The other day, when I criticized the op-ed in Scientific American that tarred E. O. Wilson (along with others like Mendel and Darwin) as a “racist”, I added the usual observation: the magazine is getting terminally woke and nonscientific. One hopes it would regain its former status as a sought-after place for laypeople to learn about science, but that won’t happen until they replace the Editor-in-Chief and/or get a new philosophy.
One commenter, though, suggested that a good replacement for Sci. Am. is Wired. I haven’t read Wired much, and have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. But this new article—yes, an article, not an op-ed—suggests that Wired, too, may be the victim of woo, and bears watching. Click on the screenshot to read:
It’s the usual modern apologia for astrology, which can’t bring itself to admit that astrology is a “science” that cannot make accurate predictions, and also argues that astrology is much more than just a form of “cold reading” or therapy: the stars and planets really do affect our futures in some way we don’t understand. Since there is no evidence that tests of astrology, properly conducted, show any ability to predict personality or the future (see below) this is basically Wired magazine’s presentation of woo—without any criticism. It is touting astrology, which victimizes people who pay good morning for nothing.
I deeply believe that integrating with self is one of the most important things we can do to improve this world we live in. I am also committed to ensuring that healing work is not limited to those with lots of disposable income.
If you feel a connection with me and the services I provide, but lack the financial flexibility to pay my full fees, please email me so we can discuss lower fees or alternative ways to pay. Like everyone, I still need to eat and pay rent, but I will be as accommodating as I can be. Folks who identify as trans, gender non-conforming, immigrant, POC, and/or who are involved in activist work will be given priority for sliding scale.
I suppose that’s admirable, though a lack of income—rather than sexual or racial status—would seem to be a better criterion for identifying those in need.
Let me add one thing. It is entirely possible that consulting an astrologer might show better effects on one’s mood or outlook on life than people a control group in which an astrologer is not consulted. After all, astrologers are experts at cold reading, sussing out people’s fears, and in counseling them, sometimes in an empathic way. Compared to no therapy at all, astrology might be effective—though I maintain it would be no better than random guesses in predicting the future, especially if the astrologer has no foreknowledge about her clients or doesn’t make guesses based on knowing them.
The only way to do that is a double blind test, and the only one I know of failed miserably. The double-blind aspect was that the astrologers were provided with the volunteers’ natal astrological charts and asked to analyze the charts and describe the subjects’ personalities. The subject was then provided (blind) with their own chart as well as with two other charts from different people, and asked to pick out their own. They didn’t do statistically better than chance at picking their own horoscope (random expectation = 33% correctness). But read the paper for yourself. Its title reminds me of similar articles that could be called “How do you practice responsible dowsing?” or “How do you practice responsible psychic surgery?”.
I just want to give a few quotes from Ms. Harper’s article (and, of course Wired‘s article as well) to show you the kind of gobbledybook astrologers spew when pressed to justify their practice. Bold headings are mine; quotes are indented:
Yes, it works! And it’s historically justified!
ASTROLOGY IS A predictive art. And though many astrologers twist themselves into intellectual knots in an attempt to legitimize astrology within a scientific materialist paradigm—thereby creating a boundary between astrology and less-reputable “fortune-telling,” and avoiding guilt-by-association proximity with swindling “psychics”—there is no mechanistic explanation for how it works. Empirical astrological data, while extant, fails to satisfy the craving for clearly replicable quantitative results. The massively subjective nature of astrological interpretation doesn’t help: Two astrologers can look at the same planetary configuration and come to decidedly different conclusions, and sometimes, they’re both right.
Check out the link for “extant”, implying that there are actual data justifying the use of planetary and celestial positions in helping people. It just goes to the journal for astrologers!
And here’s a historical justification:
Still, rulers of nations and empires have a long history of relying on astrologers as part of the growth and maintenance of power; there’s just as long a history of astrologers being imprisoned (or worse). The ability to predict is precisely what makes astrology so potent, and exactly what brings risk into astrological practice.
There’s no test of the ability to predict that shows it works, and a “long history” proves nothing. There’s a long history of people praying to God and Jesus, but that doesn’t mean either that these figures exist or that prayer works.
Gobbledygook! It works but it requires a combination of stars and empathy!
Whether or not you “believe” in astrology—I personally don’t “believe” in astrology; I practice it—let’s consider that its multiple millennia of history points to something valuable and meaningful within it. I’ve witnessed astrology and its predictions massively improve countless situations in my own life, in my friends’ lives, and in my students’ and clients’ lives. Fraught as prediction may be, when well-wielded, its usefulness is infinite. Given that astrology has been used to predict for all of its history, the question becomes: What is responsible astrological prediction?
Her answer is that astrology uses the stars and planets, but uses them with empathy (e.g., therapy). But her explanation is so garbled that I don’t know what the hell she’s trying to say. I suspect this obfuscation is deliberate.
All the astrologers I spoke with emphasized confounding factors as one key reason astrological prediction is never, ever 100 percent certain. “People have misconceptions that the astrologer is looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future perfectly depicted,” says Brennan, “but that’s not actually what astrology is.”
This is where prediction turns into many astrologers’ preferred future-oriented word: forecasting. Astrological forecasting tends to describe the future more thematically or archetypically than concretely, and the vast majority of astrological prediction today falls into this category. Forecasting has more room for varied possible outcomes and allows for human error within interpretation. Horoscopes work this way, as do year-ahead and planetary ingress forecasts, and it’s often exactly what happens inside of one-to-one consultations between astrologers and their clients.
As Harper repeats often in her article: Astrology can be WRONG! There are bugs. My question is “Can astrology do better than non-astrological therapy, or, when tested blind, better than chance?”
As Sam Reynolds, an astrologer who started out as a skeptic and has served on the board for the international astrology organization ISAR, points out, even character analysis via the natal chart is essentially a form of thematic forecasting: “By virtue of looking at your character, [astrology] can bespeak what is likely to manifest, what we’re likely dealing with,” an extension of Heraclitus’s dictum that “character is destiny.” Character influences how we navigate the circumstances life throws at us. “Fate has two arms: one of them is yours,” he says. “Astrology is about learning how to work the arm that you can work.”
Working the workable arm of fate is what astrologer, teacher, and CUSP app cofounder Kirah Tabourn does for herself and for her clients. A planning-focused astrologer, Tabourn considers prediction to provide “more grounding in the present by having some idea of the patterning of the future,” including the precious gift of organizing one’s life. “[Astrological timing] helps people feel like there’s some structure, an order to things,” she says. “It helps people make decisions.”
. . .However, knowing that people make choices based on astrology comes with an imperative to be as ethical as possible when translating celestial movements for clients. “Our clients and content consumers are often in a space of putting a lot of weight into what [astrologers] say,” adds Tabourn. “Being really mindful of that power dynamic is super important.”
The downside to the immense meaning-making potential of astrology? It renders the practice vulnerable to misuse by uncareful types with dubious commitment to honorable behavior. An astrologer more concerned with being right or being (in)famous than they are with being helpful runs the very real risk of chasing sensationalism at the expense of integrity. This results in people who use astrology as an excuse to be an ambulance chaser or to create viral, fear-mongering social media content. Astrologers without deliberate training in counseling skills or trauma-informed practice, even those with the very best intentions, run the risk of inadvertently distressing their clients rather than supporting them. Some professional astrological organizations attempt to address these issues through codes of ethics, but because there’s no governing body dictating who can and cannot call themselves an astrologer, such codes are limited in their capacity to reign in practitioners behaving irresponsibly. Additionally, those codes, by their very nature, cannot fully address ethical differences across cultures or generational divides.
Note the emphasis on counseling and empathy. If her astrology “works” (and that has yet to be ascertained), it will surely be due to the “friend/counselor effect”. Talking to anyone who empathizes with you, whether or not they are “paid friends”, is better than doing nothing.
I’ll draw this piece to a merciful close, though Harper says a lot more that one could parse. But why bother; there’s no material way the alignment of stars and planets when you are born could affect your personality or future. Until we think there’s a naturalistic way this could happen, I’ll just end with Hitchens’s Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
For astrology, as with many species of woo, there is no evidence for it at all, much less “extraordinary” evidence. In this case, Wired is not only “unscientific”, but antiscientific. Let us dismiss it with prejudice!
