New Zealand P.M. Jacinda Ardern speaks at Harvard

May 28, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Here’s New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern speaking at this year’s Harvard commencement, and don’t really know what to make of her talk. It clearly shows her rhetorical abilities and humor: she’s a remarkably unpretentious person for a politician, and very likable. And her government, and New Zealand in general, have done many good things. She runs a country I love. But that country, and Ardern herself, is succumbing to wokeness. It gives me a lot of cognitive dissonance.

To me her message seems a bit confusing, if not distressing, and I can’t help but be a bit petulant about some of her statements.

She begins with what is the New Zealand equivalent of a “land acknowledgment”, speaking in Māori, a language that nobody in the audience understands. Well, so be it.  What bothers me more is that her message in English is explicitly against tribalism, and yet her very government is fostering tribalism, at least in terms of science.  By that I mean that that government is trying to maintain two forms of science as coequal: modern science and the form of indigenous “ways of knowing”, Mātauranga Māori (MM). They aren’t coequal and shouldn’t be taught as such in the classroom, which is what the Ardern government is trying to do. Further, they are trying to put criticism of MM as off limits, so that indigenous science, unlike “real” science, becomes insulated from criticism. And we all know (e.g. Lysenko) what happens when politics renders criticism of science out of bounds.

It’s through that lens that I view Ardern’s talk, which overall isn’t bad. But she notes that the foundations of a strong democracy include “trust in institutions, experts, and government,” which can be “built up over decades but torn down in mere years”. In fact, her government is fostering distrust in “experts” when they’re modern scientists, and are tearing down the foundations of science that, in New Zealand, are already eroding compared to similar countries.  When she remarks that a blind faith in democracy “ ignores what happens when, regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested, facts are turned into fiction and fiction turned into fact,” I think of how MM, a lot of which is fictional, is being turned into fact in the classroom, while modern science is largely dismissed as “colonialist.”

Finally, I also find it a bit ironic when she claims “that a strong democracy relies on debate and dialogue, and even the oldest regimes can seek to control these forums, and the youngest can seek to liberate them,” when her regime is in fact stifling any dialogue about science. It’s nearly impossible to get anything critical of “indigenous ways of knowing” published in New Zealand, and if you do, you might get fired. Believe me, I have the emails to prove it: messages from timorous Kiwis afraid to speak up. On some issues, “debate and dialogue” is impossible. Remember the debate between MM and science promised us by Auckland University vice Chancellor Dawn Dishwater. It hasn’t happened, and I doubt it will.

The last and longest bit of her talk is, curiously, on social media. Here’s her words as transcribed by the Harvard Crimson:

Ardern laid part of the blame for misinformation on social media platforms, the companies that run them, and the algorithms that create internet echo chambers.

“I’m not here to argue that social media is good, nor bad,” she said. “It’s a tool. And as with anything, it’s the rules of the game and the way we engage with it that matter. That means recognizing the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments that we’re in — that algorithmic processes make choices and decisions for us, what we see and where we are directed, and that at best this means user experience is personalized and at worst it means it can be radicalized.”

Ardern noted the 2019 murder of 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shootings were livestreamed on social media. Investigators found that the killer had been radicalized online.

“The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and to act on it,” said Ardern, whose government passed restrictions on semiautomatic firearms and high-capacity magazines after the killings. [Those laws, by the way, were great.] Ardern pointed out that individuals also bear responsibility. How we use technology is an individual decision, she said, as is how we interact with those with whom we disagree.

To me this is the usual cry against “hate speech”; and “hate speech” in her country is construed far more widely than just anti-Islamic sentiments on social media. It’s the same kind of “hate speech” that led to complaints against those asserting that MM was equivalent to modern science, and against those who argue that morbid obesity is unhealthy. When she says, “I’m not here to argue that social media is good, nor bad,” I think she’s being disingenuous, playing to both sides. What she’s really saying is that social media is bad if it adheres to the kind of speech permitted by America’s First Amendment. She is calling for some unspecified brand of social-media censorship. Private companies have the right to censor, of course, but my own view is that they shouldn’t unless the censorship involves speech not defended by the First Amendment (calls for immediate, predictable, and incipient violence, etc.)

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Ardern. I was and remain a big fan, but I think the creeping wokeness of the woman, and the fear of many Kiwis to speak out, may eventually be her undoing.  Well, listen for yourself.

Aussies school Kiwis on limits of “traditional knowledge”

May 27, 2022 • 10:45 am

If you’re bored with the science debates in New Zealand, skip this article. But do realize that I post these only because they show the power of ideology to affect science education in a bad way, but also to make them available to New Zealanders, many of whom silently agree with me but are scared to voice their opinions. The hegemony of indigenous culture worship in New Zealand has grown so strong that it’s created a climate of censorship, chilling the speech of those who disagree with what the government and educators are doing and saying.

Because New Zealand’s press, about as woke as a press can be, effectively prohibits criticism of the government’s initiative to push “indigenous ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or “MM”), into the science class, it takes the Aussies to smack them on the tuchas. (See this post from yesterday as an example.)

It took me some time to find this new article in The Australian, which is paywalled (inquire judiciously for a copy), but the skills of the University of Chicago’s librarians are unlimited. I’ll put the headline up, but you won’t be able to get access. (UPDATE: I just found a clickable copy on the New Zealand Initiative Website).

