Column Stuff-up – defending science is challenging nowadays but professors were right about Wiles’ allegation

The Dominion-Post – without any hint of a blush – proclaimed in a Page 3 headline today:  Mauri restored to Parliament grounds. 

Really? We hope to see the photographs.

On the next page, a report is headlined ”Media Council upholds professors’ complaint”.

This tells readers “a most serious allegation” (and a baseless one) had been made against six University of Auckland professors by associate professor Siouxsie Wiles.  This had struck at the heart of academic freedom by asserting the professors were trying to stifle opposing views using lawyers’ threats and required immediate public correction.

The article beneath the Page 3 headline says work to rebuild Parliament grounds is starting after the occupation by protesters.

Reporter Glenn McConnell describes a procession and a ceremony which involved poi, taiaha and karakia and the turning of soil

“… to open Papatūānuku and restore mauri to the grounds”. Continue reading “Column Stuff-up – defending science is challenging nowadays but professors were right about Wiles’ allegation”

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”

Minister seems oblivious to the defence of science as she pitches public funds into empowerment and a quest for knowledge

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.” Continue reading “Minister seems oblivious to the defence of science as she pitches public funds into empowerment and a quest for knowledge”

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”

Regenerative agriculture will get funding for research by scientists – dealing with family violence brings Maori lore into play

Monitoring the ministers

Science has been to the fore in Point of Order’s considerations in recent days and it’s been high in Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor’s considerations, too.

The Government is backing two new research projects to investigate the impacts of “regenerative farming” practices.  This is a contentious issue in science circles, raising questions about  definitions and about the need for zealous champions of regenerative farming to base their arguments on New Zealand science, not on science results from countries with different conditions and farming methods.

O’Connor announced the government is contributing $2.8 million to a $3.85 million five-year project involving AgResearch with co-investment by Synlait Milk and Danone.   This aims to understand how to measure and manage soil health to boost environmental and economic performance on New Zealand farms.

The second project sees the Government contributing $2.2 million to a five-year research project aimed at boosting New Zealand farm yields by attracting beneficial insects to farms using specifically designed native planting.

On another sector front, the government is reporting on the outcomes of money invested in the past:  the construction sector is now the fourth biggest employer in the country and infrastructure activity is forecast to reach $11.2 billion in 2026.

The Minister for Building and Construction Poto Williams highlighted those points while saying the National Construction Pipeline Report 2021 released today shows the construction sector has held up well during the COVID-19 pandemic and the future outlook is positive. Continue reading “Regenerative agriculture will get funding for research by scientists – dealing with family violence brings Maori lore into play”

An ABC of science from Megan Woods (but you might need a translation) portends reform of the sector to lift diversity

Latest from the Beehive

A speech from Phil Twyford, speaking as Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth, can be found on the Beehive website today – for those of who relish that sort of thing.

He reminded his Asia Forum audience he has specific responsibility for our trading relationships with Southeast Asia and the Pacific and he addressed them on “the work being done to support economic resilience in the Indo-Pacific” for New Zealand and our partners in the region. 

 But Point of Order was drawn to two science-related announcements, one by Megan Woods, our Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, the other by her associate minister, Ayesha Verrall.

Neither was intended (apparently) to be easily digested by the general public.   

Woods’ announcement was that the latest research, science and innovation system report card is now available, and outlines how the system is performing.

Alas, she couldn’t resist using anagrams acronyms with which she presumably is familiar – but (we suspect) her audience might stumble. Continue reading “An ABC of science from Megan Woods (but you might need a translation) portends reform of the sector to lift diversity”

Woods reminds us she still has science among her ministerial jobs – and she dishes out $244m in grants for good measure

A big hurrah, today, for the first statement from Megan Woods as Research, Science and Innovation Minister since – let’s see.  Oh yes:  June 1.

On that occasion she announced Project Tāwhaki, a special partnership with two rūnanga in Canterbury that would

“…  rejuvenate a nationally unique environment, honour deep cultural relationships, and provide amazing opportunities to tap into the multi-billion dollar aerospace economy.”

Kaitōrete Limited and the Crown had entered into a Joint Venture partnership to purchase critical parcels of land (1,000 hectares) near Banks Peninsula. The Crown  contributed $16 million to secure the land. The Crown and the Rūnanga would each own 50 percent shares in the land and project. Continue reading “Woods reminds us she still has science among her ministerial jobs – and she dishes out $244m in grants for good measure”

The attacks on seven eminent professors over a Listener letter in which they championed science have missed their target


A letter in defence of science, published in The Listener last month, was signed by seven professors from the University of Auckland – Kendall Clements, Garth Cooper, Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis, Douglas Elliffe, Elizabeth Rata, Emeritus Professor Robert Nola, and Emeritus Professor John Werry. 

