Monday, January 24, 2022

Jerry A Coyne: More from New Zealand, a nation whose science is circling the drain

I’ve written a lot about New Zealand lately, in particular the schools’ and government’s attempt to force the teaching of “indigenous ways of knowing” (mātauranga Māori) into the science classroom as a system coequal in value with modern science. That means not only equal classroom time, but equal respect, treating indigenous ways of knowing as complementary if not identical to “scientific truth”. 

Note that I’m not dismissing the value of mātauranga Māori (henceforth “MM”) in some spheres, even science. For MM contains “practical knowledge”, like how to catch eels, that could conceivably be inserted into science courses. 

And of course MM is the worldview of the indigenous people, and thus an important part of the history and tradition of New Zealand. It thus deserves to be taught in anthropology or sociology classes. But the science within MM is precious little compared with the larger titer of myth, legend, superstition, theology, and morality that are essential to MM. 

This other stuff is not a “way of knowing” and thus cannot be taught in science classes. Note as well that MM is also explicitly creationist. Do Kiwis really want to confuse students by telling them that Māori creation myths are just as “scientific” as is biological evolution? Teaching MM as science is just as fraught as teaching any indigenous “way of knowing” as science: it’s a pathway that leads inevitably to the degeneration of science education in a country.

If you want to see what’s in store for New Zealand’s secondary schools and universities, have a read of the brochure below (click on screenshot to get a free copy), which is the University of Auckland’s “five year and ten year plans” for where it wants to go vis-à-vis education and reputation. I’ve read it twice, and have concluded four things:

a. There’s no “there” there: it’s all a bunch of chirpy aspirations about making the University a world thought leader, but without any tangible steps for doing so. I’ve rarely read a “plan” so devoid of content.

b. It’s abysmally written and loaded with Māori words that you can’t understand unless you’re fluent in the language (have a look, for instance, at the title).

c. It’s basically a plan for handing over half the curriculum and its planning to Māori, including teaching MM, though they constitute only 16.5% of the New Zealand population (Asians are 15.3%).

d. There is nothing at all about science in the plan except this lame quote from the “research and innovation page” of aspirations:

Be a research partner of choice for industry, policymakers and community organisations.

• Review promotion and reward systems to appropriately recognise the value of a range of research endeavours.

• Upskill and build capability of staff and students in research impact, engagement and science communication.

(“Upskill”? Is that a word.?) At any rate, you get the sense from the above of what’s in this screed: a lot of fine-sounding words without any substance. In fact, the one mention of science I’ve just quoted is the ONLY time that word is used in the entire 28-page vision statement, while the words “mātauranga Māori” are used six times. That’s way more than “coequal”!

The sole mention of science:
  • Upskill and build capability of staff and students in research impact, engagement and science communication.
One of six mentions of MM:

Through the curriculum, and through the richness of experiences of University life, Students will be highly connected to knowledges of place and conversant in matauranga Maori, kaupapa Maori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles and accountabilities.

And what kind of vision plan says nothing about science education?

The deep-sixing of modern science in NZ is pretty much a done deal, as the Ardern government has decided that the initial agreement between the “Crown” (settlers) and the Māori—embodied in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, known in Māori as “Te Tiriti”) should be interpreted as meaning that Māori should ultimately get not just equity (since they’re a minority of Kiwis), but extra equity: half of the money and half of the power.

Now pushback by minority groups everywhere is largely about power, which is fine because oppression is a withdrawal of power. But my reading of the government’s push is that power is to be apportioned to indigenous people so that they get at least half the say in everything.

It’s as if the government of the U.S. decided that Native Americans got not only half the research funding for science, but half the say in teaching their “way of knowing” in science classes. This just won’t do, as times have moved on. MM rarely changes, and most of it cannot be falsified, while science steams its way forward. This is not to say that Māori shouldn’t have more power than they do already (I can’t speak to that), but that the government of New Zealand apparently is so ridden with guilt that it’s ready to hand over its science and its universities—not to mention its dosh—to Māori or to anybody who claims Māori ancestry.