I see from Wikipedia that this paper is supposed to be “centre-right”, but others have told me that that’s the Aussie equivalent for “center” in America. Be that as it may, Johnson’s article is about as good a summary of the difference between MM and science as you can read, and tells explicitly why the NZ government’s initiative to have the two systems taught as coequal “science” is barmy. I’ll give some quotes. I have a few quibbles with Johnston’s characterization of modern science, but on the whole this article should be dropped by planes as millions of leaflets over New Zealand.

Note as well that Michael Johnston is a Kiwi who trained in both Oz and NZ (he has a Ph.D. from Melbourne), and now lives in Wellington as a senior fellow of the New Zealand Initiative. Why didn’t he publish this in the New Zealand media? I’m sure it’s because none would dare print it.


If it is properly contextualised, including mātauranga Māori in the school curriculum stands to enrich young New Zealanders of all cultural backgrounds. To do that successfully though, we must be careful not to attempt to force it into a place in which it doesn’t fit.

Pre-colonial Māori had an impressive amount of knowledge about many things. For one, they were astonishing navigators. By observing the stars, sea currents and the flight patterns of birds, they were able to traverse millions of square kilometres of open ocean in small outriggers, to successfully locate, and land on, tiny islands.

An important subtlety lost in the media storm over the Listener letter is the distinction between knowledge itself and the methods by which it’s discovered. Did the navigators of the Pacific Ocean develop their knowledge through a process of explicit theory testing like that used in Eurasian science?

It wasn’t until 1959, when philosopher of science Karl Popper published his book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, that this approach was fully articulated in Eurasian scientific thought. The idea of making predictions from generalisable, universalist theories, though, has been around for considerably longer.

Even so, while Māori almost certainly developed their knowledge on the basis of systematic observation, they probably were not motivated to construct generalisable theories. Mātauranga Māori is more concerned with the local and particular than with the universal and abstract.

Philosophically, this is probably one of the two truly substantive differences between Eurasian science and mātauranga Māori. Whereas the former seeks to make claims that are true everywhere and always, the latter is often more concerned with what is true in a local area, for the benefit of the people living there.

You may not know that Popper worked in New Zealand, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1937 and staying in NZ until he left for Britain in 1946. Several Kiwis I know still remember the guy (probably from Popper’s later visits there).

Popper’s Big Idea was, of course, that the hallmark of a scientific theory is that it must be falsifiable (i.e. there must be conceivable ways of showing its claims to be wrong), and if it’s not falsifiable it’s not science. Surely lots of MM would fall as “not science” in this classification (including its creationist view of life), but philosophers of science have their own issues with the “falsifiability” demarcation. (For one thing, they say that “falsified” theories can often be saved by making post hoc assumptions or assertions.) In general, though, I think Popper’s views have merit. Eventually, if a theory can’t be tested against the real world and conceivably disproven, people stop paying attention to it. This is likely what is happening with “string theory”. But I wouldn’t call such theories “not science”, for some day somebody might think of a way to test them.

Further, there are a lot of modern scientists finding out things that likely don’t fall into the Big Theory category, but are still of interest. The phylogeny of, say, ants doesn’t fit into a theory (though someday it could), but is still useful knowledge of the world and can even predict future findings. Overall, however, what has moved understanding of the Universe forward are big theories: Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, the special and general theories of relativity, evolution, the “central dogma”, atomic theory, the “germ theory of disease,”and so on.

MM is not placed to produce such theories because of its particularity: it is aimed at improving people’s life in specific areas, like how to grow crops and catch eels. Its factual claims are practical, and based on trial and error alone.  Its absence of theory, and lack of drive to construct theories, is one reason it shouldn’t be taught as equivalent to modern science. Also, as Johnston notes, early forms of modern science, like that of Galileo, were not dualistic—they did not invoke spiritual forces. MM, on the other hand, is dualistic, and explicitly so.  Here’s a trenchant example of that dualism:

Whatever the precolonial Māori worldview was like, it was not dualistic. Everything was at once material and spiritual. This is perhaps the most important reason not to try to shoehorn mātauranga Māori into the science curriculum. To do so would be a disservice to both knowledge systems.

When pre-colonial Māori were on the ocean, they would chant karakia (prayers) to Tangaroa (the god of the ocean). Apart from expressing deeply held beliefs and imbuing mariners with courage in their perilous endeavours, these chants may well have had practical import. The practice might have been a way to keep track of time, or to keep rhythm while rowing. These possibilities illustrate the internal coherence of a non-dualistic worldview.

Contrastingly, a draft biology standard recently produced by New Zealand’s Ministry of Education claimed that fermentation can be enhanced by chanting karakia. This illustrates that trying to force a non-dualistic belief into a materialist knowledge system produces incoherence and confusion. (That standard, thankfully, has been revised.)

Rather than attempting to mix chalk and cheese, we’d do better to represent each knowledge system in its own right. If we do that, instead of sowing confusion we might start a conversation that will provide food for thought for generations to come.

This is hardly inflammatory, and there’s not much to argue with. But so keen are the NZ government, public, and educational authorities to avoid the appearance of criticizing anything Maori, that they’re not only dismantling the country’s science, but they’re starting to censor “unofficial” opinion.

