Academics announce new Centre of Indigenous Science – and now (it seems) they will find out what they should be teaching

Any notion that “the science is settled” is (or should be) anathema to good scientists.

There is always more to learn

“… because the scientific method never provides absolute conclusions. It’s always possible that the next observation will contradict the current consensus.”

 But in this country the fundamental matter of defining science and determining what should be taught to science studies in our universities has become more unsettling than unsettled.

“Indigenous knowledge” has become “indigenous science”, overriding the conventional view that science is colour blind and culturally neutral – that science is science is science.

And the heads of our most highly esteemed academic institutions do not resist the push to have “indigenous science” incorporated within their science faculties rather than – let’s say – Māori Studies or anthropological departments.

And so last week the Otago Daily Times reported:   Continue reading “Academics announce new Centre of Indigenous Science – and now (it seems) they will find out what they should be teaching”

Megan Woods’ challenge – she has plenty of advice from champions of matauranga Maori as she considers its role in NZ science

The Government received 901 submissions in response to its green paper on the future of  the country’s research, science and innovation system – and the role to be played by matauranga Maori.  can play a rolebe merged with it.

But for now, the submissions are being kept confidential because several submitters have requested anonymity. Submissions and submitter information are being reviewed against privacy and confidentiality obligations.

The Minister in charge of this reshaping of our science system is Dr Megan Woods, whose CV includes work for Crop & Food Research and Plant & Food Research. But she was a business manager, rather than a researcher, it seems.   Her PhD is in history,  obtained at the University of Canterbury with a thesis titled Integrating the nation: Gendering Maori urbanisation and integration, 1942–1969.

Whatever happened to the commas?

According to a Cabinet paper Woods presented on October 28, the reform programme she favours for the country’s science sector aligns with outcomes sought by the Minister of Education on proposed changes to Performance-Based Research Fund funding.

The first two aims of those changes (as ranked in Woods’ Cabinet paper) are

  • To support a holistic approach to recognising and rewarding research; and
  • To better reflect and partnership between Māori and the Crown (sic).

Her paper says New Zealand’s research, science and innovation system

” … needs to make better, faster progress on supporting Māori and iwi aspirations  We know that more work needs to be done to explore how the RSI system will seek to understand and respond to Te Tiriti obligations and opportunities. Continue reading “Megan Woods’ challenge – she has plenty of advice from champions of matauranga Maori as she considers its role in NZ science”

How a tohunga could have enlightened Woods about fog and cycles before Pyper partnership was agreed

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods perhaps did not take all available advice before she committed the government to a partnership with New Zealand aerospace start-up, Pyper Vision.

Announcing the partnership, she said it could help make fog delays a thing of the past for passengers, freight, airlines and airports around the world.

Pyper Vision – she explained – is developing a technology that disperses a safe water-absorbing environmentally-friendly product via drone that soaks up moisture in the air and clears runway fog so that pilots and air traffic controllers can operate safely.

RNZ turned that into something more readily digested:  

Christchurch-based company Pyper Vision is developing a spray that can absorb moisture from the air quickly, clearing fog.

It aims to ease flight disruptions such as the three day backlog in flights at Wellington Airport last week, when fog rolled in on Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t ease until Thursday afternoon, affecting more than 200 flights.

The team is being assisted by the Government’s Airspace Integration Trials Programme, which aims to support the adoption of new aviation technology safely into the existing transport system. Continue reading “How a tohunga could have enlightened Woods about fog and cycles before Pyper partnership was agreed”

Many academics are nervous about saying what they think – but they should be okay if what they say is mana-enhancing

ACT MP James McDowall alerted us to new research showing an ominous level of apprehension among Kiwi academics about speaking freely at New Zealand universities.  He said this highlights the urgent need for his Member’s Bill, which requires tertiary education institutions to protect freedom of expression.

Curia research, commissioned by the Free Speech Union, found almost half of the academics who responded are concerned about raising differing perspectives or discussing issues related to gender and sex and half don’t feel free to debate or discuss Treaty issues.

