Thursday, November 11, 2021

Karl du Fresne: Bob Brockie on matauranga and the postmodernism fraud

Today I'm honoured to publish a guest post by the redoubtable Dr Bob Brockie - scientist, sceptic and long-time cartoonist for The National Business Review (in its pre-woke era).

In the 1960s, French intellectuals Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and others dreamt up a new philosophy that came to be known as Postmodernism.

Dissatisfied with modernity, they sought to overthrow its thinking . They asserted that men, women, black, white, strait, gay, powerful or powerless read words differently, that truth, reason, justice, social progress, and natural reality mean different things to different people and are really code words for the establishment. They think the Enlightenment is a fraud perpetrated by white males to consolidate their own power. They want to empower the marginalised.

These people argue that there are no such things as facts, only opinions about facts. Everybody’s opinions are of equal value, whether you’re a rocket scientist or a stone-age nobody, and everybody’s opinions are to be respected and never questioned or challenged. The supernatural and ambiguity are OK. Rules are made to be broken. Make your own rules. Anything goes.

Postmodernists argued that science is not absolute, and no better than any other system of knowledge — if not worse. In 1996, the postmodern journal Social Text published a ‘science wars’ double issue in which eighteen authors presented their case against science. A typical extract laid out the battle lines:

“In these wars, the self-appointed defenders of Science are seeking to police the boundaries of knowledge and to resurrect canonical knowledge of nature, against the attempts of the Others (including feminists, antiracists, psychoanalysts, post-colonialists, leftists, multiculturalists, relativists, postmodernists, etc., in all our bewildering diversity) to extend, transform, or maybe even dissolve the boundaries between the privileged truth claims of science and other knowledge”.

Postmodernism spread like wildfire in the late 20th century. Free of rules, architects, artists, musicians, linguists, sociologists, and educationists struck out in new directions with some remarkable achievements but left science untouched. Since the 1990s, most of the world has moved beyond the extremes of postmodernism but, belatedly, New Zealand has entrenched it in the country’s laws, in its schools, and universities.

New Zealander Sir Paul Callaghan famously wrote the aim of science is “To make discoveries of permanent value, to transcend nation, race, culture and political perspectives in truly international endeavour, and to collaborate with people all over the world”.

Council reps from the humanities on our Royal Society, calling themselves Te Whainga Aronui o Te Aparangi, don’t wear this. They have brought their postmodernist ideology with them and, parroting Foucault and Derrida, assert that science is ‘based on ethnocentric bias and outmoded dualisms (and the power relations embedded in them)” and want “to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally and bring alongside that, inequality and diversity issues holistically”.

Postmodernist councillors have white-anted the scientific integrity of our Royal Society and brought political, racial, cultural, and religious bias into its workings. In embracing the Treaty they are imposing political, racial and cultural obligations, expectations, and limitations on scientists - the equivalent of imposing the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the Hindu Vedas, or the Book of Mormon on them.

World science and matauranga cannot be reconciled. Science operates in the natural world but Maori thought is rooted in the supernatural.

Matauranga is often defined as traditional knowledge, passed from generation to generation. A prominent Maori maintains that indigenous knowledge belongs to iwi and that they should control it. How different is science! All science is provisional, and open to criticism and challenges. But challenge matauranga and you will be branded as racist.

Earlier this year, a Government educational working group argued that Maori science (matauranga) be given equal status with world science in our school curricula. Seven Auckland professors were alarmed at this idea and wrote that Maori knowledge ‘falls far short of what we define as science.’ The academics were also alarmed that kids could be taught that science is a tool of colonisation and belittles Maori culture.

The president and CEO of the Royal Society responded by saying they ‘utterly reject [the professors’] narrow and outmoded definition of science’ and, again parroting Foucault and Derrida, 'strongly uphold the value of matauranga’. What is a science teacher to say when a pupil asks which of the two stories is true?

Our Royal Society was once a bastion of science but has now abandoned truth, reason, and science to become a mouthpiece for faddish woke politics. The supernatural world of matauranga would be better taught in religious studies instead of science.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Doug Longmire said...

Where to start ?
1/ Science is science. It is not "Maori" or any other race, identity or whatever. Science IS objective.
The earth is not flat.
2 + 2 = 4
Need I go on?

2/ I looked up "postmodernism" in Wikipedia hoping for a comprehensible description. This is part of what I got:

"Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, framing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. These thinkers often view personal and spiritual needs as being best fulfilled by improving social conditions and adopting more fluid discourses, in contrast to modernism, which places a higher degree of emphasis on maximizing progress and which generally regards the promotion of objective truths as an ideal form of discourse."

Translation into English apparently not available.

Kiwialan said...

A stone age culture without the intellect to figure out the wheel, a written language, metallurgy; that ate to extinction countless bird species, thrived on slavery, cannibalism and inter tribal warfare considered equal to science worldwide. What a load of utter rubbish forced on us by the brainwashed brown nosing academic elite in their tax payer paid for ivory towers. When are the mainstream media going to find their balls and publish opposing views to this racist propaganda filling our papers and screens? Kiwialan.

KP said...

"All science is provisional, and open to criticism and challenges."

Too late!

You can't challenge the science that human's are making global warming.

You can't challenge the science that unvaccinated people kill vaccinated people.

You can't challenge the science that 'horse dewormer' has no effect on Covid and you must get a RNA modification system injected.

You can't challenge the science that the moon and planets do not control the climate & weather.

You can't challenge the science that 400ppm of CO2 controls the Earth's temperature.

Science is just another toy of those who control the politicians!

SeriousScientist said...

Excellent article. Fully agree. For those who believe in parallel science systems on par with accepted modern science, I recommend reading Bunge's article "In praise of intolerance to charlatanism in academia" freely downloadable at
It makes excellent reading.