Article critical of teaching indigenous “ways of knowing” as science in New Zealand gets published in Australia because Kiwis wouldn’t print it

May 26, 2022 • 10:30 am

UPDATE: Dr. Rata tells me that she was invited by The Australian to write that article. She notes that “The good news is that there is an increasingly number of excellent virtual media outlets in this country that are taking on the mainstream media by publishing in-depth investigative articles. Several have published my pieces in the past and I’m confident that they will continue to do so.”

That is probably true, but I didn’t know it and I stand by my claim that both people who sent me the article said it couldn’t be published in NZ. However, they (and I) seem to be wrong.

I’m not an Aussie, but I’m told that The Australian is that continent’s most widely read newspaper, and is the only daily-pan-Australian paper. Yesterday it featured an article by Elizabeth Rata, professor of education at the University of Auckland and signer of “The Listener Letter” opposing the teaching of indigenous “ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or “MM”) as equivalent to modern science in New Zealand classrooms . She’s thus one of the “Satanic Seven” Auckland professors who signed the letter.

Rata’s article excoriates the efforts of the New Zealand government to insert MM into the school science curriculum and to “decolonize” the entire school curriculum.  Unfortunately, the article is paywalled, but judicious inquiry will yield you a copy. Click if you have access to The Australian:

Quotes from the short piece:

Led by radical intellectuals of the corporate tribes and enabled by social justice warriors armed with an unassailable moral righteousness, New Zealand’s entire education system is rapidly being revolutionised.

Proposals in a recent government Green Paper for a Treaty of Waitangi-led science and research system include recognising mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge) as equivalent to science.

. . .Proposals to transform the university curriculum and teaching by inserting mātauranga Māori and kinship-based teaching and learning practices are now in the consultation phase.

The revolution does not stop there. The entire school sector is to be “decolonised”. The Ministry of Education’s ‘Te Hurihanganui A Blueprint for Transformative Systems Shift’ will include recognising “white privilege” and understanding racism in schools while the Ministry’s Curriculum Refresh will place ‘knowledge derived from Te Ao Māori (the Māori world)’ in the curriculum.

These initiatives, targeted at all levels of the education system will provide opportunities for an expansion of the cadre of decolonisers as ‘Māori exercise authority and agency over their mātauranga, tikanga (customs) and taonga (treasures)’.

Four strategies will ensure the revolution succeeds:

First, the opposition is being positioned as racist and reactionary, effectively silencing debate and creating self-censorship.

Second, government servants are required to accept the revisionist notion that the Treaty of Waitangi is a ‘partnership’ between two co-governing entities. Reprogramming services by government-paid consultants are on hand to encourage appropriate attitudes — signalled most obviously by insisting on using the correct language.

Third, the abandonment of universalism by the well-educated liberal-left who inhabit elevated positions in government and the caring professions will remove democracy’s very foundation. This is the principle of a shared universal humanity with the individual as the political category. It is the final point in the four decades convergence of postmodern relativism and identity politics.

The fourth strategy will be the clincher. It is the use of intellectual relativism to destroy the separation of science and culture that characterises the modern world.

Traditional cultural knowledge, including mātauranga Māori, employs supernatural explanations for natural and social phenomena. It also includes practical knowledge (proto-science or prescientific), acquired from observation, experience, and trial and error.

Such traditional knowledge has provided ways for humans to live successfully in their environment. Sometimes this has occurred in highly sophisticated ways, such as ocean navigation by the stars and currents, while efficacious medicines from plants may have helped to advance scientific or technological knowledge. Consequently, the role of traditional knowledge in humanity’s history justifies a place somewhere in the educational curriculum. But it is not science. It does not explain why such phenomena occur — just that they do.

Science provides naturalistic explanations for physical and social phenomena in the discovery of empirical, universal truths. It proceeds by conjecture and refutation. It requires doubt, challenge and critique, forever truth-seeking but with truth never fully settled.

Science’s naturalism and its self-criticism are anathema to the science-culture equivalence claim. A fundamental principle of science is that no knowledge is protected from criticism yet the Green Paper refers to protecting mātauranga Māori. Knowledge that requires protection is belief, not science. Knowledge authorised by culture is ideology, not science.

Furthermore, mātauranga Māori’s inclusion in science throughout New Zealand’s education system will place research under cultural authority. Alarmingly, that authority is to be wielded by evangelical commissars who cannot be questioned.

As far as I know—and I’ve read the tedious and tendentious Green Paper (see below)—what Rata says is pretty much true, though perhaps she goes a wee bit far when she says that the plan will remove the “foundations of democracy in New Zealand”. The country, one of my favorites, will endure, but its science is going down the drain. And they like it that way!

Yet speaking these truths in New Zealand is now verboten: no reputable venue, much less a national newspaper, would publish Rata’s column.  It’s too incendiary: both of the Kiwis who sent me this column emphasized that the op-ed could be published only outside New Zealand.

Let’s hope that the reach of The Australian will at least let Kiwis know how far the rot of relativism has spread in their land, and in its science. And let’s hope that at least some influential Kiwis care about this. So much for free speech in New Zealand!

