How the supernatural is being merged with science for Kiwi students

Defending a column he wrote for Stuff earlier this year, scientist and cartoonist Bob Brockie claimed there is no place for the Treaty of Waitangi in scientific endeavour. When several academic big-wigs challenged and chided him, he wrote in a subsequent column he was unrepentant.

The treaty is a political document and politics has no place in science which transcends nation, race, culture, and political perspectives”.

Moreover, Brockie challenged the merging of the humanities with science.  In the humanities, he contended, ambiguity is okay.

“There are few rules or laws – everybody can make up their own rules and laws. In science, ambiguity and the supernatural are anathema… As I see it, science and the humanities are parallel universes, each with different assumptions, motives, values, methods, standards and expectations. Very little traffic passes between these ideologies. What does travel is almost exclusively from science to the arts.”

Many science students nowadays nevertheless are being instructed in Matauranga Māori , or Māori knowledge, and the cultural and spiritual belief system in which it is grounded.  

Point of Order’s Bob Edlin recently emailed several universities, observing that Māori grievances about universities had been aired in an RNZ Morning Report news item.  The grievances included a complaint that “Māori knowledge” is not being adequately or properly taught in science classes.

Matauranga Māori incorporates concepts such as mauri (an energy which binds and animates all things in the physical world), mana (without mauri, mana cannot flow into a person or object) and tapu (which embraces concepts of sacredness, restriction and disciplines).

Inevitably this is the stuff of lessons – for example – in anthropology, sociology or philosophy classes or in Māori studies (on the humanities side of Brockie’s divide).  But Edlin wanted to know if it is incorporated in university science classes.

The short answer is yes, it is incorporated in the science courses at most universities.

The response from Victoria University of Wellington was published here early last week.

We have yet to hear back from Lincoln University and we received no followup to Auckland’s response.

Here’s how the media managers replied:

University of Auckland

“I am not aware of it being taught in science classes across the board (though that’s not to say it isn’t). I’ll get back shortly.”

University of Waikato

“Yes. The University of Waikato offers Science and Matauranga Māori SCIEN305. The course was introduced this year, because it is important for students to be aware of different cultural perspectives.  Complementary courses can be found in the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies.”

Massey University

The following courses have learning outcomes related to Māori knowledge and values:

  • 119.170 Māori Value Systems in Science (15 credits)
  • 235.211 Māori Agribusiness Systems (15 credits)
  • 235.311 Māori Policy and Agribusiness (15 credits)
  • 235.312 Case Studies in Māori Agribusiness (15 credits)
  • 235.701 Māori Values and Resource Management (15 credits)
  • 235.702 Māori Resource and Environmental Management – Whenua (15 credits)
  • 235.703 Māori Resource and Environmental Management – Fresh Water (15 credits)
  • 235.704 Māori Resource and Environmental Management – Flora and Fauna (15 credits)
  • 235.705 Māori Resource and Environmental Management – Foreshore and Oceans (15 credits)
  • 235.706 Maara kai – Traditional and Contemporary Māori Food Production (15 credits)
  • 235.707 Māori Natural Resource Policy (30 credits)

The College of Sciences is also intending to re-design its first-year courses to include Māori knowledge and perspectives.

 University of Canterbury

The following quote is from Professor Matthew Turnbull,

Head of School/Tumuaki Kura,

School of Biological Sciences/Te Kura Pūtaiao Koiora,

University of Canterbury/Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha – 

“SCIE101, a new foundation course that is compulsory for all BSc students, has specific elements that cover Māori ways of understanding and the responsibilities of the modern scientist in Aotearoa New Zealand to engage with Māori. (I am attaching the course synopsis FYI.)

“The SCIM course [outlined further down] takes this learning even further.

“More broadly, UC has developed a broad graduate profile in which we are working on developing a greater sense of Māori understanding and relevance across our curriculum, including science.”

The College of Science’s overview for this course says:

In this foundational course, we examine stimulating questions such as what science is, who does science, how science is practised, how do science, culture and society interact and how science is communicated to differing audiences.

This course draws on a variety of historical and contemporary case studies, leading-edge research, ethical challenges and controversial issues. Students will gain an understanding of the civic roles, responsibilities and influence of science in Māori, New Zealand, and global communities.

Students will learn how to work effectively as a team and communicate successfully to communities and end-users. Students will learn what it means to be a successful, competent and confident scientist in a bicultural Aotearoa New Zealand, and the multicultural world in the 21st century.

Upon successful completion of this course, students are advised they should be able to engage in a critical exploration of the methodology, ideas and purpose of science. They also should be able to:

  1. Explain the civic roles, responsibilities and influence of science and scientists in global, Aotearoa New Zealand and Māori societies and cultures.
  2. Investigate how science has been practised in, and is reflective of, knowledge systems in different times, contexts and cultures.
  3. Critically evaluate the role of science in society by engaging with perspectives of communities and end-users.
  4. Communicate science to different audiences using different media.
  5. Apply scientific thinking to everyday situations.

As well as meeting the learning outcomes, students are advised they should develop several “transferable skills” during the course:

Among them, they will know basic te reo Māori and protocol, explore solutions creatively, including the ability to develop solutions for issues, opportunities and challenges facing Māori and Indigenous peoples, and critically analyse contemporary social, cultural and political problems.

Learning for SCIE101 is evaluated through a series of assessments: a learning portfolio, a mihi that students develop in a tutorial, online quizzes and a group presentation. There is no final exam.

SCIM, Science, Māori and Indigenous Knowledge, is described as an integrated multi-disciplinary course between Aotahi: School of Maori and Indigenous Studies and the College of Science.

This course provides a basic understanding of Māori and indigenous peoples’ knowledge in such fields as astronomy, physics, conservation biology, aquaculture, resource management and health sciences. The course provides unique perspectives in indigenous knowledge, western science and their overlap. The course will provide an essential background in cultural awareness and its relationship with today’s New Zealand scientific community

University of Otago

Firstly, the definition of science from an academic standpoint is very broad and can cover a range of departments from mathematics and physics to biological science, through to biomedical science and the science associated with health and wellbeing. This does not take into account the Health Science Division at the University, which includes medical, dental, physiotherapy and pharmacy programmes.

The University of Otago does not teach mauri across biomedical sciences because of a lack of capacity. Just one lecturer across the five departments in biomedical sciences is Māori.   However, mauri is taught at 100-level, 300-level, 400-level and at a postgraduate level in Physical Education.

Overall, very few science courses would teach mauri because of a limited capacity. Less than two percent of staff in the Sciences division is Māori, and many of those are research only staff.

 This does not deter our commitment, however, to working towards teaching mauri at the university. According to the MBIE Vision Matauranga Policy, “MBIE understands that Māori success is New Zealand’s success. Unlocking the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, people and resources will benefit New Zealand. For this reason, we have embedded our Vision Matauranga policy across all priority investment areas.

 “You can read more about the MBIE Vision Matauranga Policy here: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/science-innovation/agencies-policies-budget-initiatives/vision-matauranga-policy.”

2 thoughts on “How the supernatural is being merged with science for Kiwi students

  1. Traditional Maori knowledge has a place in Maori Studies, Anthropology and possibly Philosophy syllabuses but it is ludicrous to require it to be considered as part of the Physical and Biological Sciences which are informed by empirical observation. New Zealand’s rapid descent towards the absurd continues.

    Liked by 1 person

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