Prominent scientists were among the critics of the letter-writers.  But despite their disquiet, dismay or outrage, the critics have avoided stating that mātauranga Māori is scientific. 

GRAHAM ADAMS asks why they are skirting the main issue.


A distinctly curious feature of the backlash against the seven professors’ letter published in The Listener titled “In Defence of Science” is that none of its most prominent critics have actually defended mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge) as being scientific.

Yet the main point of the letter by the seven Auckland University professors — and the main point of contention for its critics — was summed up in its inflammatory conclusion:

“Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, but it is not science.”

The seven professors who signed the letter were responding to 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.

The “epistemologies” — that is, science — were also referred to as a “Western European invention”.

The professors objected to science being characterised in this way, on the grounds that…

“Science is universal, not especially Western European.”

They pointed out that the origins of science can be traced to many non-Western sources including ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India,

“… with significant contributions in mathematics, astronomy and physics from mediaeval Islam before developing in Europe and later the US, with a strong presence across Asia”.

They also stated:

“In the discovery of empirical, universal truths, [mātauranga] falls far short of what we can define as science itself.”

In response to what she seems to see as heresy, the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, Dawn Freshwater, announced that the letter’s question of

“.. whether mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni”.

Proclaiming feelings of dismay and hurt does not, of course, constitute a rebuttal of the professors’ assertion that mātauranga Māori is not scientific — and nor does describing it as a “distinctive and valuable knowledge system”, as Freshwater went on to do.

Whether she was aware of it or not, the VC was offering very faint praise, indeed. A “distinctive and valuable knowledge system” could equally describe Christian knowledge such as Creationism — which is part of Pakeha New Zealanders’ cultural heritage. Yet very few would want to see it given equal weight with science in a school curriculum.

In fact, the professors’ letter didn’t say anything that could be construed as hostile to a description of mātauranga Māori as a “distinctive and valuable knowledge system”. Indeed, they stated:

“Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy.”

Freshwater added a further faint endorsement:

“We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.”

Again, this says nothing about whether mātauranga Māori is scientific. And the question that remains to be answered by Professor Freshwater and others is — if it can’t be defended as scientific, what is it doing in the science curriculum?

A similar reluctance to respond directly to the professors’ contentious assertion about mātauranga Māori was evident in the statement by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, the nation’s premier body representing science and the humanities.

It vehemently opposed the professors’ stance, writing:

“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.”

The professors, of course, never said anything that implied mātauranga Māori isn’t a “valid truth” — whatever that means — but simply stated that, in their opinion, it isn’t science.

The society’s statement that the professors are using a “narrow and outmoded definition of science” doesn’t directly claim that mātauranga Māori is scientific, although it implies it might be able to be corralled into a wider and more modish view of science than the one the professors hold.

Perhaps the most extraordinary public denunciation, however, came in the form of an open letter thundering against the professors that quickly gained more than 2000 signatures, the vast majority from academics and researchers.

It was the brainchild of Auckland University’s Professor Shaun Hendy and Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles. As authors of the open letter, they could not bring themselves to say that mātauranga Māori represents a scientific view of the world, either. They were keen, however, to insist that:

“Indigenous knowledges — in this case, mātauranga — are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with ‘Western’ understandings of the scientific method.”

Presumably the overlap includes those parts of mātauranga Māori that are not mystical or animistic (for example, that do not include taniwha, or do not anthropomorphise mountains or other natural features). Notably, the authors didn’t give any real clue as to what these “overlaps” are or how substantial they might be.

They described mātauranga as offering “ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems”. This description, once again, could be applied to any distinct belief system, including the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and wasn’t denied by the professors.

The open letter is particularly remarkable for the fact that Dr Shaun Hendy and Dr Siouxsie Wiles have both been deeply involved in the government’s Covid strategies and management since the beginning of the pandemic, including regularly discussing the topic in public. But here they are castigating their academic peers who are defending scientific methodology.

The doozy in their open letter has to be this paragraph:

“The professors present a series of global crises [including Covid] that we must ‘battle’ with science — again failing to acknowledge the ways in which science has contributed to the creation of these challenges. Putting science on a pedestal gets us no further in the solution of these crises.”