Below: the “Green Paper”. Click to read:

Advocates of indigenous “ways of knowing” declare them coequal to Western agriculture, poised to ask for equal funding

May 23, 2022 • 9:15 am

Every few weeks something pops up in the news about Mātauranga Māori (henceforth  “MM”), the collection of “ways of knowing” that comprise the Māori heritage in New Zealand passed among generations. MM includes myths, superstition, legend (MM is explicitly creationist), morality, the assertion that everything in the world is meaningfully connected to everything else, but also some pieces of traditional “practical knowledge” gathered by trial and error. Only the latter is something that can be seen as part of modern science, and yet the New Zealand government, in what can only be interpreted as a well intentioned but misguided move to valorize all things indigenous, is embarking on a project to ensure that MM is inserted alongside modern science everywhere it can be.

For instance, there’s a government initiative afoot to give MM equal time with modern science in the secondary-school science classroom. This is also happening in higher education, as I’ve written about a number of times. As I’ve said a gazillion times before, the empirically true bits of MM that constitute “practical knowledge” can indeed be taught in science class, but it’s risible to see MM taught as coequal to modern science. Unlike the latter, MM hasn’t advanced much in hundreds of years, for it has no program for predicting future results and no formal program for how to test assertions.

You may remember the kerfuffle that ensued when seven University of Auckland professors published a letter in “The Listener” magazine asserting that MM, while of sociological and anthropological value as a whole, is not coequal to modern science. As that letter noted (see the full text here):

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.

For saying that, the signers got into big trouble. Over a thousand people signed a petitition objecting to the letter’s assertions and attacking its signers. One signer has since died, others have been demoted, and all have been demonized. Two of them, Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand, were investigated after there were complaints about their signing the letter. The RSNZ investigation found no transgressions, but did not apologize, and the two fellows, Robert Nola and Garth Cooper (the latter of Māori heritage) had a bellyfull and resigned their membership as fellows.

None of these objections to the “scientific” character of MM as a whole, however, will have any effect. The government of New Zealand is absolutely determined to support its indigenous people, which is fine, but to support it by declaring MM coequal to science and apparently to fund MM endeavors on an equal basis to science. That is not fine. The “coequality trope” would represent the dissolution of scientific progress in the country, but apparently it’s more important to NZ to flaunt its virtue than to close the ever-widening gap in science achievement between its students and students in similar countries. New Zealand students keep falling further behind in math and science.

Here’s a new article from the magazine “Stuff” that shows what’s in store for agriculture (click to read)

First, MM is being declared coequal to science in improving agricultural research and knowledge (my emphases):

AgResearch is putting its money where its mouth is after announcing mātauranga Māori and Western science are equal.

The crown research institute has launched its Māori Research and Partnerships Group and said it was central to the institute’s vision to have of mātauranga Māori on an equal footing with Western science.

Group director Ariana Estoras (Ngāti Uekaha, Ngāti Maniapoto) said it was huge that the kaupapa Māori group had been launched and that mātauranga Māori should be seen as adding to the toolbox to tackle the big issues for agriculturerather than something that threatens the status quo.

Estoras said the group was focused on helping Māori-led agribusinesses conduct their research in a safe space, where their mātauranga was protected and respected.

This is pretty much nonsense. The traditions of MM may well have something to add to agricultural research, but I want to see possible examples. None are given in the linked articles, only the repeated declaration that MM is not only useful for modern agricultural research, but “equal”.  None of the links in this article, or in the article before that, suggests any such thing). Note as well the intrusion of the term “safe space”, which apparently means a scientific environment in which the claims of MM cannot be challenged.

But it’s the very essence of science to be challenged, for that’s the only way progress can be made. Insulating MM from challenge is equivalent to saying, in physics, that “the many-worlds hypothesis should be protected and respected”. Such “protection” is nonsense, not science, and the last statement shows quite clearly why MM is not science. Science does not need “safe spaces” free of challenge. In fact, that’s the worst thing that one can do to science, as examples like that of Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union show.

Further, the language is confused:  it seems that some MM proponents are being deliberately disingenuous over the equivalence issue. Does this mean that science and mātauranga Māori are considered equivalent in terms of generating universal, empirical knowledge, or does it mean they are equivalent in terms of “value”—or something else? Or does it mean (and this is what I suspect), science and MM should get equal “respect” and funding.

As for what MM can do to help agriculture, I can’t rule out that it could marginally enhance it. But I say “marginally” because the MM advocates never give convincing scenarios of how it could make a big difference in agricultural progress. All they can say is stuff like this (while dissing “The Letter’) that drags in “indigenous knowledge” as some kind of sacred issue:

However, some academics in Aotearoa don’t support the melding of mātauranga Māori and Western science.

Seven Auckland University professors published a letter in The Listener in July 2021 dismissing mātauranga Māori as unable to meet the standards of Western science measures. [JAC: note that the letter says not a word about “standards”, but is about the nature of science versus the nature of MM].

The letter stated indigenous knowledge “in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what can be defined as science itself,” and that “It may help … but it is not science.”

