in New Zealand as part of local history and sociology, but not as science.

That was the position of seven University of Auckland professors who wrote a letter to the magazine The Listener pointing this conflict out (for relevant links, go here). They did not impugn MM as a subject worthy of teaching, but did say that it shouldn’t be taught as co-equal to science in school—a movement pushed by NZ’s woke government and academic authorities. The seven signers—or “Satanic Seven”—were demonized, though they had lots of silent support (to criticize MM as science is decidedly unfashionable, since it’s seen as an attack on the indigenous Māori.

Two of the seven professors, philosopher Robert Nola and biochemist Garth Cooper, were further demonized by being singled out for investigation as members of the prestigious Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ). They were accused by two people of writing a letter that violated the Society’s regulations (see this link for a fuller epxlanation). The complaints didn’t go very far: the RSNZ convened a committee to study the two sets of complaints, and then concluded that the complaints, all involving bad or unethical behavior, as well as harm to people (i.e., Māori) were not worthy of further investigation. Cooper and Nola were thus vindicated, though, in a last slap at them because of the trouble they caused, the RSNZ removed this sentence from their final report (it was in an earlier version):

The Panel considered there was no evidence that the Fellows [Nola and Cooper] acted with any intent of dishonesty or lack of integrity.

Removing that sentence was just a nasty piece of work.  And now, after. being vindicated, both Nola and Cooper have resigned from the RSNZ, as recounted in this article in Point of Order. Click on screenshot.

I had a feeling resignation was in the air, but haven’t been formally informed by either man, though I’ve asked them for statements (stay tuned).

I think they did the right thing. There was no point in staying on to change the RSNZ “from the inside,” as the institution has shown itself refractory to change, as well as ignorant and vindictive. And the pair have already gotten their honor of being elected; there is no additional honor accrued by staying on. Why would they want to remain members of a society that issued this statement about the Listener letter that Cooper and Nola signed?:

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

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

These are people who don’t know what science is, but they’re woke enough to defend superstition when it’s unscientific but purveyed by a local minority. In other words, theyre cowardly and ignorant.

I won’t go on except to give a few quotes from the Point of Order piece. The second is self-aggrandizing.

Two distinguished scientists – Professors Garth Cooper and Robert Nola – have resigned both as members and as fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

. . .The resignations of the two luminaries follow the society’s decision – announced last week – not to formally proceed with a complaint against them as Fellows of the Society for being among seven University of Auckland professors who signed a letter to the New Zealand Listener headed ‘In defence of science’ in July last year.

The self-aggrandizing bit:

The society’s decision not to proceed has spared it the prospect of being criticised – if not mocked – by scientists around the world.

Jerry Coyne, emeritus professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago, pointed out that mātauranga Māori contained strong elements of Creationism (“refuted by all the facts of biology, paleontology, embryology, and biogeography”) and that “expelling members for defending views like evolution against non-empirically based views of creation and the like is shameful”.

He concluded his letter to the society by advising:

 “I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughing stock.”

But they don’t mention that a much bigger fish, Richard Dawkins, wrote letters to both the RSNZ and The Listener defending science against MM, and Richard has a big microphone. Also, there are rumors that I can’t confirm that the BIG Royal Society, the one in London, wrote to the RSNZ chewing them out for investigating Nola and Cooper. That would have shaken up the people in Wellington!

And so all’s well that ends well:

In the upshot, there have been no expulsions – but the professors have decided they no longer want to remain members and fellows of this society.

But it’s not that simple. The RSNZ, made to look like fools, have been suitably chastened, and Nola and Cooper have been exculpated. But the battle for the hegemony of MM continues and shows no sign of abating. All over New Zealand, science students should prepare themselves for a dire watering down of the curriculum.

Robert Nola

 

Garth Cooper

h/t: Don

New Zealand’s Royal Society exculpates two members accused of criticizing indigenous “ways of knowing” as coequal with science

March 13, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I’ve written many times about this big kerfuffle in New Zealand. It involves the government adhering to a misguided interpretation of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, in which the British colonists negotiated a truce with chiefs of some (but not all) Māori groups.  That treaty guarantees the Māori full rights as British citizens and has other stipulations about land.