There’s a time when “blarney” becomes crazy and harmful, and we have two cases that appeared at the same time. The first represents the New York Times‘s recent presentation of woo in extenso, with almost no critical remarks. The editors are soft on astrology, they’re soft on dowsing, they’re soft on religion, and now they’re soft on a mixture of religion and spiritual healing. Click the screenshot to read:
As the article reports, there are a number of faith healers in Ireland who have what they call “the cure”. It’s nothing new; it’s the old “laying on of hands” by believers, often accompanied by prayer, holy water, etc., to effect cures. The guy in the photo above, Joe Gallagher in Pullough, is the seventh son of a seventh son (not that rare in Catholic Ireland, but increasingly rarer), and this is supposed to give him special healing abilities. Here’s how the author, Megan Specia, describes “The Cure”:
Mr. Gallagher is just one of hundreds of men and women across Ireland who are healers, or have “the cure,” an approach to health care that interweaves home remedies with mysticism, superstition, religion and a sprinkle of magic.
It’s part of a belief in folk medicine, curing charms and faith healers that is still a way of life for many in Ireland, if a fading one.
Some who are believed to have the cure are seventh sons, like Mr. Gallagher, a birth order long thought to bestow special powers.
Others are keepers of family customs that range from rituals, prayers and charms to herbal tinctures, offered up as treatments for everything from burns and sprains to rashes and coughs.
Since his childhood, people have sought out Mr. Gallagher. “I think you must have the belief,” he said, acknowledging that the process doesn’t always work. “I wouldn’t say that I can do miracles.”
People come from miles around to see healers like Gallagher, who are reputed to cure things like:
ringworm (in dogs, too!)
Bart Gibbons, 57, who owns a grocery store in the village of Drumshanbo in County Leitrim, has a cure for warts that was passed down from his father and his father’s father before him.
It involves taking a bundle of rushes and saying a combination of prayers as they are held over the affected area. Then, he buries the reed-like plants. The belief is that when they decay, the warts are gone.
They don’t get paid, so at least that’s good, but have they done controlled trials with these shamans? I don’t think so. At least they’re cheaper than doctors, but isn’t there a form of national healthcare in Ireland? And, as you know, warts sometimes go away by themselves.
The only comments that are negative in this longish piece are these:
Attributing positive outcomes of the cure to something like a placebo effect makes sense to Ronald Moore, an associate professor of public health at University College Dublin who has spent years researching folk cures and who emphasized there is little scientific evidence for the efficacy of these practices.
Well, then, why not just give the people sugar pills? And the statement above is quickly followed by this:
But that doesn’t mean the medical community completely dismisses potential benefits, with some doctors known to send their patients for the cure, often for skin issues or other minor troubles.
“Modern practices on the one hand pooh pooh this, as scandalous and outrageous and quackery,” Dr. Moore said. “But in fact, and in reality, they utilize it.”
Those doctors are shameful. At least they don’t send patients to the Irish shamans for maladies like cancer and heart disease. (Shamans may, however, try to cure people of more serious stuff.)
Although the practice is “deeply religious”, it works on dogs, too! Can dogs lose their ailments by “The Cure”? I thought Edward Feser maintained that dogs don’t have souls. But here’s the last picture of healing in the piece; I’ve included the paper’s caption. The picture makes me laugh out loud: a real LOL:
Once again the New York Times is touting quackery by publicizing it and only bringing in one lone dissenter, who is immediately countered by a physician enthusiast. What is going on with this newspaper?
This article with its hilarious title is a serious piece in another Times—the Irish Times. Being a Catholic coutry and all, I suppose papers there have more article like this one. If you read the piece, you’ll see that “lay theologian” (indeed!) Brendan Butler is deeply besotted with God and baby Jesus, the “eternal Cosmic Christ.” And Jesus is said to be the “culmination of 13.8 billion years of evolution.” This implies that evolution in humans has stopped, but yet we’re still evolving and so is every other species. Read and weep to find out why Jesus is the End of Evolution:
Okay, here’s the whole scientific explanation of why Jesus is the culmination of evolution (it’s part of a longer piece that sounds like a sermon):
How to reconcile a human and a divine nature in one person became the subject of controversy until it was resolved in 431 at the council of Ephesus by declaring Mary as ‘Theotokos’ – the mother of God.
But this led to another question: why did the eternal creator God become a mortal and fragile human creature? Various explanations were put forward, with the most common being that it was necessary for God the Son to become human and die on a cross for the sins of the human race.
However, another explanation associated with the Franciscan theologian John Dun Scotus, fits in with our post-Darwin, post-Einstein and post-Hubble world. In this view the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was the culmination of 13.8 billion years of the evolutionary process.
He was born with the substance of the stars and molecules of prehistoric life present and active in his body. In this Christology the baby is not just a child of the universe but the eternal Cosmic Christ who released that primal energy which burst forth and created the universe.
This Christ remained an integral part of the evolutionary process, sustaining it and driving it forward towards greater and greater complexity until the apex of that movement emerged as homo sapiens.
It was always God’s plan that the creator Christ, already present in the universe as an invisible presence, would become fully human and be born as a human being.
I think Mr. Butler should take a course in evolution, where he’d learn that there is no evidence that evolution is teleological, and that it was going on for 3.5 billion years before Baby Jesus was born. Who sustained evolution until then? But I’m pleased to learn that Jesus, like the rest of us, was made of billion-year-old carbon. Still, he’s got to get himself back to the garden (of Eden).
It’s just tripe, of course, but why would the Irish times give a millimeter of space to stuff like this?
Below: the author with the paper’s caption; Butler is apparently Jesus’s ghostwriter:
Here’s another kerfuffle that two academics from New Zealand called to my attention. I am letting one of them comment on a recent exchange about a paper involving Maori burning of land, which apparently produced carbon deposits in Antarctica.
The paper below was published in Nature last month, and suggests an explanation for high rates of carbon deposition found in Antarctic ice cores starting about 700 years ago: levels three times higher than in previous centuries. As the abstract below shows, the most likely explanation was soot being blown towards Antarctica from either Tasmania, New Zealand, or Patagonia. But the record of fire use (“paleofire” studies), the directionality of carbon distribution, plus the timing (Maori settled New Zealand around 1300), suggests suggests that New Zealand was the source, probably from Maori burning of forests or fields that caused ancillary wildfires. Here’s a paragraph from the paper (“BB” is “biomass burning”).
Palaeofire records from Patagonia and Tasmania, as well as modelling, indicate that BB prior to European colonization was driven primarily by large-scale climate variations, and that BB in both regions was low for much of the past 700 years when the climate in Patagonia and Tasmania was relatively we (Fig. 1). Indigenous hunter-gatherer populations had been living in Tasmania and Patagonia for millennia before European arrival and probably used small-scale fires for land management However, there is little historical or proxy evidence of large changes in anthropogenic BB before European settlement in the 19th century.
New Zealand was among the last habitable places on Earth to be colonized by humans and charcoal-based fire records indicate a very different BB history than Tasmania and Patagonia. Wildfire was absent or insignificant before about 1300 but widespread during the past 700 years (Fig. 1), with pronounced increases in fire occurrence attributed to arrival and colonization of New Zealand by the Māori and their use of fire for land clearing and management.
For several reasons, this paper angered those who accept Maori “other ways of knowing”, both for its assumed conclusions (“Maori caused pollution”) but also because no Maori were involved in the investigation; the implication being that their different points of view might have changed the paper’s conclusions. I’m no expert on this, but the degree of anger this paper inspired was conveyed to me by a retired academic from New Zealand, who sent me these links. His/her commentary is indented:
I thought you might be interested in the piece at the link you’ll find below. It appeared a couple of months ago on the website, Scoop, whose purpose is largely the dissemination of press releases. However, they also publish commentaries by prominent journalists and, from time to time, ask experts to comment on significant events and on scientific findings which might be of wider interest than just the particular field in which the research was conducted. The piece below falls into the latter category.
Click on screenshot to read.
More from my correspondent:
It was occasioned by the publication in Nature of an article that suggested elevated levels of black carbon in Antarctic ice cores might be attributable to wildfires set during the early period of Maori settlement in New Zealand/Aotearoa. [See the paper and its link above.] In this case, three local “experts” were asked to respond to the findings and it’s those responses that I thought you might find of interest.
The first response teeters on the brink of invoking Maori ways of knowing but doesn’t quite tumble into the abyss. But it does suggest that the researchers should have asked Maori before publishing their article or, better still, involved Maori in the research itself.