However, dismissing indigenous knowledge meant researchers miss out on a wealth of traditional information that could help solve complex problems, such as climate change, Estoras said

It’s possible that MM may help deal with the problem of climate change, but the link above gives no example or possible example. It’s always just the claim that “Indigenous knowledge can help.” I suspect that the problem of climate-caused extinction in New Zealand, however, will be solved more by conventional science-based methods of conservation, and the simple common sense of stopping habitat destruction (indigenous people in NZ, by the way are responsible for a greater per capita amount of habitat destruction than were the “colonials”).

I also suspect that these unsubstantiated claims, and the desire to create a “safe space” for a gemisch of indigenous practical knowledge, legend, and superstition is a way to leverage not only more respect for MM, but, importantly, more funding  for MM. Underlying all the claims of equivalence of MM and science may be a demand for equivalence of resources.  And that would be a disaster for New Zealand, the first country in the world that’s committing scientific suicide by virtue signaling.

Another weak defense of Mātauranga Māori 

May 12, 2022 • 12:15 pm

Let’s go back for a tick to the fracas in New Zealand over the government’s plan to teach Mātauranga Māori (henceforth MM) or Māori “ways of knowing”, as co-equivalent to modern science in public school science classes. Universities are following the schools’ lead, and touting MM as an almost untouchable but diverse collection of practical knowledge, myth, theology, and morality.  It’s more a “way of living” than a way of knowing, but it can’t be denied that there are bits of empirical truth in it.

I’ve posted about MM at length, and in my view it should be taught as part of New Zealand’s cultural heritage, and perhaps some bits of practical knowledge can be inserted into science classes; but the system as a whole does not compare with modern science as a subject that should be taught to students (for one thing, it is a creationist theory).  If you try to figure out what the “scientific” parts of MM are, they all turn out to be “practical knowledge”: ways of catching and harvesting food, or navigating, all derived from trial-and-error experience.

Its advocates always go back to these things as proof that MM is “science”, but the scientific parts of MM have ground to a halt. That’s because, unlike modern science, MM is not a toolkit for producing further knowledge, but rather a set of empirical methods for living off the land that have pretty much run their course. MM cannot, and has not, produced new knowledge outside the practical realm in the way of modern science. (I haven’t even seen new knowledge in any realm deriving from it.) MM is impotent at dealing with things like particle physics, evolution, quantum theory, scientific testing of medicines and medical procedures, and the like. In other words, MM has become lore. Yes, true lore in some cases, but it’s now a fossilized bit of sociology that, while it may change in theological or moral realms, cannot change in empirical realms—except in discovering new ways of catching eels or growing crops—things that modern science is at least as good as.

I may sound harsh here, but that’s because I’ve just read an over-the-top piece by a Māori astronomer on how MM is not only science, but in some ways better than modern science. The author, Rangi Matamua, is identified in Wikipedia this way:

Rangiānehu ‘Rangi’ Mātāmua is a New Zealand indigenous studies and Māori cultural astronomy academic and was a full professor at the University of Waikato. He is Māori, of Tūhoe descent. He is the first Māori to win a Prime Minister’s Science Prize, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

As far as I can see, “Cultural Astronomy” involves identifying stars and celestial bodies that were important to earlier societies—in this case Matamua’s Māori ancestors. It doesn’t seem to involve new discoveries in astronomy, though I may be wrong. At any rate, Matamua himself, in this article from E-Tangata, a Māori website, identifies his big contribution as disseminating the names of 900 stars, 103 constellations, and a passel of Māori “star lore” taken from an older manuscript. So be it.

Click to read:

The occasion for Matamua writing this piece is the new official New Zealand holiday of Matariki, celebrating the appearance of the Pleiades constellation, or the beginning of the Māori New Year. This gives Matamua a chance to valorize MM. Among his assertions are these. (Bold headings are mine, his words indented and mine flush left):

MM is better than science because it involves connecting EVERYTHING.  As Matamua says:

From a Māori point of view, there’s no use understanding something in science unless you go on to understand how it’s connected to everything else. A piece of knowledge can be taken out and explored on its own, but, for us, it only has real purpose and meaning when it’s all stitched together in one fabric.

Western science is wonderfully objective and driven by evidence, and it will test and test to come up with rigorous findings, but quite often that happens in isolation, and then it moves on to the next thing. Whereas for me as a Māori scientist, the key thing is the practice of knowledge in everyday life.

This implicit science dissing is wrong in two ways. First of all, everything is not really connected to everything else except only very weakly through the laws of physics. And that’s largely irrelevant. Many scientific theories, standing on their own, are extremely useful without stitching them into everything else. How does the existence of black holes, which we just discussed, fit into MM, much less everything else. Even in MM, I suspect not everything is attached to everything else.

Second, as Matamua asserts, MM deals mainly with “the practice of knowledge in everyday life.” Does he use black holes or quantum mechanics in his everyday life (perhaps he uses a GPS device??s) It’s interesting that he gives not one example of this universal connection.

There are empirical accomplishments of MM. Matamua mentions two: the navigational abilities of his Polynesian ancestors (not really Māori, who arrived in NZ in the 13th century, but let’s let that go), and their use of the configuration of the stars to figure out when to plant crops. The rest is irrelevant to “science”. I’ll quote at length:

Our knowledge systems are still so often seen as “myths and legends”, as if they’re devoid of proper science. But there is empirical science that sits at the heart of mātauranga Māori. You don’t traverse the expanse of ocean that our ancestors traversed by riding on myths and legends. You need to have your science down.

