We can gauge volumes of water and count contaminants – but measuring the mauri may be challenging for modern scientists

The latest press statement from the office of Kiritapu Allan serves as a reminder that this is a country where science is being positively blended with – or negatively debased by – a knowledge and belief system known as mātauranga Māori.

The press statement looks innocent enough.  It tells us the Associate Minister for the Environment, Kiri Allan, is urging all New Zealanders to give feedback on proposed changes aimed at making drinking water safer.

“The current regulations are not fit for purpose and don’t offer enough protection, particularly for those whose water comes from smaller supplies,” Kiri Allan said.

“This was highlighted in the 2016 campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North when close to 60 people were hospitalised.

“We are proposing improvements in three areas; standardising the way we define source water areas, strengthening regulation of activities around water sources, and adding more water suppliers to the register.”

Allan impedes the comfortable digestion of her statement by English-speaking readers at this juncture by melding two languages:

“The changes recognise Te Mana o te Wai, the fundamental importance of water to the health and wellbeing of our people and our environment.” Continue reading “We can gauge volumes of water and count contaminants – but measuring the mauri may be challenging for modern scientists”

Royal Society’s handling of complaints against two fellows could shape the future of NZ science – and of Kiwi reality

The politicians seem to have steered clear of the controversy over matauranga Maori and science in which the Royal Society of New Zealand has become embroiled.

This is perturbing. The meaning of “science” in this country – and how it is taught – will be influenced by the way the controversy is resolved.  So, too, will the difference between truth and belief.

Soon the government will be evaluating feedback after launching the Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways Green Paper to prompt a consultation on the future of the country’s research, science and innovation science system.

Associate science minister Ayesha Verrall ominously said at the launch:

“Te Tiriti needs to be embedded right across the design and delivery of the system, and more opportunities need to exist for mātauranga Māori.” 

Does she mean opportunities for a belief system? An alternative view of the world? Or what?

She has also declared: 

We need to match the benefits from our research and science, with a modern, future-focused research system that is connected, adaptable and resilient, that embeds Te Tiriti across the design and delivery attributes of the system and supports opportunities for mātauranga Māori.

Opposition politicians (perhaps intent on avoiding vilification from commentators who seem to support the merging of science with mataranga Maori) have not challenged the direction in which science policy is being taken.

But we note mention of these matters and the controversy they have generated in a newsletter from the ACT Party which says: Continue reading “Royal Society’s handling of complaints against two fellows could shape the future of NZ science – and of Kiwi reality”

Dawn Freshwater kicks for touch on mātauranga Māori  

As international criticism mounts, Auckland University’s Vice-Chancellor pledges a symposium next year to debate the role of Māori knowledge in science education. Graham Adams suggests a public apology to the seven professors would show this is more than a PR exercise.  

Reading the statement last week by Dawn Freshwater announcing a symposium to be held next year to debate the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, it was hard not to feel at least a little sceptical about her new-found enthusiasm for free speech.

After all, in late July the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland effectively hung seven professors from her own university out to dry soon after their letter “In Defence of Science” was published in the Listener.

The professors’ 300-word letter was written in response to plans to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with “Western/Pakeha epistemologies” — which means subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

The professors acknowledged the value of indigenous knowledge as “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and that it “plays key roles in management and policy”. But, while it “may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways”, they concluded, “it is not science”. Continue reading “Dawn Freshwater kicks for touch on mātauranga Māori  “

Bring on the Wiles v Dawkins debate and prospects of our being demystified (but he might be disqualified as a dinosaur)

We are heartened, at Point of Order, to find some of our scribblings have been drawn to the attention of Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

On his website, Why Evolution is True,  he has posted an article headed More news from New Zealand about the big science vs. indigenous “knowledge” ruckus. In this, he has referenced our recent report that Megan Woods, Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, has set aside $1.6 million to hook kids on “science”, but by using “traditional knowledge”.

We have been rewarded, too, by keeping an eye on what Coyne is saying about science and matauranga Maori and its place in our education system on his website.

 For good measure, we have been given examples of the wit and wisdom exercised by Professors Joanna Kidman (University of Wellington) and Siouxsie Wiles (University of Auckland) when they rebut ideas expressed by people who disagree with them.  Age and gender seem to be over-riding considerations – in tweets, at least – which seriously corrode the validity of a contradictory argument.        

On December 14, Coyne says he suddenly had been inundated with emails from disaffected Kiwis who take issue with the New Zealand government’s and academia’s push to teach mātauranga Māori , or Māori “ways of knowing”, as coequal with real science in high-school and university science classes. 

Co-equal?

Of course.  We are injecting notions of Treaty partnership into our science curriculum.

And if it’s good enough to debase our democracy with these partnerships, why should science be exempt?  Continue reading “Bring on the Wiles v Dawkins debate and prospects of our being demystified (but he might be disqualified as a dinosaur)”

The philosopher stoned for his defence of science

 

A letter in defence of science, published in New Zealand Listener in July, was signed by seven professors from the University of Auckland.  Emeritus Professor Robert Nola,​ one of the signatories, specialises in the philosophy of science.  But the Royal Society of New Zealand is investigating him over what it claims are “misguided” views regarding Māori knowledge. Graham Adams reports.

 

Professor Robert Nola’s bread and butter is analysing what makes science science. This has been his focus for more than 50 years. Yet, he is facing a disciplinary hearing by the Royal Society for expressing his views on science and mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge).