McDowall acknowledged that tertiary education institutions are required by the Education Act 1989 and the Bill of Rights Act 1990 to uphold academic freedom and freedom of expression.

But universities have barred speakers and cancelled events citing ‘mental harm’ to students.

“Essentially, there are no consequences if an institution actively inhibits freedom of expression without legitimate cause.”

His Bill requires tertiary education institutions to protect freedom of expression, including the issuing of codes of practice that set out the procedures students and staff should follow to uphold freedom of expression, and by ensuring that the requirements of codes of practice are met. Continue reading “Many academics are nervous about saying what they think – but they should be okay if what they say is mana-enhancing”

Seventy academics support motion of no confidence in Royal Society – but others say they are too scared to sign

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Seventy notable academics have sent a motion of no-confidence to the Royal Society over its handling of the professors’ letter to the Listener — but some of their colleagues say they are too fearful to sign it. Graham Adams reports.

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If anyone ever believed universities are institutions where academics can speak their minds freely and openly, the stoush sparked by the letter that seven University of Auckland professors sent to the Listener last July should have thoroughly disabused them of that notion.

What should have been an uncontroversial statement that mātauranga Māori is “not science” and therefore should not be included in the NCEA science syllabus led to a wave of condemnation and vilification of the professors. And this despite the fact they made it clear that indigenous knowledge was valuable, both “for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and in “key roles in management and policy”.

What’s more, prominent Māori scholars such as Professor Sir Mason Durie had already acknowledged that science and indigenous knowledge are incommensurable.

Even the professors’ own Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater, hung them out to dry with what one British journalist described as a “hand-wringing, cry-bullying email” that referred to the “considerable hurt and dismay” the letter had caused staff, students and alumni.

Three of the professors, Robert Nola, Garth Cooper and Michael Corballis, were Fellows of the Royal Society NZ, but — rather than supporting their right to speak publicly about their concerns about mātauranga Māori in a science syllabus — it responded with a statement on its website that said their views were not only “misguided” but caused “harm”.

Last November, it also instigated disciplinary action against Nola, Cooper and Corballis after complaints were laid. (Corballis has since died.)

After a barrage of criticism from famous international scientists, including Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker, our premier academy for science and the humanities abandoned its pursuit of the two professors in March. But if it hoped that would be the end of the matter it was sorely mistaken.

Last week, 70 of the society’s more than 400 Fellows signed a letter to the society calling for a no-confidence motion to be debated at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship on 28 April.

It began:

“Many of us have lost confidence in the current Academy Executive and Council, whose actions seemingly have brought the society into disrepute, shutting down useful debate and bringing international opprobrium from leading scientists.

“We are further concerned about the lack of agency that Fellows have following the many restructures of the society over the last several years, and the spending of fellowship fees to cover lawyers’ costs and, presumably, public relations consultants to defend the society’s very poor processes and actions.”

The three specific objections made in the letter were to the statement published on the society’s website last year (described as “ill-conceived, hasty and inaccurate in large part”); the way the society handled the complaints against Professors Nola and Cooper; and lastly the “unfortunate” fact the pair felt compelled to resign.

As the letter put it:

“It is extremely unfortunate that this process has led to the resignation from this Academy of two of its distinguished Fellows. One is a renowned philosopher of science, and the other is perhaps the strongest scientist of Māori descent in the society and is someone who has been active in supporting Māori students in education for decades, and who, along with other experts in science, offered an expert opinion that was rejected by the society as being without merit, and characterised as racist by members of the Academy Executive (and current and former Councillors).”

The motion was moved and seconded by two of the nation’s most prestigious and accomplished mathematicians, Distinguished Professor Gaven Martin and Distinguished Professor Marston Condor.

Among the 70 signatories were internationally renowned heavyweights, including Distinguished Professors Brian Boyd and Peter Schwerdtfeger — celebrated scholars in literature and theoretical chemistry respectively — and Professor Alan Bollard, a former Governor of the Reserve Bank, and chief executive and secretary to Treasury.