The difference is that mātauranga Māori and Indigenous knowledge systems understand how to connect that knowledge to the people.

Let’s take Matariki as the example.

Matariki is part of a very detailed stellar lunar calendar system. In the modern world, we are accustomed to 365 (and a quarter) days for a year. We travel around the sun which gives us our year and our time system, regardless of any other environmental factors. But Māori followed localised calendar systems built off the lunar calendar, which is 354 days long.

Our ancestors knew about the apparent magnitude of stars and they knew that Matariki needed to be a certain height on the horizon, while the sun is below the horizon, for it to be visible. So, they triangulated the position of the sun, the visibility of the stars, and lunar phase to tell where they were in their calendar system, and the correct lunar month. Because of the difference between the lunar year and the solar year, which is 11 days, over three years there was a 33-day slippage.

So, every three or so years, they’d introduce an extra month into the calendar system. It’s called intercalation, or an intercalary month, and it’s the same concept as a leap day being inserted every four years to the solar calendar. That’s how my ancestors managed their system of time. Which is very scientific.

Then, to make it all have meaning and purpose, which is essential, Māori cultural practices and even spirituality were built around this movement of time.

This meant more than just “knowing” the information — it needed to become part of their practice. So, they lived it every day. They hunted, fished, gardened, undertook every activity, by the moon, the position of the sun, the pre-dawn rising of stars. Their whole lives were orientated not just around the sky, but their environment.

Mātauranga Māori had the ability to take the scientific principle and demonstrate to people that if they followed that star, they’d arrive at a certain location. Then, to make the premise have deep meaning to the people, that star became a deity.

Or we knew that when a certain star was visible, the birds would fly in a certain direction. So that star was named after those birds, which would lead to a particular land area, which was then embedded into a ceremony so that it had a tangible connection for people.

Here we have navigation and planting again—practical knowledge guided by trial and error—as the “science” in MM.  Yes, it’s practical truth, but how is this coequal with modern biology, physics, and chemistry as a way to teach science (not anthropology or sociology) in schools and universities? That would shortchange the science. The stars, birds, and ceremonies are irrelevant to science; that is anthropology.

Oh, and there’s gardening:

Mātauranga Māori is not locked in the past. It is still evolving and developing. It is a framework for our Indigenous knowledge systems, whether they are still purely traditional or whether we have incorporated other thinking and concepts and added elements of our Māoriness to them.

I think, for example, about how our ancestors were excellent gardeners. When new variations of crops like potatoes and pumpkin were introduced, they quickly adapted to those and incorporated them into their world. But they still planted them using the lunar calendar, even though they were introduced species.

But he gives no evidence that MM, or at least its practical knowledge, is “evolving and developing.” In the meantime, we have the Green Revolution, transgenic plants, and other accomplishments of modern agricultural science—which, by the way, is connected to people’s lives.

“Western” science (Matamua’s word) is impotent at importing its findings into people’s lives. I find this claim unbelievable, and do remember that Matamua is a fellow of New Zealand’s Royal Society.:

It’s a waste of time trying to argue with those people. Debating in that way just sets up the idea that mātauranga Māori and western science are adversaries. They’re not. In fact, they connect very well together. The important difference, for me, is that Indigenous knowledge systems understand how to link people with the scientific concepts in a meaningful way.

There is clear evidence, for example, that we are heating up the earth. Scientific evidence. We are emitting carbon, we are polluting. Western science is saying: “Here is the evidence.” Yet the science has failed to embed that knowledge in the everyday practices of people. If western science was all knowing and all perfect, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in a situation where we continue to destroy the only livable planet we have that exists within any manageable distance from us.

So, when it comes to these really important issues, we can’t assume that one way of knowing is superior to another.

It’s not the science that is deficient here, but humans’ lack of will. It is not the job of science, but of public policy to decide what to do with the science. To diss science for not making people accept and do something about global warming is simply a misplaced accusation. This, in fact, makes me think that Matamua doesn’t understand what modern science does. 

And to claim that modern science, in contrast to MM, does not understand how to link people with the scientific concepts in a meaningful way is to make a fatuous and risible claim.  How much of our lives are imbued with modern science, from transportation, to medicine, to food, and so on? Are these connections not “meaningful”? Was the saving of thousands of lives with RNA-based covid vaccines (a product, by the way, derived from the pure science that led to DNA sequencing) “not connecting people with scientific concepts in a meaningful way”?

Finally, Matamua gives himself the ultimate out.

You can’t criticize MM unless you can speak Māori. Yes, this is what he sys:

Even for me to be using English now to explain these things misses a whole level of understanding that comes when we talk about them in te reo Māori. Our reo and our practice of mātauranga Māori are such major ways of maintaining our traditional knowledge that I have to remind myself that the opinions of people who have absolutely no understanding of Māori language or customs is null and void when it comes to determining how our knowledge is defined.

If this were the case that scientists of different nationalities would never be able to communicate with each other. Heisenberg’s and Einstein’s work and that of Leeuwenhoek, Galileo et al. would have been lost. But there happen to be such things as translators, and to say that we are unable to judge the “knowledge” of MM because we can’t speak Māori is a pathetic way to immunize MM against discussion and criticism. In the end, what kind of “science” is immune to understanding unless you can speak the language of its practitioners? Only MM, I guess.