Say what? As New Zealanders wait anxiously to have a shot of an effective vaccine created by legions of scientists worldwide, they are being told by the microbiologist named the New Zealander of the Year for her leadership through the Covid-19 response and the scientist whose predictions of possibly 80,000 deaths from Covid helped put the nation into lockdown in March 2020 that science is not paramount in the fight against Covid.

The news that more than 2000 mainly academics and researchers have endorsed science being knocked off its pedestal will be music to the ears of those opposed to wearing a mask in public or wary of being vaccinated, who are routinely denounced for not “following the science”.

What is most disturbing about the open letter, however, is that by drumming up signatures in support it appears to be an attempt to silence an opposing viewpoint.

Dr Wiles reinforced that impression by tweeting:

“Calling all academics in Aotearoa New Zealand. Add your name to the open letter if you are also appalled by that letter claiming to defend science published last week in the NZ Listener. It’s caused untold harm and hurt & points to major problems with some of our colleagues.”

The troublesome defenders of science allegedly causing “untold harm and hurt” include an emeritus professor of philosophy, Dr Robert Nola, who is a member of the Royal Society and who has been studying, writing and lecturing in the philosophy of science for more than 45 years.

In late 2016, soon after Donald Trump won the US Presidency, Dr Nola wrote in the NZ Herald to warn about “post-truth”. As he put it:

“This new, fancy word tells us: ‘Objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ No need for truth, it is yesteryear’s notion…

 “Insofar as studies in humanities have not resisted the views of post-truthers, too bad for humanities. But what of science? It would be quite alien for science to reject the search for truth and evidence, the core of its critical methods.

 “In science we have models of what the rational approach to believing ought to be. If followed, they are an important way to keep the post-truth era from engulfing us.”

Less than five years later, it has become clear that Dr Nola’s warning has fallen on deaf ears. As the firestorm over the professors’ letter shows, New Zealand science is indeed being engulfed by the post-modern mantra that there is no such thing as objective truth.

It is also clear that anyone who dissents must be silenced.

Why we should be talking about modern monetary policy – and bringing science into considerations

One   of  NZ’s  leading  economists,  Shamubeel  Eaqub, says  NZ  is  facing a  huge economic shock.  He  questions what new steps the government will take to boost economic growth other than housing and immigration.

Speaking  on  Radio NZ’s  Morning  Report, he said:

More of the same is not going to give us better outcomes. We have tried to have this growth in property prices, growth in borrowing, growth in immigration without having the increase in the productive capacity of the economy, infrastructure – it is really not going to work.

 “There’s kind of this disconnect between saying that we’re going to just crank up what we’ve done before and we’re going to get better economic outcomes in the future. I just don’t buy it.

I haven’t really heard much on this campaign trail around what’s going to be remarkably different. In some ways, I think, the pain still hasn’t been enough for us to be forced into having a conversation”.

Eaqub said there needed to be a discussion about modern monetary theory.

But  later  in the same  programme  Finance  Minister  Grant  Robertson  was  unequivocal:

“That’s not where we’re heading at this time.” Continue reading “Why we should be talking about modern monetary policy – and bringing science into considerations”

The government pours more millions into helping tourism and innovation – and it will help young people (some) in the Waikato

From the Minister of Tourism came an announcement on the distribution of $400 million.   He was outdone by the Minister for Research, Science and Technology, whose announcement involved a sum of $401.3m.

Much more bemusing was the announcement from the PM headed Free period products in schools to combat poverty.

This involved a a $2.6 million “investment”.  But the products (of the sanitary variety) are not  “free”  – taxpayers will pick up the tab.

If giving people something for “free” can be shown to reduce poverty, we can expect the government to extend its generosity (with our money) to a wide array of products.

Justice Minister Andrew Little popped into our considerations by announcing further help to deal with the adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 lockdown (along with $40m of lolly).

The Government will legislate to ensure businesses that suffered as a result of the Covid-19 response will get help to resolve disputes over commercial rent issues.

A temporary amendment to the Property Law Act will insert a clause in commercial leases requiring a fair reduction in rent where a business has suffered a loss of revenue because of Covid-19.

The $40 million will provide access to arbitration “in a timely and cost-effective way” to support small or medium businesses to reach agreement on a fair rent. Continue reading “The government pours more millions into helping tourism and innovation – and it will help young people (some) in the Waikato”