Here’s a letter to the editor you might have missed on science and how it should be shaped by the Treaty and spirituality

Scimex drew our attention around two weeks ago to news that Māori researchers were calling for a Tiriti-led science-policy approach.

A multi-disciplinary group of Māori researchers – most of them from the humanities – had published a report which recommended the appointments of Māori Chief Science Advisors and the development of Treaty-based guidelines for science and innovation funding.

In other words, scientists should have their funding chopped off if they don’t subscribe to the authors’ ideas about how the Treaty should play a role in this country’s science and innovation systems.

They wrote that the way scientists and policymakers work with each other left little room for Māori participation or leadership, although it seems they have been doing nicely, thank you, with their own careers.

But they were championing a different way of working and said the Treaty of Waitangi offers a “powerful framework” for connecting communities of knowledge that are mutually beneficial.

Other recommendations over the medium term include establishing an independent Mātauranga Māori entity, and developing regionally based Te Ao Māori policy hubs.

One definition is that Matauranga Maori

” … is about a Māori way of being and engaging in the world – in its simplest form, it uses kawa (cultural practices) and tikanga (cultural principles) to critique, examine, analyse and understand the world. 

“It is based on ancient values of the spiritual realm of Te Ao Mārama (the cosmic family of the natural world) and it is constantly evolving as Māori continue to make sense of their human existence within the world.”

According to Scimex:

Te Pūtahitanga: A Tiriti-led science-policy approach for Aotearoa New Zealand raises concerns about the exclusion of Māori and Pacific expertise from science advice and key decision-making roles, which was particularly evident during the pandemic:   

“A top-down model that is not adequately informed by Māori voices retains its intellectual blind sports [sic] and weakens the relevance of scientific conclusions. This, in turn, can undermine positive outcomes for Māori and reinforce beneficial outcomes for groups that are already privileged”.

The report calls for a bolder science-policy approach “that leverages the unique strengths of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Mātauranga Māori to achieve better outcomes for Māori”.

Point of Order readers are encouraged to read the treaty to winkle out the “unique strengths” of its contents that will do what the report contends they will do.  We are still looking.

Steeping our science in Matauranga Maori, of course, is to blend it with spirituality.

The report makes five key recommendations:

* Appoint Māori Chief Science Advisors in key departments
* Develop Treaty-based guidelines for Research, Science and Innovation funding
* Strengthen monitoring of Māori RSI investment and activity
* Establish a Mātauranga Māori entity with autonomous governance and baseline funding
* Develop a plan for regionally based Te Ao Māori policy hubs

The Dominion-Post drew attention to the report in a news item headlined Māori and Pacific expertise excluded from science policy.   

This quoted Lead researcher Tracey McIntosh, who drew Covid-19 into considerations:

She said because the impacts of Covid-19 are experienced differentially, the pandemic has revealed “deeply embedded inequities” in New Zealand.

This report is looking for a “significant reset” in how we imagine a “combined future”, she said.

McIntosh, who is also a professor of Indigenous Studies at University of Auckland, said the report called for a move beyond “only” consultation with Māori, to a point where Māori take the lead.

“We have seen the frustrations that come when Māori advice has not been taken up, for example the vaccine rollouts,” she said.

“Māori need to take the lead where the impact for Māori would be most significant. This is Māori taking the role to lead New Zealand.

“A role we could and should play,” she said.

The authors of the report presumably hoped it would stimulate a debate on the role of Maori in science and science policy.

But a Point of Order search of the Dominion-Post could find no letters to the editor on the topic.

We know of at least one letter that was sent to the editor. We publish it now:

In the Dompost (Expertise excluded, April 28) and on-line, there are articles calling for more Maori participation in science. There is a recommendation that Maori science advisors be appointed to boards, panels and advisories.

The report, ‘Te Putahitanga: a tiriti-led science-policy approach for Aotearoa New Zealand’ talks about “inequities in positions of power” as well as a need for “disciplinary, cultural and place-based expertise to generate new knowledge”.

Well, first a simple explanation: put simply, science is about observing, measuring and collecting information, analysing it, formulating hypotheses and where possible, falsifying these.

The end result is a piece of knowledge, or an idea, that is fixed in place until more data are collected, and subsequent hypotheses established and falsified. It is never-ending and based on truth and facts; the sum total of knowledge.

Science is not about power, cultural differences or ‘alternative knowledge’. There is either truth or there isn’t; there are no alternative knowledge systems or alternative realities.

 Time and money should not be invested in pretending that such things exist or have equality of validity; they don’t. Funding in New Zealand should go towards real science, not its politicisation.

Dr Allen Heath

Scimex noted that the report by the Maori researchers and scientists had not been peer-reviewed (although it is not a scientific study of the sort that would benefit from such scrutiny).

Point of Order was interested, therefore, in checking the expert comments invited by the Science Media Centre.

The centre regularly posts the analysis and observations of experts whom it asks to comment on issues involving science.

The experts more often than not declare they have no conflict of interest.

Three of four experts who commented recently on the Environmental Protection Authority’s call for information on the use of glyphosate, for example, said they had no conflict of interest.

In the case of the report on Maori, science and the Treaty, however, the Science Media Centre turned to – guess who?

We kid you not.  The commentators were two of the report’s co-authors.

  • Professor Tahu Kukutai, Te Rūnanga Tātari Tatauranga (National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis), University of Waikato.
  • Professor Tracey McIntosh, Professor of Indigenous Studies and Co-Head of Te Wānanga o Waipapa (School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies), University of Auckland.

The two commentators had no dissenting remarks to make.

The Science Media Centre could have turned to scientist Dr Bob Brockie for a contradictory view.

In 2018 he triggered an explosion of wrathful condemnation when he wrote a column in the Dom-Post in which he expressed his outrage at proposals for Treaty-based reforms then being promoted at the Royal Society of New Zealand:

The Treaty has no place in scientific endeavour. To make it the centrepiece of the Royal Society agenda beggars belief.

Margreet Catherina Maria Vissers, a biochemistry academic and a professor at the University of Otago, was among the many responders who said Brockie couldn’t be more wrong.

Where to start? Firstly: as a research scientist, I reject the notion that we (Western Science) have all the answers

 Brockie wasn’t claiming scientists did have all the answers, so far as I can see.  Rather, he was arguing – like Dr Allen Heath – that science is not about power, cultural differences or ‘alternative knowledge’. There is either truth or there isn’t; there are no alternative knowledge systems or alternative realities.

Te Pūtahitanga was written by Māori researchers working across the RSI sector including from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the Chief Science Advisor Forum, the Health Research Council and the National Science Challenges (Rauika Māngai). It has been backed by prominent Māori organisations including the New Zealand Māori Council, the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Te Ohu Kaimoana, Te Kāhui Raraunga, and Te Mana Raraunga.

3 thoughts on “Here’s a letter to the editor you might have missed on science and how it should be shaped by the Treaty and spirituality

  1. Dame Claudia Orange endorses this approach. How anyone can subscribe to this nonsense with a straight face is beyond belief. I imagine that there’s a sixth principle involving payment of koha. What we really need is just one principle and that is to ascertain facts honestly. Mumbo jumbo, western or Maori, has no place in that.

    Liked by 1 person

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