Monitoring the Ministers
While the science domain in New Zealand has been split over what is science and what is not, the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation is having a bob each way.
Not her bob – it’s the public ‘s bob.
And not just one bob. Megan Woods was announcing a $1.6 million investment in a bunch of young people.
Expressing herself in the mix of English and te reo that is favoured for communicative purposes by the government and the establishment press, Woods’ press statement said:
“Getting rangatahi hooked on science is a key focus of this year’s Unlocking Curious Minds funding round, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods has announced, unveiling the 13 successful recipients of $1.6 million in Government funding.
“Through the Unlocking Curious Minds 2021 contestable fund the Government is supporting a wide range of really fun, hands-on projects, investigating subjects like nature, climate change, and Mātauranga Māori to empower rangatahi to connect with science and technology in a way that is meaningful to them.
“We know students are far more engaged when they learn about subjects they can relate to. Through activities like participation in Waka Ama, thinking about where food comes from, and personalised stories, we are inspiring future generations to add value to their own lives and as well as that of their local communities.”
This year’s funding round would bring science and technology to a wide range of audiences, including young people from hard to reach backgrounds, Woods said
“By focusing on student-led research and by looking at a range of knowledge systems this funding is designed to reach and inspire a broader base of New Zealanders.”
Let’s note Woods’ endorsement of a “range of knowledge systems”, an issue that has divided the science world.
Seven University of Auckland professors wrote a letter to The Listener in July titled “In Defence of Science”.
They acknowledged there is a place for mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge) in our school system but ventured:
“Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, but it is not science.”
Accordingly they challenged a proposal by a government NCEA working group that mātauranga Māori should have “parity” with “the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA (particularly Western / Pākeha epistemologies)” in the school science curriculum.
Parity with these “epistemologies” means parity with science.
One of the consequences of the seven professors’ letter and the resultant sharp dividing of opinion is that the Royal Society of New Zealand is investigating complaints laid against two of the professors who are members.
Woods seemed oblivious to this disciplinary action and the questions it raises about freedom of speech and about the place of “Maori knowledge” in the teaching of science.
Some international heavyweights have become involved:
- Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has posted on Twitter the letter he emailed to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand in defence of the two society members whose expressions of opinion about the distinction between science and matauranga Maori may result in their expulsion.
- An eminent scientist, Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago, has written a letter to the society, too. The letter is included in an article headed “Ways of knowing”: New Zealand pushes to have “indigenous knowledge” (mythology) taught on parity with modern science in science class”
- The issue was critically aired in The Spectator in a column by associate editor Toby Young headed Why punish a scientist for defending science?
- Newsroom has published an article which says a debate over the role of Western science in colonisation has spiralled into a disciplinary process within an academic organisation, leading to claims of a chilling effect on academic freedoms. The article is headed Royal Society investigation into mātauranga Māori letter sparks academic debate.
- The Daily Mail has reported developments under the heading New Zealand academic is CANCELLED for opposing plans to teach Maori creation myth in science classes: Now faces expulsion from country’s Royal Society.
- In The Times of London, Rod Liddle has written an article headed We’re screeching into a new Dark Age, and bad scientists are leading the charge. He says New Zealand is providing him with more evidence that what he calls the De-Enlightenment is upon us.
Freedom of speech is not the crucial issue for Liddle. He says he is concerned more by “the burgeoning madness and stupidity, condescension and racism that are propelling us towards the De-Enlightenment.”
The argument — facile beyond comprehension — is that science has been used by white, western, developed nations to underpin colonialism and is therefore tainted by its association with white supremacy. As Dawkins pointed out, science is not “white”. (The assumption that it is is surely racist.) Nor is it imperialist. It is simply a rather beautiful tool for discerning the truth.
It is not just New Zealand. Science is under attack in America and indeed here. Rochelle Gutierrez, an Illinois professor, has argued that algebra and trigonometry perpetuate white power and that maths is, effectively, racist.
Oxford University has announced that it intends to “decolonise” maths: “This includes steps such as integrating race and gender questions into topics.”
A lunacy has gripped our academics. They would be happy to throw out centuries of learning and brilliance for the sake of being temporarily right-on, and thus signalling their admirable piety to a young, approving audience.
It is an indulgence that, with every fatuous genuflection towards political correctness, is dragging us all backwards.
But our science minister is chuffed to be able to invest public funding both in science and the “Maori knowledge” which celebrated foreign scientists and writers are challenging.
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