Nola was one of seven eminent professors from the University of Auckland who, in a letter to  New Zealand Listener in July, criticised plans to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with “Western/ Pakeha epistemologies” — which means subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

The professors acknowledged the value of indigenous knowledge as “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and that it “plays key roles in management and policy”.  But (they wrote) while it “may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, it is not science”.

The Royal Society felt moved to respond with a public statement:

“The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in the Listener Letter to the Editor.

“It deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause.”

Unfortunately for a statement put out in the name of the nation’s premier academy for the sciences and humanities, it seemed to show a poor grasp of what the professors had actually written. Continue reading “The philosopher stoned for his defence of science”

Richard Dawkins (a foe of creationism) pitches into the NZ furore over letter in defence of science by seven professors

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins a few years ago reacted to Donald Trump’s shock election victory in the United States by urging fellow scientists to move to New Zealand.

He called on this country to offer British and American academics citizenship following the “catastrophes” both countries had suffered at the hands of “uneducated, anti-intellectual” voters.

He might have changed his mind since then, although the mainstream media here either haven’t noticed or don’t think it’s a matter of public interest. 

Dawkins is troubled by what is happening to some of our scientists and is supporting colleagues around the world who contend that myths do not belong in science classes.  He has posted on Twitter the letter he emailed to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

He wrote to Roger Ridley, unaware that Paul Atkins (paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz) has succeeded Ridley as CEO.

Dawkins’ letter was prompted by another eminent scientist, Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus in  the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago.

Let’s  hear first from Coyne, who has a has posted an article headed “Ways of knowing”: New Zealand pushes to have “indigenous knowledge” (mythology) taught on parity with modern science in science class”

Coyne has been alerted to the furore which we mentioned here yesterday and which was critically aired in The Spectator in a column by associate editor Toby Young headed Why punish a scientist for defending science? Continue reading “Richard Dawkins (a foe of creationism) pitches into the NZ furore over letter in defence of science by seven professors”

Here’s a worthy challenge for Judith Collins – asking why our Royal Society is investigating two defenders of science

Soon after the latest National Party line-up was announced this afternoon, Newshub was reporting who had finished up with higher rankings than before and who had slipped.

Chris Luxon’s election as leader last week obviously led to his being catapulted from number 29 to number one. Nicola Willis, his deputy, jumped from 16 to two, while Simon Bridges was up from seven to three, two places below where he was this time two years ago.

And former leader Judith Collins?

With Luxon ascending to the leadership, Collins has taken a big tumble. She has fallen from one to 19, so just inside Luxon’s shadow Cabinet.

But Point of Order was less interested in who has been placed where in the party pecking order than in who will be handling which shadow portfolios.

In the case of Judith Collins, she has been given a portfolio – research, science , innovation and technology – that should present a worthy challenge to someone who relishes being known as “Crusher”.

It also happens to be a more politically fraught domain than perhaps she imagines because it will require her to decide if she should publicly declare she is a champion of science and of scientists. Continue reading “Here’s a worthy challenge for Judith Collins – asking why our Royal Society is investigating two defenders of science”

Royal Society of NZ is split by disciplinary action taken against prominent professors who signed letter in defence of science

Let’s meet Professor Garth Cooper, described on the University of Auckland website as one of New Zealand’s foremost biological scientists and biotechnology entrepreneurs.

He is professor of Biochemistry and Clinical Biochemistry at the School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Medicine at the University of Auckland, where he also leads the Proteomics and Biomedicine Research Group. He is a Principal Investigator in the Maurice Wilkins Centre of Research Excellence for Molecular Biodiscovery, a member of the Endocrine Society (USA).  He was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (London) in 2013

And – for now – he is a member of the Academy of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

But the society has subjected him and another prominent academic, Robert Nola, to disciplinary action which looks suspiciously like a witch hunt.

Nola is emeritus professor of the philosophy of science with his own impressive CV.

The society has called off its investigation into a third academic,  Michael Corballis, who died earlier this month.

The Emeritus Professor at the Department of Psychology at the university of Auckland, Corballis was awarded the Shorland Medal by the New Zealand Association of Scientists in 1999, the 2002 Queen’s Birthday and Golden Jubilee Honours, and was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to psychological science. In 2016, he received the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Rutherford Medal, its most prestigious award, for his work on brain asymmetries, handedness, mental imagery, language, and mental time travel. Continue reading “Royal Society of NZ is split by disciplinary action taken against prominent professors who signed letter in defence of science”

Zero Covid is dead – official

“Government instructions to stockpile food are seldom a sign that all is well.” 

That’s how the Financial Times kicks off its editorial: Zero-Covid countries have run out of road.

Measures in support of a Covid elimination policy, like this, quickly become destructive once elimination is not possible.  The FT states bluntly:  

“Buying time made sense during the wait for vaccines.  Now, though, buying time buys nothing”.

Continue reading “Zero Covid is dead – official”

The Covid mystery deepens … or so we are told

Accuracy is important for the BBC.  Hence the straplines in its reporting yesterday on the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China:

Covid origins may never be known – US intelligence

“But US agencies say the virus, first identified in China, was not developed as a biological weapon.”

“The office that oversees US spy agencies could not establish how the coronavirus pandemic began.”

But the Financial Times thought the same material merited a different angle:

Continue reading “The Covid mystery deepens … or so we are told”