Here’s part of the first response, whose excerpts are in italics:
Dr Priscilla Wehi, Director, Te Pūnaha Matatini Centre of Research Excellence in Complex Systems, comments:
“It is scientifically spectacular to see an analysis of Antarctic ice cores show fire patterns in Aotearoa over the last millennia so clearly. The topic is fascinating, but does it miss what we already know in our research community? The work led me to reflect on diversity and inclusion in science. A swathe of research tells us that diverse teams create excellent science, and there is gender variation in the author list. Other research has visualised citation and collaboration patterns in science and concluded that research from Australasia and the’ global south’ is often missing from the work of our European and North American colleagues. Although some well-known New Zealand research is cited here, it remains that other excellent research does not seem to have global purchase.
“The authors, based across northern America, Europe and Australia, also apparently lack New Zealand collaboration despite the central topic of Māori burning and fire use. ‘Helicopter science’, where research is led and conducted by those who live and work far from the subject of their work, is currently under scrutiny in the research community. An important critique is that this approach is likely to miss important insights. The ethics of such ‘helicopter science’ have been debated widely over the last year or so, as concerns over the exclusion of different groups from research, including Indigenous peoples, have escalated. Indeed, this issue has been noted by the very journal in which this study is published.
“Issues that have already been researched locally – from dust transport to Antarctica through to population estimates of Māori settlement – are often identified by local collaborators who, one hopes, have additionally been building the next generation of researchers in the nation where the focus of the research is situated. All of this leads me to return to this paper, which I found fascinating, and ask – how much better could this have been, were it more inclusive in its approach?”
My answer is, “We don’t know, but I doubt it would have been better unless they found a Maori scientist who had knowledge equal or superior to that of the scientists who actually participated.
My correspondent in NZ continues:
The second seems a much more reasoned assessment of the sort one might expect from a practising scientist.
Here’s an excerpt from review #2, which is indeed from a practicing scientist She points out the possibility that in the 16th and 17th century there could have been soot contributions from Australia and Patagonia, but leaves untouched the Nature-paper evidence that the carbon emissions 700 years ago came from Maori land-burning:
Dr Holly Winton, Rutherford Postdoctoral Fellow, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:
. . . “Surprisingly, a new study by McConnell et al. (2021) in Nature suggests that New Zealand has been the dominant source of black carbon to a large sector of Antarctica since the 13th century. An array of black carbon records from ice cores clustered in western East Antarctica and the Antarctica Peninsula were examined over the last 2000 years. Black carbon concentrations in the Antarctic Peninsula record dramatically increased in the 13th century well above previous levels with the highest concentrations in the 16th and 17th centuries.
“The authors associate this with the arrival, and land management practices, of Māori in New Zealand. The Antarctic-New Zealand connection was made by comparing the ice core record to a charcoal record from a lake sediment core in New Zealand which is indicative of local biomass burning. While the magnitude of black carbon change is evident in both records from the 13th century until today, the trend is not. Ice core black carbon peaks in the 16th and 17th century. At the same time, the New Zealand charcoal record declines. This disparity leaves me wondering about additional black carbon sources from Australia and Patagonia during this time, changes in the hydrological cycle or changes in the transport processes that drive the variability in the ice core black carbon record. Australian and Patagonian black carbon was ruled out as charcoal records from these source regions increased well before the 13th century.
My correspondent continues:
However, it is the third response that I thought would most interest you, though “horrify” might be a more apt way of expressing it. For far from teetering on the brink of the abyss this so-called expert (and it’s worth noting that her background is in adult education and not in any recognised scientific discipline) plunges right in, exposing the reader to Matauranga Maori “Science” in all its “glorious” mythology. I think you’ll agree that it strongly reinforces the points you and others have been making over the past few days.
Finally, as worrying as the third response might be for what it shows “other ways of knowing” actually involve, it also highlights a growing problem for scientific research in New Zealand, one which might not be immediately apparent to anyone unfamiliar with our state bureaucracy. In the third paragraph, you’ll see the following:
Obviously these authors have not caught up with the positive changes in research and science in this country where Matauranga Maori within the MBIE Vision Matauranga policy demands Maori involvement, Maori participation and Maori leadership. This involvement starts from the basic premise that we as Maori will tell their own stories and control their own knowledge.
Now, MBIE is New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment so, in her naivety (or more probably ignorance) the third respondent clearly thinks that science is whatever a New Zealand government department defines it to be. Moreover, it would appear that she also thinks that scientists, wherever they might be in the world, are remiss for not recognizing this and amending their practice accordingly.
Of course one could simply smile at the naivety/ignorance of that particular individual (though my inclination would be for a rather less benign response) but to do only that would be to ignore a rather disturbing fact, for one of MBIE’s prime functions is to promote and fund scientific research in New Zealand. So, if the official MBIE view is that Matauranga Maori is of equal status to what you and I and most rational people would consider Science to be, what does that portend for the future of scientific research in New Zealand?
And here is the whole third response:
Associate Professor Sandy Morrison, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Waikato; co-lead for Vision Mātauranga, Antarctic Science Platform; lead for Vision Mātauranga, Deep South National Science Challenge, comments:
“The association of Māori with fire is longstanding. Mahuika goddess of fire gifted her fingernails of flames to enable us to have fire for warmth; fire for sustenance; fire to provide nutrients for the earth. We attribute and honour Mahuika. She is part of our whakapapa. Her mokopuna Māui attempted to reduce her power by tricking her into giving up all of her fingernails but she was able to outwit him, planting her flame into the trees so that fire would be freely available. Fire also defined our boundaries of authority as expressed in this whakataukī ‘ka wera hoki i te ahi, e mana ana anō’ meaning ‘while the fire burns, the mana is effective.’ We claimed occupation of our territories by the principle of ahi kaa, that is, we kept our home fires burning.
“Through our Ātua, gods and goddesses, we developed deeply embedded practises and rituals and our relationship with fire was interdependent, reciprocal, beneficial and also very practical. Upon arrival to these lands, we relied on the aruhe or fernroot as part of our staple diet. We relied on the moa and other birdlife for food. Burning became part of our practises; regular burning allowed plants to regenerate and some of the minerals in the ash provided rich nutrients for the land. Regular burning facilitated hunting and access to hunting grounds. Such practises would be typical for any newcomers creating homes on unfamiliar lands to allow time to become acquainted with seasonal cycles, climatic conditions, finding the best places to lay out their plantations and hence their new settlements or kainga. No doubt some burning would not have been controlled as well as they may have planned, but this can be understood. It is not unlike any other peoples adjusting to new lands and new conditions.
“The internationally authored paper by scientists who examined Antarctic ice core records to find that carbon emissions increased significantly from wildfires after Māori first arrived in Aotearoa is devoid of context, devoid of cultural understandings and is yet another example of what we have grown to expect from western science. It relies on measurements, modelling and silo thinking and the paper whether intentional or not, posits Māori as the ‘naughty’ offenders. Moreover, it reeks of scientific arrogance with its implicit assumption that somehow Māori have a lot to account for in terms of contributing to carbon emissions and destroying the pristine environment of the Southern Oceans and Antarctica. Goodness knows why Māori are primarily emphasised, and for what purpose this article was written. Obviously these authors have not caught up with the positive changes in research and science in this country where Mātauranga Māori within the MBIE Vision Mātauranga policy demands Māori involvement, Māori participation and Māori leadership. This involvement starts from the basic premise that we as Māori will tell our own stories and control our own knowledge. Mātauranga Māori is a living knowledge system rooted in our environmental encounters which was outward looking and relationship based. We are connected in kinship even to fire through Mahuika as the spiritual goddess of fire. Similarly we have relationships with the Southern Oceans and the Antarctica through our stories of voyaging and navigation and food gathering. Our relationships with marine life, bird life and the oceans are well recorded through our intergenerational continuum and held in our tribal lore. These are places to which we also have longstanding relationships where we will not intentionally embark on destructive practises. The principle of kaitikaitanga or guardianship is a mantel of responsibility for us and one we willingly share to improve the wellbeing of our oceans and planet. Please do not distort your scientific evidence nor hide behind the intricacies of scientific modelling to position Māori as the problem. I am sure that you can do better than that.”
