Thursday, 9 December 2021

"Mātauranga Māori is mythology, not science"

TO PARAPHRASE AN AD from a a few years ago, they're reading our bullshit over there...

Toby Young summarises the bullshit for the UK Spectator:
As a defender of free speech, I sometimes feel like a man falling through a collapsing building. Just when you think you’ve finally reached rock bottom, the floor gives way again. That was my sensation last week when I read about the disciplinary investigation of Professor Garth Cooper by the Royal Society of New Zealand.
    For background, Professor Cooper is about as eminent as you can get in his field. He is professor of biochemistry and clinical biochemistry at the University of Auckland, where he also leads the Proteomics and Biomedicine Research Group. He’s principal investigator in the Maurice Wilkins Centre of Research Excellence for Molecular Biodiscovery, a member of the Endocrine Society (USA), and he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK) in 2013.
    So why is this distinguished scientist at risk of being expelled from New Zealand’s most prestigious academic society? Several months ago he was one of seven signatories to a letter in the New Zealand 'Listener' that took issue with a proposal by a government working group that schools should give the same weight to Maori mythology as they do to science in the classroom. That is, the Maori understanding of the world — that all living things originated with Rangi and Papa, the sky mother and sky god, for instance — should be presented as just as valid as the theories of Galileo, Newton and Darwin.
Knowing about Rangi and Papa won’t get you into medical school.

Or more bluntly, as Czech physicist Lubos Motl puts it in the title of his post on the drama: "Mātauranga Māori is mythology, not science."

Dr Cooper and his colleagues were less blunt, however, while ready enough to recognise a place for mythology -- albeit not a place at science's table:

The authors of the letter, ‘In Defence of Science’, were careful to say that indigenous knowledge was ‘critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy’ and should be taught in New Zealand’s schools. But they drew the line at treating it as on a par with physics, chemistry and biology: ‘In the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.’
    In a rational world, this letter would have been regarded as uncontroversial. Surely the argument about whether to teach schoolchildren scientific or religious explanations for the origins of the universe and the ascent of man was settled by the Scopes trial in 1925? Apart from the obvious difficulty of prioritising one religious viewpoint in an ethnically diverse society like New Zealand (what about Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?), there is the problem that Maori schoolchildren, already among the least privileged in the country, will be at an even greater disadvantage if their teachers patronise them by saying there’s no need to learn the rudiments of scientific knowledge. Knowing about Rangi and Papa won’t get you into medical school.
    But the moment this letter was published all hell broke loose.
"Hell" in the form of being attacked by their professional colleagues, along with an open letter from these witch-finders calling for their sacking from their university, and expulsion from NZ's  Royal Society -- and, presumably, polite society as well. 

It's worth reminding ourselves that the original Royal Society was at the heart of the original Enlightenment project -- that historian moment when science was finally wrenched free (we thought) from religious entanglement and science was finally placed upon the throne of reason.

This fact is probably lost on today's defenders of mythology as science, among them the Royal Society, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, the Tertiary Education Union — as well as their own Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater, and two academic colleagues who for two years have been in the forefront of calling for all of us to "respect the science": Dr Shaun Hendy and Dr Siouxsie Wiles. Indeed, it was this last two whose 'open letter' against the Science Seven first roused the rabble against them. 

Note that these rabble-rousers themselves are careful not to say (yet) that mythology is science: the most the vice-chancellor allows, for instance, is to say uncontroversially 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.
Instead they've talked abut the "hurt" they say they feel. And they have been silent when others have shovelled on the bullshit:
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 exemplar of where this is going is the letter from the NZ Psychological Society, penned by its president Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki who says, 
"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.... Science, in the hands of colonisers, is the literal gun."
"Racist tropes." 'Colonisation.' A "literal gun." The writer concludes, on behalf of her society, that this outrage underscores "the need to decolonise the power base held in our learning institutions." By which she means, expel the heretics -- and their views.

HOW DID WE GET HERE? We got here by their opponents remaining silent when postmodern philosophers and their mouthpieces in academia mouthed that race and the "lived experience" of colonisation and slavery trump actual facts -- that epistemology (the theory of knowledge) is grounded in race knowledge and racial identity rather than the non-contradictory identification and integration of observations -- that science if about subjective "paradigms" rather than demonstrable evidence -- and the corollary, or the result, that everyone's true subject now has become "victimology," with the winner being the group (in this tribal age it's always a group) who can display the most historical scars.

Fortunately not everyone has been silent in this stoush. A measure of how far removed the witch-hunters are from the mainstream is the reaction from around the world. Two reactions in particular are worth quoting in full: an open letter from British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (who needs no introduction), and another from his colleague from the University of Chicago, Jerry Coyne (who has written a much longer piece on this subject at his blog). Neither are cowed by the witch-hunters...

To: Dr Roger Ridley
Royal Society of New Zealand

Dear Dr Ridley

I have read 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 right 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
To: Dr Roger Ridley
Royal Society of New Zealand 
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.

Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago
You may pen your own (polite) letter to Dr Roger 
Ridley if you wish not to remain silent. His email is


rivoniaboy said...

Take pity on those students who now study under one or more of the 2000 academics who endorsed sorcery as an equitable science frontier.

Chris Morris said...

Almost all those academics are not science lecturers at least not the hard sciences like chemistry physics and geology.

Anonymous said...

When the nuremberg trials begin faggwell, you will be given the death sentence with your DAVOS psychopaths Ardern and every politician and POS

Tom Hunter said...

Let's also note that Wiles and Hendy, those two named scientists prominently in the middle of our Chinese Xi Snot pandemic for the last two years, are also at the centre of this clusterfuck!

“Scientists” who think like this should be tossed to the back of the class and never listened to again on any matter. They’re Lysenko’s bastard offspring.

Rob said...

I find it particularly fascinating that Wiles is a celebrated and award-winning member of the NZ Skeptics Society -- a group that stands up for critical thinking, "examining what objective scientific support there is for claims of such things as psychic abilities, alternative health practices, creationism and other areas where science, pseudo-science and shonky science interact."

It seems that critically examining and debunking the mythology of "Mātauranga Māori" would be their bread and butter; furthermore you might expect them to be at the forefront of this debate, in defence of science. But what do we hear from them? Crickets...