The recent trouble started when both the New Zealand government and educational authorities at all levels of schooling decided not only to teach Mātauranga Māori, (henceforth “MM”) or “Māori ways of knowing”, not just in school, which is fine, but in science classes , and as coequal with modern science. This is an untenable position both educationally and politically, for it would not only water down science education, but also degrade the already-declining educational standing of New Zealand among comparable countries.

Most important, it would confuse students as to what science really is, for MM encompasses not just “traditional knowledge”, like how to trap eels, but also a farrago of myth, unverifiable legend, superstition, morality, and theology, which include many bizarre supernatural statements. Imagine that being given equal treatment in science classes! The Māori, for example, have their own creation myths analogous to but different from those of the Bible. Are these to be given equal time in biology class?

Further, the “way of knowing” of MM is practical knowledge (yes, that’s still knowledge), but wouldn’t expose the students to the way modern scientists practice their trade.

Nobody questions whether Māori history and MM should be taught in schools. They are, after all, part of the nation’s history and sociology. But not in science class as a form of science!

A group of professors, perhaps unaware of the conflagration they’d start, made a public statement against teaching MM as science:

As I wrote earlier:

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

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

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

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

As I wrote, the letter brought down heaps of opprobrium upon the seven signers (one has since died), both from the University of Auckland and from the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), the country’s most prestigious body of science. From my post cited above:

The Royal Society itself issued a statement criticizing the professors, [JAC: that letter has vanished and been replaced by a more conciliatory one; the original version criticized the professors for mischaracterizing science and harming indigenous people] and has launched an investigation of the two remaining signatories in the Academy, Robert Nola and Garth Cooper (Cooper is at least a quarter Māori). Nola and Cooper could be booted out of the RSNZ for simply exercising free speech, which apparently is not “free” in New Zealand if it casts doubt on the truth of Māori mythology. Here’s part of the RSNZ’s statement [JAC: this was the origjnal statement, now retracted and replaced. Bolding below is mine]:

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

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

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

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

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

Harm indeed. Far more harmful to the country and its youth to teach mythology and legend as science! The RSNZ apparently has no idea what science really is.

But the teaching of MM as science is almost a foregone conclusion for, as the Wokest of Western countries, New Zealanders worship the Treaty as almost the Bible for guiding national behavior, and nearly everything Māori has become sacred and immune to criticism. The many supporters of the “Satanic Seven,” as I called them, were forced to keep quiet, for public support of their stand could do severe professional damage to academics, as it has already. Self-censoring about MM is pervasive in New Zealand, as I’ve learned from many private emails.

This post brings an end to the Royal Society issue, though not to the MM skirmish itself. In short, 5 complaints were made to the RS about Nola and Cooper as signers of the Listener letter (Corballis was also a member, but complaints against him were dropped when he died.) The Royal Society of New Zealand, to its shame, decided to investigate two of the complaints and produced a confidential report.

In the meantime, the kerfuffle came to world attention. It was reported in the Daily Fail, and Richard Dawkins wrote a letter to the Listener supporting the views of the Satanic seven. I even heard that the Royal Society of London wrote a reproving letter to the Royal Society of New Zealand, though I can’t verify this. All this put the Royal Society of New Zealand in a bad light.

The two complaints against Cooper and Nola investigated by the RSNZ accused them of violating these principles of the RSNZ by writing their letter to the Listener:

. . . Members are obliged:

  1. To behave with honesty, integrity, and professionalism when undertaking their activities;
  2. To only claim competence commensurate with their expertise, knowledge and skills, and ensure their practices are consistent with relevant national, Māori [1] and international standards and codes of practice in their discipline or field;
  3. To undertake their activities diligently and carefully;
  4. To support the public interest by making the results and findings of their activities available as soon as it is appropriate to do so, by presenting those results and findings in an honest, straightforward and unbiased manner, and by being prepared to contribute their knowledge or skills to avert or lessen public crises [2] when it is appropriate to do so;
  5. In undertaking their activities, to endeavour, where practicable, to partner with those communities and mana whenua for whom there are reasonably foreseeable direct impacts, and to meet any obligations arising from the Treaty of Waitangi;
  6. To safeguard the health, safety, wellbeing, rights and interests of people involved in or affected during the conduct of their activities. . . .