Dr. Morrison’s points appear to be these.
a.) She evinces a tacit acceptance of New Zealand “ways of knowing”, though it’s not clear what she believes.
b.) Yes, Maori burned land, but they had to because it was their deeply embedded in their mythology-derived practices. And yes, some fires got out of control. But that was not the point of the Nature paper, which is not pointing a finger of blame at the Maori. It’s just an investigation of where carbon spikes in Antarctic ice cores came from.
c.) The third paragraph appears devoid of understanding of the Nature paper itself. Note that the arrogance said to exist in the paper (i.e., “the Maori polluted Antarctica!”) is nowhere to be found in that paper. The purpose of the paper is obvious, though Morrison doesn’t see it: to account for an anomalous carbon spike. Does she not know that scientists get curious? The whole point of the last paragraph is to impugn modern science compared to Maori “ways of knowing.” Note too the denigration of the paper’s modelling, which was intended to see if New Zealand, given distance and wind, could account for the carbon spikes. The answer was “yes.”
My correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons (several signers of “The Listener” letter have been threatened), notes that there’s a very real possibility that Mātauranga Māori will at least nudge “real” science aside, and thus impede the growth of knowledge.
I shouldn’t have to point out that scientists who defend their discipline and the knowledge it produces should under no circumstances be put in danger of their jobs, careers, or reputations simply for defending the toolkit of science as the best way to understand nature.
New Zealand is a wonderful place, and I love it, but many of its residents have got to stop pretending that there are multiple ways of knowing that can be taken as science! There is no special “Maori science”; there’s just “science.”
As I wrote yesterday, a big woke fracas is brewing in New Zealand, with the universities and government on the side of the woke, and the science professors (by and large) on the side of the angels. Since my piece appeared, I’ve gotten half a dozen emails from academics in New Zealand, objecting to the University of Auckland’s new policy to teach Maori “ways of knowing”, which include creationism, alongside modern “real” science—and in science class! This all started last summer, and is still going on.
This notion of “different but equal ways of knowing” is palpably ridiculous, and while I don’t want to denigrate the Maori people or the efforts that both Maori and New Zealanders are making to achieve harmony, I cannot abide the insistence that Maori “wisdom,” which is a combination of mythology, religion, and questionable assertions about the Universe, to be taught as scientific truth. As the saying goes, “You are entitled to your opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Clearly, this drive to incorporate indigenous beliefs into the science curriculum is part of an effort of the government and universities to placate and make reparations to the Maori, who were badly treated by European colonists. I applaud the drive for comity, but I deplore those who want to replace modern science with a melange of myths and faith. Yes, “indigenous knowledge” can be valuable, but its claims must always be tested using modern science.
The misguided effort to teach Maori indigenous knowledge as coequal with science will not only confuse the Maori (and everyone else!), but disadvantage those who embrace indigenous ways of knowing. Suppose, for example, that a Maori teenager wants to be a physicist. Well, there are no positions for “physicists doing Maori string theory”; there are only positions for physicists. There is no Maori physics or American physics or Indian physics, there is just “modern physics”.
I also wrote yesterday that seven academics from the University of Auckland wrote a short piece in The Listener (read it here), objecting to the insertion of Maori Matauranga (ways of knowing) into science curricula. Instead of their fellow academics defending them, the “Satanic Seven,” as I call them, have been demonized. Their jobs have been threatened, the Vice Chancellor of Auckland University has said the seven don’t adhere to the University’s “values,” and two of them are being threatened with expulsion from New Zealand’s Royal Society.
Here’s the message that Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater sent to the University of Auckland community, noting the equivalence of Maori and scientific “ways of knowing” and—playing the ultimate trump card—claiming that denying that Maori “ways of knowing” constitute science has “caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.” I hate to be brutal here, but that hurt and dismay counts for nothing in this debate. The issue is about what is true, what is not true, and how to find the truth. (Click to enlarge).
This antiscience drive, in the service of good intentions but deeply misguided, must be stopped. If you want to see what Kiwi scientists are up against, read this piece (click on the screenshot):
Here’s just a bit:
Secondary science teachers may believe that teaching science through the scientific method aligns with tertiary science education, making a strong rationale for them to reject the proposed changes. But this belief is flawed on two grounds: first, since contemporary philosophy of science accepts that there is no one ‘scientific method’ (Okasha, 2016); and second, because tertiary science educators are also under pressure to introduce Māori knowledge into their curricula, and may well expect their secondary school colleagues to share this responsibility. The next section considers how science teachers could respond to the challenge represented by these changes in relation to each of the three Māori concepts in the titles shown above.
. . . . We argue that the introduction of carefully selected Māori concepts in NCEA Science is a positive move. It challenges deeply-held teacher assumptions about science and Māori knowledge, and encourages science teachers to consider the philosophy of science in more depth. On its own, such a change cannot overcome the entire history of lack of Māori participation and achievement in science education, but it is an innovative and interesting way to bring Māori concepts into school science. Arguably it does so in a more meaningful way than ‘translating’ science into Māori, which means the invention of a pressure-cooked lexicon (Stewart, 2011).
There’s a lot more, and I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that a lot of involves forcing Maori concepts into the Procrustean bed of modern science through selective interpretation. (One also sees this in the ways some Muslims claim that the Qur’an anticipates all of modern science.) It is a mess. Maori anthropology and sociology should of course be taught to all Kiwis, for the colonial and Maori cultures are trying to effect rapprochement, and Maori culture is very deeply embedded in “colonial” culture. But there should be no compromise when it comes to teaching science.
One way to stop this insidious debasement of science is for the international community to call out New Zealand for what it’s doing. That is the route Richard Dawkins has taken, and more power to him. First he issued this tweet after he read my piece from yesterday:
Creationism is still bollocks even if it is “Indigenous Ways of Knowing” bollocks. Doubtless of great anthropological and aesthetic interest but not science and not true.
And yes, write to Roger Ridley at the NZ Royal Society (he’s the chief executive) objecting to its contemplation of ejecting two scientists who signed this reasonable letter. Richard gives the email above, and I put up the letter I wrote to Ridley yesterday (bottom of post). I urge you to drop just a short email in defense of science, for I think it will have an effect.
Richard has also written to Ridley directly, and has given me permission to reproduce his email. Here it is:
Dear Dr Ridley:
I have read Professor Jerry Coyne’s long, detailed and fair-minded critique of the ludicrous move to incorporate Maori “ways of knowing” into science curricula in New Zealand, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what your Society exists to do.
The world is full of thousands of creation myths and other colourful legends, any of which might be taught alongside Maori myths. Why choose Maori myths? For no better reason than that Maoris arrived in New Zealand a few centuries before Europeans. That would be a good reason to teach Maori mythology in anthropology classes. Arguably there’s even better reason for Australian schools to teach the myths of their indigenous peoples, who arrived tens of thousands of years before Europeans. Or for British schools to teach Celtic myths. Or Anglo-Saxon myths. But no indigenous myths from anywhere in the world, no matter how poetic or hauntingly beautiful, belong in science classes. Science classes are emphatically not the place to teach scientific falsehoods alongside true science. Creationism is still bollocks even it is indigenous bollocks.
The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence-based not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to supplement and validate fallible senses etc. True science works: lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed Moas.
If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country who will? What else is the Society for? What else is the rationale for its existence?
Yours very sincerely Richard Dawkins FRS Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford
One of the most invidious and injurious side effects of wokeism is to validate “other ways of knowing” as being on par with modern scientific knowledge. Granted, one can respect the mythology and scientific “claims” of indigenous cultures, some of which turned out to be scientifically valid (quinine is one), but their efficacy can be established only by conventional scientific testing.
New Zealand, however, is in the midst of a campaign to teach Maori “ways of knowing” alongside science in science classes as science, on par with modern science, which of course had roots in many places. The reason for this is to give Maori credibility not just as indigenous people with moral and legal rights, but to validate their pseudoscientific views. Scholars who object to this ridiculous parity are in the process of being cancelled.
Here’s an email I got the other day from a biology colleague in New Zealand:
Now in NZ the Government is trying to insert something called ‘Matauranga’ into science courses. Matauranga means the knowledge system of the Maori. It includes reference to various gods e.g., Tane the god of the forest is said to be the creator of humans, and of all plants and creatures of the forest. Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears. Maori try to claim that they have always been scientists. Their political demand is that Matauranga must be acknowledged as the equal of western (pakeha) science; that without this, Maori children will continue to fail in science at school.
One rationalisation for this is that they are the indigenous people of New Zealand and that their knowledge deserves respect (mana). it is a very messy situation and a group of science academics of various stripes are engaged in fighting a rearguard action against this. They wrote a letter to the Listener, a weekly publication of reasonable respectability, in which they made the claim that matauranga was not science and had no place in science courses. The kickback against this was astonishing, with some 2000 academics around NZ signing a petition condemning them.