Having a substantial chunk of the Royal Society’s Fellows formally object to its handling of the Listener letter and the fallout is momentous but what is also remarkable — and remarkably depressing — is that the number of signatories would have been even higher if other Fellows had not feared for their livelihoods and careers by signing.

Gaven Martin’s covering letter included these dismal paragraphs:

”Sadly several other Fellows have also indicated they will vote in favour, but because of the potential harassment and bullying they believe they would receive (from some current and former members of the Academy and the RSNZ Council, and from colleagues in senior and other positions within their university), they do not wish to disclose their names in this document, especially if it becomes public. 

“Many younger Fellows and others have said (again in writing) that their jobs would be at risk signing this letter. 

“Two Fellows (major Royal Society NZ medallists) said this:

‘Better not [sign] at this stage… I agree with all the statements — but you can’t imagine the pressure being put on us. I will vote for the motion though.’

 And: 

‘In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at [the University of Auckland] if I do so’.”

Martin noted:

“This is a startling indictment of the situation in the research community in New Zealand at the moment, and of the way in which the RSNZ handled and exacerbated the controversy over the letter to the Listener.”

The letter’s signatories ask that the society write to Professors Cooper and Nola, and to the estate of Professor Corballis, and apologise for its handling of the entire process.

They also want the society to

“… review its current code of conduct to ensure that this cannot happen again, and in future the actions of the Academy/Council are far more circumspect and considered in regards to complaints concerning contentious matters”.

Lastly, that the entire society “be reviewed, examining structure and function and alignment with other international academies, and the agency given its Fellows upon whom its reputation rests”.

While it is at it, the Royal Society might also like to apologise to the other four professors who signed the Listener letter but are not Fellows given that their reputations were all sullied by the statement the society put on its website about their views being misguided and harmful.

However, you’d have to say that right now the society will have its hands full just dealing with the explosive no-confidence motion placed before it.

  • Graham Adams is a freelance editor, journalist and columnist.  

Garth Cooper’s reasons for resigning from the Royal Society – they include his stance on science education for Māori

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Māori are good students when they are afforded the proper opportunity to learn and their right to unbiased access to optimal education should be protected vigorously.

This firm belief is among the reasons why Professor Garth Cooper, DPhil (Oxon) DSc (Oxon) FRCPA FMedSci, joined six other University of Auckland professors and signed a letter, “In defence of science”, published in July last year by the New Zealand Listener.  The signatories questioned proposals to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with Western/ Pakeha subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

The professors do not oppose the teaching of mātauranga Māori in anthropology, Māori studies, cultural studies, or similar social studies. They do challenge its being taught in the science curriculum.

Cooper and Professor Robert Nola have resigned both as members and as fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand (as Point of Order reported on March 18) following the society’s decision not to formally proceed with a complaint against them as Fellows of the Society.

The complaint was laid after the publication of the letter In defence of science.  

Robert Nola has explained why he resigned from the society.

Garth Cooper – who has Māori heritage and is described on the University of Auckland website as one of New Zealand’s foremost biological scientists and biotechnology entrepreneurs – explains here why he resigned …  

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Why did I resign from the Royal Society of New Zealand?

Garth J S Cooper DPhil (Oxon) DSc (Oxon) FRCPA FMedSci

My reasons for resigning from the Royal Society of New Zealand relate to its loss of understanding of its raison d’être; suppression of free speech; failure to properly support science and science education; untoward political focus of management and governance processes; and prolonged defamation of myself and Professors Michael Corballis (now sadly deceased) and Robert Nola, by certain of its authorities. Continue reading “Garth Cooper’s reasons for resigning from the Royal Society – they include his stance on science education for Māori”

Where was the Royal Society’s forum for debate during “science” dispute? Professor (and former fellow) explains his resignation

Two distinguished academics – Professors Garth Cooper and Robert Nola – have resigned both as members and as fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand (as Point of Order reported on March 18).