9.) To demonstrate and encourage ethical behaviour and high professional standards amongst their colleagues;

It’s absolutely ridiculous to launch a three-month investigation of two honored members of the RSNZ on these bases. They were simply stating their opinion publicly.

I believe there were lots of complaints from other people arguing that, because the Satanic Seven weren’t experts in MM, they had no right to express an opinion about its compatibility with science. That’s palpable nonsense. You don’t have to do much investigation of the nature of MM to see that while, like all indigenous forms of “knowing”, it gives fascinating insights into belief systems not based on empirical science, it’s simply not commensurate with science as it’s practiced today.

Finally, last week the RSNZ came up with its decision: the two members of the Society who signed the letter were fully exculpated. The “confidential” summary of the investigation is below, but I got permission to publish it. That’s no longer necessary since much of it is now public.

But that didn’t stop the RSNZ from pulling a slimy move to get in one last lick against its two miscreant members. The RSNZ issued two statements, the second leaving out out a single sentence from the first. Here’s the original version, but in the final version, now published online, the sentence I put in bold has been omitted:

Royal Society Te Apārangi

Statement in relation to complaints about a letter to the New Zealand Listener

The Society received complaints against Fellows of the Society who were among seven authors of a letter to the New Zealand Listener ‘In defence of science’ _in July 2021. The complaints particularly referred to the vulnerability of Māori and early career researchers.

The Society convened an Initial Investigation Panel (Panel) to consider the complaints as set out under the Society’s complaint procedures. The Society is obliged to follow the Complaints Procedures it has adopted when it receives a complaint about a member of the Society.

The overall role of the Panel was to decide whether the complaints should proceed to a Complaints Determination Committee. The role of the Panel was not to consider the merits of the views expressed in the New Zealand Listener letter.

The Panel considered there was no evidence that the Fellows acted with any intent of dishonesty or lack of integrity.

The Panel concluded that the complaints should not proceed to a Complaints Determination Committee. The Panel referred to clause 6.4(i) of the Complaint Procedures: the complaint is not amenable to resolution by a Complaint Determination Committee, including by reason of its demanding the open-ended evaluation of contentious expert opinion or of contested scientific evidence amongst researchers and scholars.”

In coming to its conclusion, the Panel noted that during the process of their investigation both the complainants and the respondents referred to a considerable number of matters that were outside the Panel’s scope, including the merits of or otherwise of the broader issues raised in the letter or elsewhere. In the Panel’s view, the matters raised are of substance and merit further constructive discussion and respectful dialogue.

The Complaints Procedures provide that such a decision by the Panel is final and cannot be appealed.

The Society notes that it has been inappropriate to publicly comment about the complaints while the matter was before the Initial Investigation Panel.

This summary is being published on the basis that it may be beneficial to other scientists, technologists, or humanities scholars, as set out in the Complaints Procedures.

Now why would they omit that sentence, which simply implies that the two accused Fellows behaved with honesty and integrity? In truth, it’s even slimier than that: it said “there was no evidence that the Fellows acted with any intent of dishonesty or lack of integrity.”  It’s not a verdict of “not guilty”, but the Scottish verdict of “not proven.” But now even that sentence, which is mildly praiseworthy, is gone.

As I said, the controversy over the hegemony of MM in science continues, and if I know anything about New Zealand educational politics, MM will worm its way into science class. All the new RSNZ statement does is exculpate two scientists unfairly accused of misbehavior and harm for saying that MM, while worthy of being taught, is not coequal with modern science.