Further,the Royal Society of New Zealand is taking two of the academics involved to task, with the likely outcome their dismissal from the Society. They have been accused of racism!
Wokism is well under way here.
In response to my question, the colleague told me that the two forms of “knowledge” will be taught to 16-18 years old, and not just to Maori. There will also be exam questions, but it’s not clear if those will require students to parrot the tenets of Mātauranga.
Here is a screenshot of the letter that got its signatories in big trouble (click on it to see the original letter). Note that it’s civil and conciliatory, but defends modern science. The signers are all from the University of Auckland.
We, the signatories to this response, categorically disagree with their views. Indigenous knowledges – in this case, Mātauranga – are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including Mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with “Western” understandings of the scientific method.
However, Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to “Western” science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems.
I’m sorry, but in general the factual assertions of this Maori “way of knowing” are palpably inferior to “other knowledge systems.” They stand as myths, and ones with no factual basis; and to teach them on par with science, as if rain might really come from the tears of a god, is ludicrous. Yes, there are some practical “truths” to Maori ways of knowing, like how to build an eeltrap, and how to avoid building houses on flood plains, but if you accept this practical knowledge of science, then Maori Mātauranga is no different from any practical methods in any culture. And this doesn’t make it coequal with “modern science”, for modern science is capable of not only building eeltraps, but sending men to the Moon and bringing them back.
Those who signed the letter objecting to the Listener letter above are either completely ignorant of science (which I don’t believe), or are flaunting their virtue. It’s true that Maori have often been mistreated by colonials, and NZ has tried to rectify this inequality over the years, as it should. But one way not to rectify it is to pretend that Maori “knowledge” is really “true” in the scientific sense. To teach that in the schools, as is being proposed, is a recipe for continuing scientific ignorance. It is the same as a letter saying that fundamentalists Christian “ways of knowing”, like creationism, should be taught alongside evolutionary biology in science class. (Such “parity” is not upheld by freedom of speech, for American courts, at least, have long declared that teachers do not have license to teach anything they want in a class—particularly religion.) Indeed, as we see above, Maori “science” is explicitly creationist!
Toby Young discusses the issue in this article in The Spectator (click on screenshot, my bolding):
. . . the moment this letter was published all hell broke loose. The views of the authors, who were all professors at Auckland, were denounced by the Royal Society, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and the Tertiary Education Union, as well as by their own vice-chancellor, Dawn Freshwater. In a hand-wringing, cry-bullying email to all staff at the university, she said the letter had ‘caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni’ and said it pointed to ‘major problems with some of our colleagues’.
Two of Professor Cooper’s academic colleagues, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Shaun Hendy, issued an ‘open letter’ condemning the heretics for causing ‘untold harm and hurt’. They invited anyone who agreed with them to add their names to the ‘open letter’, and more than 2,000 academics duly obliged. Before long, five members of the Royal Society had complained and a panel was set up to investigate.
The witch-finders disregarded several principles of natural justice in their prosecutorial zeal. For instance, two members of the three-person panel turned out to be signatories of the ‘open letter’ denouncing Professor Cooper so had to be replaced. In addition, all five complainants were anonymous and when the Society asked them to identify themselves, three fell by the wayside. But two remain and the investigation is proceeding apace, with a newly constituted panel.
It’s not too late to save the professor. Letters from members of our own Royal Society, or any distinguished academics in the sciences and humanities, pointing out the absurdity of punishing a scientist for engaging in debate about the validity of science will help. You can email Paul Atkins, the chief executive, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, the only thing necessary for the triumph of intellectual intolerance is for believers in free speech to do nothing. [JAC: Note that Atkins is the new chief executive].
I would urge readers who feel strongly about this to write to the email above, which I’ll repeat: email@example.com
Here’s the official letter from the University of Auckland’s Vice Chancellor Dawn Freshwater about The Listener letter (click on screenshot):
Some excerpts from her statement, which is in the “we favor free speech, but it causes pain ” genre:
A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether Mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.
While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.
The University has deep respect for has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni. as a distinctive and valuable knowledge system. We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.
This view is at the heart of our new strategy and vision, Taumata Teitei, and the Waipapa Toitū framework, and is part of our wider commitment to Te Tiriti and te ao principles.
I believe Aotearoa New Zealand has a unique opportunity to lead the world in this area. The University of Auckland, as this country’s largest research institution, should be and will be at the forefront of this exciting exploration.
This is the letter of a person trying to treat a narrow line between free speech and condemnation of what is said. Further, she notes that the seven academics “do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.” Well, is Vice-Chancellor Freshwater entitled to declare those views, or is that the purview of her boss, the Chancellor? Or has the University itself issued a formal statement of exactly what the views of the University of Auckland on mātauranga Māori are? We don’t know. If there’s some official statement that the University views modern science is on par with Maori ways of knowing, I’d like to see.it. If the University has no official view, and takes no stand at all why does Freshwater say that the seven academics “don’t represent it”?
As for Freshwater’s statement that The Listener letter “has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni”, we have no idea how much hurt and dismay it’s caused. I know from private correspondence that there are plenty of people at the University supported that letter and do not see Mātauranga Māori as a valid competitor to modern emprical science.
Further, emphasizing the “hurt and dismay” among University members is not helpful to the discussion at all, as from the outset it puts the discussion on an emotional footing, when the issues are not hurt and pain but the validity of Mātauranga Māori as an alternative to modern science to be taught in the science class. That is something that one can argue about validly, and I think that Mātauranga Māori is mostly mythology and not science. For one thing, it’s creationist, so its credibility is shot from the beginning.
Finally, Freshwater’s claim that “We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other” is confusing. They are of course directly at odds if you look at the empirical data, which include creationism and other palpably untrue claims. They are competing as the proposal is to teach both in science class, on the high school and perhaps on the University level.
She has a longer letter as well (click on screenshot), and I’ll give a few excerpts:
It’s long, so just one excerpt from a discursive piece in which Freshwater takes issue with the seven academics who signed the letter:
The freedom to express ideas is constrained neither by their perceived capacity to elicit discomfort, nor by presuppositions concerning their veracity. However, it needs to be clarified that allowing the expression of an idea does not imply endorsement by the University. This has been our position in the debate about mātauranga Māori and science.
Our seven academics were entirely free to express their views, however the University was also free to disagree with those views. That does not mean the University is censoring or trying to silence our academics, it is merely making clear that such views are not representative of the myriad views within the institution; and that the University may at times disagree with the views expressed by its academics. That is healthy in a university.
Well, if that’s “healthy”, then the University of Auckland is very ill. If there are “myriad views” about this issue in the University, why does Freshwater say that the signers “do not represent the views of the University of Auckland”? Does this mean that seven people don’t stand for the views of everyone? They never pretended they did, but it sure looks as if Freshwater knows that there are more “official” views that diverge from these. If the University of Auckland has no position at all on the issue, then they should say so and stop denigrating the seven signers. But remember, this does appear to be an official position:
We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.
That sure looks like an official position!
And the “not censoring” bit is unconvincing: the signers were identified—not by name but as signers of an easily accessible letter—and criticized in the assertion that they don’t adhere to University principles that were never specified. Further, as we see below, the Royal Society of New Zealand is considering booting out two of its signers who are members. (I doubt that the University instigated that, but its opposition to the letter may have contributed to the Royal Society’s decision to have an investigation).
From Wikipedia, which has an article on the controversy that started last summer:
The TEU, the union which represents academics such as the professors, released a statement saying they “neglected to engage with or mention the many highly accomplished scholars and scientists in Aotearoa who have sought to reconcile notions of science, mātauranga Māori, and Māori in science.” The Royal Society Te Apārangi released a statement saying “The Society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in [the letter].” The New Zealand Association of Scientists released a statement saying “we were dismayed to see a number of prominent academics publicly questioning the value of mātauranga to science.” The letter writers were supported by opposition MP Paul Goldsmith.
Daniel Hikuroa, also an academic at Auckland, pointed out that Mātauranga Māori like Māramataka (the Māori lunar calendar) “was clearly science.” Tara McAllister said “we did not navigate to Aotearoa on myths and legends. We did not live successfully in balance with the environment without science. Māori were the first scientists in Aotearoa.” Tina Ngata wrote that “this letter, in all of its unsolicited glory, is a true testament to how racism is harboured and fostered within New Zealand academia.” An open counter-letter received more than 2000 signatures.