Cooper is a scientist; Nola is a philosopher who has studied and taught the philosophy of science.

Their resignations followed the society’s decision not to formally proceed with a complaint against them as fellows of the Society.

The complaint was laid after they and five other University of Auckland professors signed a letter – headed In defence of science – published in the 31 July 2021 issue of the NZ Listener.

The letter criticised proposals to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with Western/ Pakeha subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

The professors do not oppose the teaching of mātauranga Maori in anthropology, Māori studies, cultural studies, or any of the similar social studies. They do challenge its being taught in the science curriculum.

Furthermore, their letter was addressed at claims that science was a coloniser (“we find this quite wrong,” Nola told Point of Order).

Today, he explains why he resigned. Continue reading “Where was the Royal Society’s forum for debate during “science” dispute? Professor (and former fellow) explains his resignation”

Professors warn of constitutional change by stealth and of the dangers of protecting Maori knowledge against refutation

A radical makeover of the research and science sector is outlined in Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways Green Paper, which was launched on October 28 by Dr Megan Woods as Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.  Submissions on the discussion paper closed on March 16.

At the launch of the discussion paper, the government did not disguise its intention to embed the Treaty of Waitangi in the design and delivery of science and research in this country and to provide more opportunities for “mātauranga Māori”.

What does this portend?  Graham Adams warns that the inevitable conclusion of the changes proposed in the discussion paper – especially if it is read alongside Te Pūtahitanga: A Tiriti–led Science-Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand (HERE) – is co-governance with iwi of universities and Crown Research Institutes.

In other words, constitutional change by stealth.

Submissions are not publicly available.  Perhaps they never will be. Continue reading “Professors warn of constitutional change by stealth and of the dangers of protecting Maori knowledge against refutation”

We try again to get the measure of mauri and how to determine when $4.95 million of public funding has restored it

The concept of “mauri” can be mystifying but we should strive to understand it – and learn how to measure it – in an era when  central and local governments are launching programmes to restore it.

Without knowing how to measure it, governments and councils – and taxpayers and ratepayers – can’t know if the public money spent on restoration projects has delivered the goods.  Or restored the mauri.

Some measures of water quality are plainly the stuff of science.

The Taranaki Regional Council explains the physical and chemical measurements that are used to assess pressures on the health of rivers like this:

The measures include bacteria levels, water clarity, conductivity and acidity (pH levels), nutrient levels, dissolved oxygen levels and the amount of oxygen consumed in the breakdown of organic matter. The latter measure is known as ‘biochemical oxygen demand’ or BOD, and is low in healthy rivers.

In all, there are 22 individual measures, which the Council monitors by taking regular samples at 13 sites across the region. Continue reading “We try again to get the measure of mauri and how to determine when $4.95 million of public funding has restored it”

The Treaty and ideology – the Kiwi way of thinking that is corroding our democracy and debasing our science

As ministerial announcements on the Beehive website make ominously plain, Covid is still with us.    The government’s programme of fusing science with matauranga Maori is still with us, too, although that’s not something you will learn from recent announcements.

Mind you, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Science Minister Megan Woods, Associate Science Minister Ayesha Verrall and their colleagues might be quietly back-pedalling on their concept of a Treaty-based system of science and the way it should be taught.  But this is highly unlikely.

And as long as the Great Science Experiment continues in the ethnocentric crucible of Kiwi biculturalism , the debate it fuels will keep burning brightly.

In this country in recent days, Newsroom has published an article by Professor Elizabeth Rata who writes:

No matter how intense or heated the discussion may be, NZ universities need to address the difference between ideology and science… 

In the United States, Professor Jerry Coyne has maintained a keen interest in the way science is evolving – is that the right word? – in this country.

His examination of specific claims about matauranga Maori and how it can tell us stuff that modern science can’t, or can somehow supplement modern science, has resulted in the past week in these items being published on his Evolution is True website: Continue reading “The Treaty and ideology – the Kiwi way of thinking that is corroding our democracy and debasing our science”