I’m spending this time on Matamua’s piece only because he’s big name in MM, Maori astronomy, and is also a member of New Zealand’s Royal Society. But the words that flow from his pen don’t impress me at all.

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.

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”

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.

Indigenous electrical wiring in New Zealand

February 10, 2022 • 10:30 am

There are apparently a lot of Kiwis who agree with my view that Mātauranga Māori (“MM”), or Maori “ways of knowing”, should not be given coequal status with modern science in science classes. (It should be taught mostly as anthropology or history, with the bits of “practical knowledge” perhaps interpolated in science class.)  This is a losing battle, I know, as are most battles against forms of wokeness, but as a scientist I want to at least make my views known and try to keep science teaching on the rails. Forcing MM—a mixture of legend, theology, morality, mythology, and practical knowledge—into science class constitutes a form of “valorizing the oppressed” by giving them certain rights that make no sense in today’s world. Teaching Māori legends and myths (including creationism) as real science in biology or physics class is one of those “rights” that needs to be ditched.

Nearly every day I get emails from upset Kiwis, some with Māori heritage, who agree with me. After all, no sensible person wants to see science education in their country be watered down this way. But almost all of these people are afraid to speak up publicly or use their names. That’s because questioning the scientific nature of MM is considered a big no-no in New Zealand, and you can lose your job for it. The Royal Society of New Zealand, for instance, is still investigating two of its members for taking the stand I described above.  The disaffected Kiwis write me because I can give voice to their concerns without getting them in trouble.

Another Kiwi sent me the figure below, along with an email. I have permission to quote so long as names aren’t used. Note that this person is a lover of his country and an admirer of the Māori.

From the email:

This week I was doing some electrical updates, and thought I should first check the NZ regulations for wiring (colors, etc). All very straightforward, and the project was a success. Nonetheless, in light of some of your (absolutely correct) commentary on NZ recently, I thought you might be interested in the attached page from the regulations.  All I can say is ….. wha ????

Having lived overseas for a while, I really cannot comment very knowledgeably on New Zealand’s directions. The day to day celebration of Māori culture, and the things that make NZ so unique, are great, and even my own family use many Māori words in everyday speech that I would not have recognized in my childhood.
But the extension into other areas, such as your observations about science education, and this document I shared, add zero value and smack of opportunistic woke-ism. I simply don’t believe that a young Māori looking to become an electrician would find that path easier by thinking of electrical ground as the realm of some mythological entity.
I put a red box around the relevant bit from the New Zealand Electrical Code of Practice :

Note that there is nothing helpful or practical in this addition; what it does is analogize the practical instructions for wiring with certain terms from MM. No serious harm is done with this, but I think it shows the fealty to MM that permeates nearly every aspect of NZ life—including wiring. It is in fact kind of funny, but also sad, because it valorizes mythology by adding it to advice for electricians.

I have to add, though, that the person who sent me this stuff has good things to say about his country’s government, and I agree. Not only did they do fantastically well against Covid, but they’re doing a really good job trying to conserve their beleaguered wildlife using modern (not MM) conservation techniques. It’s a beautiful country with lovely people, and I hope to return before too long.

The last bit of the email I got:

Jacinda Arden’s leadership in the early years of her Prime Minstership have been exemplary in terms of standing against COVID and terrorist actions, with a consistency of message and direction sorely lacking in the US and UK.  And for COVID, the result is undeniable:  NZ’s total deaths over 2 years are comparable to a single day in Massachusetts with its similar population. But the challenge for her now is the transition to a re-opened country, and coping with an increasingly frustrated, impatient populace. And it is sorely costing her the polls.

A brave Kiwi

January 31, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Sociologist of education Elizabeth Rata was one of what I call “The Satanic Seven”: a group of  seven professors from the University of Auckland who took a public stand in a magazine against teaching Maori “ways of knowing” as co-equal with science.  The “Listener letter”, published last July, is so well known (and also infamous) that it now has its own Wikipedia page. The infamy comes from an assertion that would be uncontroversial in most places: the claim that government proposals to ensure equal co-teaching of modern science with the indigenous “way of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or MM) were unwarranted and a recipe for disaster.

And they are. While MM has nuggets of truth gleaned from experience (but not experiment), it’s also a whole lot of other stuff as well: legend, fable, local theology, morality, and so on. And a lot of it is scientifically bogus, like the claim that Polynesians discovered Antarctica around 700 A.D. (The first real sighting of the continent was by a Russian ship in 1820.) Who could assent to teaching such nonsense as “true”? It’s even worse because New Zealand’s rankings in STEM education among comparable countries have plummeted in the last several decades. Teaching MM in science class will only make those rankings lower.

When I consider how hard the government and educational authorities at all levels are pushing this “equality-in-the-classroom” proposal, academia in New Zealand begins to look like a bunch of lemmings jumping off a cliff (yes, I know they don’t really do that). Knowing that the government’s proposal will hurt the country’s educational standing, they press on nevertheless, for satisfying the Māori—and a misguided interpretation of the 1840 treaty between settlers and the Māori—is more important than furthering the truth. New Zealand is wrecking its own educational system with out-of-control wokeness.