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.
This makes the RSNZ look like a joke, for they are rejecting the idea that the entire collection of mythology, quasi-religion, a few practical methods, as well as outright lies (like creationism) is not a “valid truth.” And the RSNZ rejects the “narrow and outmoded definition of science, which happens to be, well, just science. And the invocation of “harm” that comes from rejecting lies, myths, and false beliefs is ludicrous.
Finally, as I have to stop somewhere, the New Zealand Psychological Society, equally outraged, also condemned the view of the “Satanic Seven”. Click on the screenshot to read the whole pdf:
A few quotes from the letter, which purports to be from the entire New Zealand Psychological Society (did all members assent?), but was written by the President, Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki, who must be Maori.:
I believe it is important that we express our disappointment in the recent letter to the Listener by professors of psychology, biological sciences and critical studies. We also wish to express our support and aroha for those who were, and continue to be, negatively affected by the letter’s content. We note that the letter was not subject to established protocols of rigour and peer review and as such, the contents reflect opinion, not science. In reviewing the letter, it is readily apparent that racist tropes were used, alongside comments typical of moral panic, to justify the exclusion of Māori knowledge as a legitimate science.
Diversionary claims! Of course letters to a non-science journal aren’t peer reviewed and “aren’t science.” Who said otherwise? And the letter was not racist. But wait! There’s more!
. . . The letter writers express their concern that science is being misunderstood at all levels of education and science funding. They further add that science itself does not colonise – while acknowledging that ‘it has been used to aid colonisation, as have literature and art’. This is similar to saying ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people’. Esteemed scholar, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith (and others) established that science has indeed been used, under the pretence of its own legitimacy, to colonise and commit genocide towards Māori and other Indigenous peoples. Science, in the hands of colonisers, is the literal gun. The writers fail to note the overwhelming evidence that the users of the science they favour, are also the ones who set the rules about what counts as science, where it can be taught, learned, published or funded. This issue is extremely relevant to the need to decolonise the power base held in our learning institutions.
. . . The White Saviour trope: This is where Māori are told which elements of our Indigenous knowledge is important and to whom. The writers, speaking for Māori, offer the opinion: ‘Indigenous knowledge is critical to the perpetuation and preservation of culture and local practices and plays key roles in management and policy. The writers (as is their inherent privilege) relegate Māori knowledge to archival value, ceremony, management and policy (although it is not clear what is meant here). Speaking for Māori ignores obligations to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, and ignores the overwhelming evidence that racism is a primary reason that Mātauranga Māori science is undervalued.
No, that last sentence is false. Mātauranga Māori “science” is undervalued, at least by scientists, because it’s mostly wrong. For one thing, it posits an instantaneous creation. Do its advocates say, “Well, Mātauranga is often right but is also often wrong.”
Māori knowledge is indeed critical to the preservation of our culture and practices because we are resisting epistemic and cultural genocide, while also striving to flourish and develop. Speaking for Māori again, they add that ‘in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself’. Māori aren’t asking them to define science. We have done that ourselves despite having obstacles thrown up at all stages.
. . . Psychology has a long history of marginalising Māori knowledge, and it is concerning that two of the writers are professors of psychology. We note that the letter reinforces known racist assumptions about the validity of Mātauranga Māori science that occurs across psychology and academia. We are particularly concerned about the wellbeing of Māori staff and students in psychology who must now navigate the fall-out of this letter.
It is unbelievable that stuff like this can come out of the mouths of reputable academics. “Science, in the hands of colonisers, is the literal gun.” Seriously? Yes, of course science has been used for bad purposes by bad people, as has architecture (gas chambers), and religion. But this says nothing about whether the epistemic value of modern science is on par with the epistemic value of Mātauranga Māori. If the University of Auckland plans to teach the latter on par with real science in science classes, it will be shameful; and I feel sorry for its dissenting scientists, who may be many. But now have to keep their mouths shut lest them be called out like the Satanic Seven.
The Kiwis have been very careful in the past few decades to ensure good relations with the Maori, who themselves colonized an empty New Zealand about 700 years ago. But keeping good relations does not demand that you accept a “way of knowing” that is mythological, spiritual, and wrong.
As my friend said, “Wokism is well under way here.”
Okay, it’s time for me to write to Roger Ridley (above) so that two of the seven don’t get booted out of New Zealand’s Royal Society. If they are, that society will have branded itself as a huge joke. Here’s the letter I just sent. Note, though, that you should write instead to Paul Atkins, who was recently named the the new chief executive of the NZRS. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Dr. Ridley,
I understand from the news that New Zealand’s Royal Society is considering expelling two scientists for signing a letter objecting to teaching “indigenous” science alongside and coequal with modern science. As a biologist who has done research for a lifetime and also spent time with biologists in New Zealand, I find this possibility deeply distressing.
The letter your two members wrote along with five others was defending modern science as a way of understanding the truth, and asserting that Maori “ways of knowing”, while they might be culturally and anthropologically valuable, should not be taught as if the two disciplines are equally useful in conveying the truth about our Universe. They are not. Maori science is a collation of mythology, religion, and legends which may contain some scientific truth, but to determine what bits exactly are true, those claims must be adjudicated by modern science: our only “true” way of knowing.
I presume you know that the Maori way of knowing includes creationism: the kind of creationism that fundamentalist Christians espouse in the U.S. based on a literalistic reading of the Bible. Both American and Maori creationism are dead wrong—refuted by all the facts of biology, paleontology, embryology, biogeography, and so on. I have spent a lifetime opposing creationism as a valid view of life. That your society would expel members for defending views like evolution against non-empirically based views of creation and the like, is shameful.
I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughingstock.
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago
Sweet Ceiling Cat in a chicken basket! As Greg and I have written several times, the New York Times has in the last couple of years become very soft on spirituality, woo, and the occult, especially on astrology. Well, it’s gone extra far this time by publishing a very long profile in its “Style” section of Carissa Schumacher, a medium/spiritualist/channeler from Los Angeles. That’s big publicity!
Schumacher is a full-blown loon, and yet she’s accumulated a stable of wealthy and famous Hollywood-ites who pay her big bucks for “sessions.” Besides channeling Jesus (she’s got a contract to publish three books containing the words of the Son of God), she’ll channel anybody’s relatives—for a fee, of course.
The thing is, the whole article is basically a worshipful piece on Schumacher and her vocal emissions, and the only pushback consists of two quotes from the admirable Susan Gerbic, a columnist for Skeptical Inquirer, experienced debunker, and head of Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia.
Since there are a gazillion mediums in the world, all of them bogus, I fail to see why the paper is highlighting this one, and, in fact, their publicity will surely bring Schumacher a lot more business.
Click to read and weep.
The piece begins with a gathering at Schumacher’s estate, where a lot of big names show up to hear the medium channel Jesus (she says “Yeshua” because she think it sounds weird to say “I’m channeling Jesus!”). It’s surprising who’s been duped by this woman, but, as we know, the public has an endless appetite for confirmation that there’s life after death. The dead speaking through Schumacher gives them comfort and reassurance. From the paper:
Last Saturday night, a group gathered at the Flamingo Estate in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles to meet the spiritual adviser Carissa Schumacher.
At the front of an open-air room, a seat awaited Ms. Schumacher under a large floral arch. After guests, including the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Uma Thurman, filled the rows of chairs, others moved to the floor. Andie MacDowell reclined on a rug among a heap of pillows. Ms. Schumacher was supposed to appear at 8:30 p.m. A gospel choir sang while everyone sat around and glanced at Ms. Schumacher’s empty chair and at each other.
Since 2010, Ms. Schumacher has worked as a medium, meaning someone who receives messages from people who have died. She doesn’t have a website and is often booked months in advance. Her prices are another obstacle, with sessions priced at $1,111 per hour. (She likes the synchronicity of the number.)
In late 2019, just as the world was on the precipice of a plague of biblical proportions, Ms. Schumacher said she began channeling Yeshua, a.k.a. Jesus Christ. Transcribed recordings of some of those sessions appear in a new book, “The Freedom Transmissions,” out Nov. 30.
. . . The party was for the book, but it was also a chance for her clients, many of whom hadn’t experienced the Yeshua channeling, to see what it was all about. Maybe she would channel him at the party. No one was quite sure.