The Royal Society of New Zealand has acted despicably during this whole episode, abrogating the free speech of its members. If anything undergirds science, it’s the concept of saying what you think; and criticizing an indigenous “way of knowing” as “not compatible with modern science” is certainly within the purview of acceptable speech.

Except in New Zealand.

***********

The only public reporting I’ve seen on this so far has been in the Kiwi magazine Stuff, in the article below (click on screenshot):

What’s new is this:

The Royal Society’s chief executive Paul Atkins earlier said the organisation was taking the controversy seriously.

“We are acutely aware of the potential for significant damage to be inflicted in multiple directions, not least to relationships and our ability to have a balanced and informed dialogue about important questions for the future of our country,” he said in a statement.

Have a look at that statement and its mandatory genuflecting towards MM.  Finally, the University of Auckland promised last year to hold an impending symposium about the compatibility of MM with science, with both sides being defended. It didn’t happen:

The University of Auckland had intended to hold a Māturanga Māori and science symposium in the first three months of the year, but this has been delayed, a spokeswoman confirmed.

And I predict it won’t happen. Unless the University of Auckland stacks the deck with MM sympathizers—and it’s entirely capable of doing this—such a debate, though potentially enlightening, would be perceived as racist, and would be too inflammatory.

Sabine Hossenfelder on the most epic fights between scientists

February 14, 2022 • 11:00 am

Here’s a 16-minute video by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that was forwarded to me by reader Steve, who added this

Sabine leads with the contretemps between E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins. I found the whole video edifying, with my admiration for Thomas Edison taken down several notches.

Indeed! You will never look at Edison the same way again, especially if you go on the Internet and look for the video of the electrocution of Topsy the Elephant, promoted by Edison.

The six fights:

1.) Richard Dawkins’s scathing review of E. O. Wilson’s 2012 book, The Social Conquest of Earth, which pushed a group-selectionist origin of human behavior. (I too reviewed that book for TLS and will send a copy on request).

2.) Wilson’s riposte that Dawkins was a “journalist.” Ouch!

3.) Leibniz vs. Newton’s debate about who first developed differential calculus. Newton got discovery precedence, but was slow to publish, so both men’s work appeared about the same time. A fight ensued, with Newton beefing to the Royal Society about credit. Newton won that fight, but there were a lot of bad feelings and mutual criticism. Leibniz also cheated by changing the dates of some of his manuscripts to try establishing precedence

4.) Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla over whether electric current should be delivered as direct (DC_ or alternating (AC). Edison, an advocate of DC, electrocuted animals (including Topsy the elephant, one of the most heinous acts imaginable) to show that AC was dangerous.

5.) The paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope versus Othniel Marsh, a conflict described in Wikipedia as “The Bone Wars”:

The Bone Wars, also known as the Great Dinosaur Rush, was a period of intense and ruthlessly competitive fossil hunting and discovery during the Gilded Age of American history, marked by a heated rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope (of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia) and Othniel Charles Marsh (of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale). Each of the two paleontologists used underhanded methods to try to outdo the other in the field, resorting to bribery, theft, and the destruction of bones. Each scientist also sought to ruin his rival’s reputation and cut off his funding, using attacks in scientific publications.

6.)  Fred Hoyle versus the world! Willy Fowler, Hoyle’s collaborator, got a Nobel Prize (with Chandrasekhar) in 1983. Both Hoyle and Fowler collaborated on how nuclear reactions work in stars. Why was Hoyle overlooked? Hossenfelder gives several possible explanations.

Hossenfelder’s lesson is that “competition is a good thing, but is best enjoyed in small doses”.  I’m not sure I agree, as the more competition there is in science, the faster we get to the truth. Yes, it’s unpleasant to see big guns acting petty, but in the end science is the beneficiary.

Hossenfelder also mentions that the conflicts show that scientists are human, but we already know that. There aren’t really lessons here beyond those in the history of science, but there’s a lot of intriguing history in this short video