But like Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Rata has nevertheless persisted. Below is the link to a piece she just published in a popular NZ venue, Newsroom. It’s a short article which says much of what I’ve summarized above. But she’s braver than I, for even full professors and retired professors risk professional damage from speaking their minds. (Two signers of the letter who were also members of the Royal Society of New Zealand are still undergoing “investigation” for criticizing MM as a form of science.) You can read the piece for yourself, (click on the screenshot) but I’ll give just a few excerpts that I’ve indented.

From Rata:

A useful contribution is to consider the role of the 2020 Education and Training Act in the shift from science to ideology. The basic contradiction between universal science and the parochialism of the treaty ideology is found in that legislation.

“Treaty ideology” refers to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (often seen as the Māori version “Te Teriti”), which was signed by the British and some (but not all) Māori chiefs, and those chiefs only from the North Island. It’s thus unclear how widely the treaty applies now, and even its interpretation is not straightforward given that the Māori words have some different meanings from the English ones. Nevertheless, here are its three provisions as given in Wikipedia:

  • Article one of the Māori text grants governance rights to the Crown while the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown.
  • Article two of the Māori text establishes that Māori will retain full chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures while the English text establishes the continued ownership of the Māori over their lands and establishes the exclusive right of pre-emption of the Crown.
  • Article three gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects.

The problem is that the treaty has been stretched so far that it’s now interpreted to mean “the Māori get half of everything”, and in this case “everything” includes “half of the time in science class to promulgate the Māori way of knowing”. Nobody with any sense would agree with the latter construal, but wokeness overrides rationality as PM Jacinda Ardern leads her lemmings over the cliff.

But I digress, for it angers me that a pack of legends, superstitions, theology, and so on, larded with a few bits of knowledge gleaned from experience, should be given half the time in a modern science class. By all means (as the Satanic Seven emphasized) teach MM in anthropology or history class, but do not drag it into STEM. That’s not good for NZ or for the Māori, whose science education will be grossly deficient. It serves only to make the treaty worshipers flaunt their virtue. What a price to pay for that! And it’s not like the U.S. Constitution that can be amended for clarity or revision. Te Teriti is here to stay.

Dr. Rata:

The main Treaty principles clause requires the university’s council “to acknowledge the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi”. ‘Acknowledge’ can be weak or strong. Since the term first appeared in the 1990 Education Act it has morphed into the strongest interpretation as obligation and commitment. It is now very difficult for academics to question the ideological intensity which has swept through the university as ‘obligation’ is embedded. Prayers in the secular university go unchallenged. Treaty requirements in teaching courses are fulfilled. Funding applications without mātauranga Māori adherence are declined. Language is self-monitored for ideological lapses.

The legislation also holds a clue to the seemingly widespread support from academics for the Treaty ideology. Section 281 encourages the greatest possible student participation by under-represented groups. The assumption is made that adherence to treaty principles will provide this encouragement. That is unlikely. The educational underachievement of a section of the Māori population happens well before students reach tertiary education.

Fixing the lower STEM achievement of Māori students cannot be done by teaching MM in class. It must be done the same way that lower academic achievement of black and Hispanic students in the U.S. must be done: encouragement, cultural transformation, mentoring, and so on. (Really, I don’t know the solution, but I know it doesn’t involve teaching fable as truth.)

Teaching falsehoods in science will not create more equity. As Rata notes (my emphasis below):

University students from all racial and cultural groups tend to come from knowledge-rich schools which provide a solid foundation for university study. These are often the children of the professional class who have benefited from such knowledge in their own lives and insist that schools provide it for their children.

It is access to the abstract quality of academic knowledge and language, its very remoteness from everyday experience, and its formality – science in other words – that is necessary for success. Tragically this knowledge is miscast as ‘euro-centric’. The aim of the decolonisation and re-indigenisation of New Zealand education is to replace this knowledge with the cultural knowledge of experience.

But science is not euro-centric or western. It is universal. This is recognised in the International Science Council’s definition of science as “rationally explicable, tested against reality, logic, and the scrutiny of peers this is a special form of knowledge”. It includes the arts, humanities and social sciences as human endeavours which may, along with the physical and natural sciences, use such a formalised approach. The very children who need this knowledge the most, now receive less.

The science-ideology discussion matters for many reasons – the university’s future, the country’s reputation for science and education, and the quality of education in primary and secondary schools. But at its heart it is about democracy. Science can only thrive when democracy thrives.

Elizabeth will get into more trouble about this: her professorship will not insulate her from unwarranted criticism—or even punishment by the University of Auckland. But, admirably, she persists. As she says, MM doesn’t even come close to conforming to the International Science Council’s definition of “science.”

As far as I know term “Māoriphobe” has not yet been coined, but I’ll Coyne it here because it’s only a matter of time before people like Rata are tarred with it. (A more melliferous alternative is “Tiritiphobe”.)

And time is running out for NZ. Until its rational citizens wake up and try to understand what science is, and how important it is to both education and societal progress (NZ has been very good with vaccination, for instance, and MM didn’t give us vaccines), the rodents will keep jumping off the cliff.

And then there will be no rodents left, for every serious or accomplished scientist will have fled the country.