Well, nobody’s claimed that stars like McDowell, Thurman, and Aniston were the sharpest knives in the drawer, but there are others who pay the “synchronicity fee” as well, including Brad Pitt and Rooney Mara. After a long wait, Clarissa shows up:
Ms. Schumacher finally appeared a little after 9:30 p.m. A petite woman of 39, she walked tentatively toward the front of the room, removed her metallic gold heels, and sat cross-legged beneath the giant floral wreath, which now looked like a halo. The wall behind her was covered in photos of rainbows.
“We love you so much!” someone screamed. She put her hands together in prayer and nodded to a few fans around the room. “For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Carissa,” she said. “I knew my whole life that I would be a channel for Yeshua.”
A photo of the session (sadly, the Son of Man refused to be channeled that night). Schumacher, with her white robe, reminds me of another religious huckster in L.A.: Aimee Semple McPherson:
Now how did Sister Carissa come to be the megaphone for Jesus? The NYT explains:
Her naturopathic doctor suggested she meet Danielle Gibbons, who lives in southern Oregon and says she has been channeling the Virgin Mary since 1994. (She has a YouTube channel.) In 2011, Ms. Schumacher attended Ms. Gibbons’s workshop in Los Angeles, and subsequently booked private sessions with her roughly once a year. Ms. Gibbons told me that she didn’t know Ms. Schumacher was a Yeshua channel until much later, in 2019.
Ms. Schumacher said that she spent the next decade preparing her channel for Yeshua. She meditated daily, cut out sugar and caffeine, and limited her diet to five foods: broccoli, cauliflower, turkey, chicken and watermelon. “If someone’s channel is diluted,” she said, “there’s a kind of film or gunk that the energy gets stuck in and can’t push through.”
That’s actually pretty funny, but the NYT presents it without any sarcasm. Perhaps that was their aim, for somehow I don’t think the purpose of this big article was to show that mediums are frauds. It might well be to highlight her bogus book.
What does Jesus say? It turns out that he produces only bromides (surprise!) and doesn’t give specific details about his life. He also has an accent (my emphasis):
Ms. Aniston left that journey early, and the next day Ms. Schumacher said that Yeshua spoke through her for the first time. Those who’ve witnessed it since then say that Ms. Schumacher’s voice and body change. Yeshua’s voice is deeper, more measured, and has a slight British accent.
LOL! I can hear it now: “My dear chaps, you can arrive at God only through me.” And if she’s really channeling Jesus, why isn’t she speaking Hebrew?
There’s more and it’s pretty funny as well, with a toilet metaphor:
When I asked what it’s like to channel Yeshua, Ms. Schumacher said, “It feels like I’m being flushed down a toilet. I go whoosh! And he comes up. I breathe a lot. My body shakes.” On journeys, someone is tasked with holding down her ankles. Coming back into her body is hard, she said. “It’s a little bit like … womp, womp.”
. . . In the fall of 2020, Ms. Schumacher emailed recordings of Yeshua transmissions to her clients. Among them was Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, who was referred to Ms. Schumacher after leaving her longtime job running the literary department at WME. She thought Yeshua’s teachings could be a book and connected Ms. Schumacher with the publisher of Harper One, which will release “The Freedom Transmissions.”
Though there’s some Christian iconography in it — references to the crucifixion, for instance — the rest is a more neutral smorgasbord of divine power surrender, Buddhism, repairing the fragmented self after trauma, and accessing “the God self,” a reference to Carl Jung.
Ms. Rudolph Walsh said that Yeshua’s teachings changed her entire nervous system. “I don’t react to the weather,” she said. “I don’t report the weather. I am the weather. And the weather is always peace.”
I asked Ms. Rudolph Walsh if she believed that Yeshua was truly speaking through Ms. Schumacher. “To me, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It matters what is being said. But do I personally believe she’s channeling Yeshua? Yes, I do.”
Now perhaps Schumacher really believes that she’s channeling Jesus and the other dead people she speaks for. Perhaps she’s in a self-induced hallucinatory state, but you’d have to be pretty credulous to think that Jesus (if he really existed, and I’m not convinced) would use you as a mouthpiece.
The only two bits of doubt cast on Schumacher, as I said, came from Susan Gerbic:
Susan Gerbic, the founder of Guerrilla Skeptics, a group that conducts sting operations of people she calls “grief vampires,” told me that the invocation of religion was consistent with a psychic’s desire to feel special. “If you are in conversation with dead biblical figures, then that is really special and holds a lot of power,” she said, adding that it also served as a shield against skeptics. “Who’s going to attack someone who’s playing the religion card?”
And this is a gem, especially the part I’ve put in bold:
. . . Later I asked Ms. Gerbic, the psychic skeptic, if she believed there were any legitimate mediums in the world. “I could give you the long answer about how we don’t know all things yet and science does not know everything, but I think you know my answer: It’s all BS,” she wrote in an email. “And the way I know this isn’t because I’ve been doing this for so long, and know many people who have been doing this for so long. But because it is NOT possible to communicate with dead people. They are dead.”
Indeed. They are dead. If you want to test Schumacher as a medium, get someone like the late James Randi to do it. But of course I doubt she’d be tested.
Anyway, Jesus Christ didn’t make a vocal appearance that evening, so Schumacher channeled another person who sings in the Choir Invisible:
Ms. Schumacher decided ultimately that the vibe at the Flamingo Estate wasn’t conducive to channeling Yeshua. (“I am not a go-go-gadget channel,” she told me.) Instead she channeled Kenneth, a guest’s dead father who she said liked fishing and fixing cars. Kenneth’s son, John, wiped his eyes, as did many others in the room. “I’m sorry,” Ms. Schumacher said.
“Don’t be,” John said. “I loved it.”
And if you want to read what Jesus supposedly said, well, Harper Collins, through its imprint Harper One, is releasing the book below: notice that Jesus is listed as the main author! (Does he get most of the royalties?) I have little doubt it’ll sell like hotcakes. Everybody wants to know what Jesus has to say! And two sequels are in the offing.
But I remain curious: why did the New York Times profile this woman? It’s like profiling any kind of hokum: reiki therapy, coffee enemas, reading auras, dowsing, and so on. I can’t help but think that the NYT really thinks there may be something to this, and wanted to get in on the story on the ground floor. Or do the Woke have some kind of penchant for woo? Not that I’ve noticed, but they do practice a kind of religion.
If you have the dosh, you can contact Carissa here.
Several readers sent me this story from CNN.com about astrology (click on screenshot below). And like me, when they saw it they assumed it was part of the regular CNN news feed, and so were appalled. One reader wrote this:
Woke up this morning to see this story on CNN.com. One of the best examples of astrological nonsense I’ve seen in a while. In a major “news” website, no less. Candles are the cure. Really one long ad for the “cures.” Reads like something in the Onion.
It is in fact a merchandising piece, but that’s not at all obvious, and it is on CNN.com and looks like a feature piece. I therefore pronounce this piece bullpucky and fault CNN for pushing woo, even if the network is doing it as a disguised advertisement.
Click to read and weep.
If you squint, you’ll see this at the top of the piece:
Enlarged: CNN Underscored is your guide to the everyday products and services that help you live a smarter, simpler and more fulfilling life. The content is created by CNN Underscored. CNN News staff is not involved. When you make a purchase, we receive revenue.
So here’s some of the woo it pushes, and at the bottom of the piece they link to products that can supposedly palliate the effects of the retrograde, like soothing crystals, candles, and blankets. This is hokum, of course; they’re using astrology (and presenting it as accurate and curative) to make money. That’s triply immoral. Fie on CNN!
Here you go:
On Sept. 27, Mercury will go retrograde for the third and final time in 2021. During this period of Mercury retrograde, which ends on Oct. 18, you’ll probably hear a number of people carrying on about how everything is going wrong — and it’s all because of Mercury retrograde.
But what exactly is Mercury retrograde, why are people so afraid of it and is there anything that can be done to avoid its wrath?
But when it comes to the astrological significance of Mercury retrograde, Saxena explains, “It’s a different story. According to modern, Western astrological traditions, Mercury is the planet that represents communication of all kinds. When it goes retrograde, the theory is that our communications get thrown out of whack.”
Effects of Mercury retrograde
You’ve probably heard warnings about not buying a new computer during Mercury retrograde, or horror stories about dropping a phone in the toilet; electronics gone haywire are typically associated with Mercury retrograde because they’re items we use to facilitate communication. But it’s not just the electronics themselves to look out for, Saxena says. You may find yourself replying all to an email you meant to forward or sending text messages that don’t go through.
But it’s not just electronic communication that’s impacted by Mercury retrograde — all forms of communication can go sideways during this time. “Perhaps you worded something sloppily and now your friend is mad at you, or you forgot to make a point in a meeting you wish you had, or you just feel generally flustered and misunderstood,” Saxena says. She also warns that Mercury retrograde can influence the way we communicate with ourselves, “so you may have a harder time being in touch with your own feelings and motivations.”
If it sounds like Mercury retrograde can and will make everything that could possibly go wrong actually go wrong, well … yes. “Basically,” Saxena says, “anything that involves you having to communicate, which is unfortunately just about everything, can be affected.”
So what’s to be done about this difficult time? While it may be tempting to go inside and lock the door for the duration, that’s not an especially realistic way to cope with Mercury retrograde’s disruptions — try these ideas instead.
In other words, enrich us by buying the products below. Astrology will help you lead a “smarter and more fulfilling life.”
Why is astrology seemingly making a comeback these days in major media like the NYT? I suppose the religious will say that as religion wanes, we need a substitute, and astrology is one of them.
Yesterday I wrote about an unbelievably weird paper in the Elsevier journal Ethics, Medicine and Public Health. It reports a survey on Facebook and Twitter by three European scientists, curious about which saints respondents thought were the best ones to pray to for those who get Covid. This wasn’t just a survey of Catholic opinion, but was presented almost as a crowdsourced guide about which saints to call upon should you get the virus. The title is below, but presents only bits of the paper, and I couldn’t access the full thing because our library doesn’t get that journal. To see the snippets, click below:
Further, trying to ascertain if this paper was real by looking on the journal’s website (yes, it’s real), I also found that there was a “comment”, which I automatically assumed was a critical letter. (Click on screenshot below to see the site, but again, it’s paywalled):
Now, however, several kind readers have gotten hold of both the entire original paper and the reply, which you might be able to see via judicious inquiry. The short original paper is as bad as I suspected from the snippet, and the letter is completely weird, as it praises the original paper and then suggests that the authors left out one important saint. San Gennaro, known to Catholics as St. Januarius. (You might recall that the young Godfather murders Don Fanucci during the San Gennaro festival in New York City, with the fireworks masking the gunshots.)
First, the original paper. The authors surveyed, over just four days, followers on Twitter and Facebook. They asked the following question (it’s not really a question; this paper badly needs editing for English):
“Which saint you would pray for fighting against a Covid infection?”
They asked 15,840 people (92% from Europe) and got 1158 responses. There’s no information on the sex, age, or cultural background of the respondents. Here are the answers:
St. Rita is said to practice self-mortification, had a difficult marriage, and “is considered patron saint of lost causes.” The next two, Saints Roch and Sebastian, are seen as protectors from the plague. The authors go on to discuss the saints not only as if they were real, but as if the miracles they were said to perform were real! An example (I can’t copy from the pdfs so am giving screenshots).
Bow wow! Here’s your loaf!
And here’s the paper’s summary, which certainly lends credibility to my guess that the authors do think this list will help people get over the virus. You could argue that it’s just a sociological report of what Catholics think, but I suspect there’s more behind it.
As for the “letter,” it’s not a critique, but praises the “brilliant” paper of Perciaccante et al. and then adds that the authors missed an important saint—perhaps because some regions of Italy that worship St. Gennaro (e.g., Naples) weren’t included in the survey. They end by saying that there are conflicting results about whether prayer “works” in curing disease, but that it does make people feel psychologically better. Here’s the whole thing, written by three Italian researchers:
Note that the miraculous liquefaction of St. Januarius’s blood is taken for granted as a real miracle. (See here for naturalistic explanations.)
Two papers are cited (#3 and 4) that, say Brancaccio et al., show conflicting effects of remote intercessory prayer on the outcome of coronary patients. The first coronary care paper is well known, and found no effect (in fact, there was one negative effect of remote intercessory prayer on healing). The second, which I just scanned, appears to give marginal positive results, with the probability that the “improved” effect of prayer could be due to chance alone being 4% (lower than 5% is considered significant, but the authors did not correct for using multiple indices of healing, which one would normally do using a Bonferroni test). The effect of prayer, even accepting their wonky probability, is very small.
Regardless, even if researchers are going to waste their time trawling for marginally significant effects of prayer on healing, do they need to also investigate which saints should be prayed to? What is the patron saint of heart issues? Did the intercessory prayers evoke that individual, or were the prayers generic? The paper doesn’t say, so apparently the selected “pray-er” was just given the first name of the patient and told to go to town.
Given the possibility that prayer promotes favorable medical outcomes, I’m surprised that doctors and scientists aren’t doing tons of research on this important issue. I wonder why.
Inquiring minds want to know, and three Europeans (perhaps in cahoots with the divine) have answered:
When a reader sent me this article, and I read the online condensed version (it takes two minutes), I thought it as a joke. But no, it’s for real. You can see the journal site here, and a response to the article is the first one listed on the contents page of the latest issue. I’d love to see the response, or the full original paper (you can see a precis by clicking on the screenshot below). I’ve archived the article’s precis here in case that for some reason they ditch the article.
Okay, I’m going to show you the whole “snippet” of the paper as presented by the journal:
Which Saint to pray for fighting against a Covid infection? A short survey
In the absence of a treatment still considered universally effective, and of a vaccine validated by the health authorities, we wanted to know which Catholic saint the European Christian community turned to in the event of infection with Covid-19 to request a miraculous healing.
An online survey was carried out on a sample of 1158 adults using social media tools.
All results are presented in this research, with a few saints in the majority, and some dictated by the symptomatology of the Covid-19 infection or the personalities of certain « doctor guru ».
This medico-anthropological study is revealing the psychology of Western patients vis-à-vis the magic-religious means used in the fight against diseases, particularly in the epidemic/pandemic context.
The relationship between religion and medicine is well known in human communities since antiquity. Medieval medicine was based on Hippocratic and Galenic doctrines, but it was also characterized by spiritual and divine influences. So, in European countries, in Middle Ages, Saints’ invocation for the curing of diseases was an usual practice.
Despite, the spiritual and religious dimensions have deviated from medicine after the Renaissance and the Late Enlightenment, the intercession to the Saints. . .
We conducted a survey on two of the most used social networks: Twitter and Facebook. The survey was conducted between August 21 and 25, 2020. Each author posted on his Twitter and Facebook page, the following question: “Which saint you would pray for fighting against a Covid infection?”. The total number of followers targeted by the question was 15,840 people (92% from Europe).
A total of 1158 adult anonymous participants (mainly from France and Italy) answered to our question. For obvious ethical reason, no sex, age or cultural background are available. All results are summarized in Table 1.
Analyzing the results in more detail, from the survey it emerges that the majority saint is St. Rita (Fig. 1). From a young age, Rita of Cascia (Italy, 1381-1457) dreamed of consecrating herself to God, but she was destined to marry a violent man. Rita’s patience and love changed her husband’s character. After the violent death of her husband and two children from illness, Rita decided to follow the youthful desire by entering the monastery of the Order of Sant’Agostino in Cascia (Italy) .
This short medico-anthropological study is revealing the psychology of Western patients vis-à-vis the magic-religious means used in the fight against diseases, particularly in an epidemic/pandemic context. The survey confirms that Catholic people continue to entrust their sorrows, their anxieties and their hopes to the divinity, especially in time of global stress, mainly if it is a suddenly-presented difficulty that have changed the people’s lifestyle. Moreover, the choice of the Saints to. . .
AP had the initial idea of the search and contributed to the survey. AC contributed to the survey. PC wrote the first draft of the manuscript, with significant critical input from all other coauthors. All authors have read and approve the final article. PC is the manuscript guarantor.
Disclosure of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interest.
So if you don’t get vaccinated, you better start praying to Saint Rita.
This is unbelievably stupid. And their research used subjects garnered from Twitter and Facebook!
Note that this isn’t just a survey of opinion, but is somewhat prescriptive: “In the absence of a treatment still considered universally effective, and of a vaccine validated by the health authorities, we wanted to know which Catholic saint the European Christian community turned to in the event of infection with Covid-19 to request a miraculous healing.”
Matthew forwarded me this tweet and told me to look at the fourth picture, which I’ve put below. What is wrong with it? Nicholas Booth is an author who writes about diverse subjects, especially space. (Beneath the Night is not, by the way, a book on astrology.)