The money issue had escaped my mind until I read the article below, which appears at a reputable website (Point of Order) and was written by a reputable journalist, Graham Adams. His point is that the drive to establish hegemony of MM has as a main goal the acquisition of money for Māori-centric research (I know of examples of this, but they’re quite trivial)—in fact, half of all money allocated for research. If you want to hurt scientific progress in New Zealand, that’s a good way to do it. One can of course—and should—try to interest Māori in modern scientific endeavors, but that’s not what Adams is talking about.

An excerpt (my emphasis):

The incendiary stoush was sparked last July by seven eminent professors stating in a letter to the Listener that indigenous knowledge is not science and therefore does not warrant inclusion in the NCEA syllabus as being equal to science.

Yet in the five months since the letter was published, virtually no one among those opposing the professors has argued convincingly that mātauranga Māori is scientific (even if some small elements of it could be called proto-science or pre-science).

On the face of it, the debate by now should have been declared a clear win for the professors and their supporters. In rebuttal, their principal critics — including the Royal Society NZ, Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, the Tertiary Education Union and prominent Covid commentators Drs Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy — have not gone beyond asserting that mātauranga Māori is a valuable and unique system of knowledge that is complementary to science.

This view is not contentious in the slightest — and was explicitly endorsed by the professors themselves in their letter.

So, if most everyone agrees that mātauranga Māori is mostly not science but is nevertheless a worthwhile and complementary form of knowledge, the obvious solution to the standoff over including it in the NCEA curriculum would be to teach it as a component of, say, social studies. But not as part of the science syllabus.

That way, you’d think, everyone wins — Māori knowledge would be taught in secondary schools, and the argument over whether it is sufficiently scientific would vanish.

However, a simple accommodation of this kind was never going to be possible because the NCEA syllabus is merely the tip of a large iceberg of policies to recast our entire science education system — from schools to universities to research institutes — as an equal endeavour between Māori and non-Māori in which mātauranga Māori is everywhere accorded the same status as science.

And thats the rub, because “status” includes money.


The NCEA syllabus represents just one small step in fulfilling a much wider co-governance programme based on a radical view of the Treaty as a 50:50 partnership between Maori and the Crown. For that reason, advocates of incorporating Maori knowledge into the science curriculum cannot afford to concede even an inch of ground to the professors and their supporters lest their stealthy revolution be undermined.

In short, the push to promote indigenous knowledge cannot be allowed to fail at any level for fear it will fail at every level.

The project to gain parity for mātauranga Māori throughout science education and funding is detailed in Te Pūtahitangi, A Tiriti-led Science-Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Published last April, it can be seen as a companion to the revolutionary ethno-nationalist report He Puapua and shows how a radical overhaul of the education system could, or should, be implemented.

This overhaul in fact gives more than equity to Māori when it comes to funding, for their research quality gets weighted 2.5 times as heavily as does research from non-Māori. This is likely to translate into big differences in research funding. Not even in the U.S. will the NSF and NIH prioritize grants and research evaluations based on ethnicity. The NIH tried to do that, but stopped the practice when it became public and was seen as unfair. One possibility is to fund only projects that involve Māori scientists. But since there’s a paucity of Māori scientists, the NZ initiative is, I think, likely to shake out as “no funding except for projects that combine modern science with MM.”

While the University of Auckland touts how wonderful it is and how much of a world-class research institute it will be, it and the NZ government is simultaneously ensuring that the research quality and reputation of the entire country will go into the dumper. And it’s largely done out of guilt, for equity alone simply cannot justify these actions. Robin DiAngelo would make a pile in New Zealand!

In the next installment (not for a while), I’ll give some examples of MM “ways of knowing” that have been touted as scientific.

Dr Jerry A. Coyne is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. Jerry is an author of books and many papers, he has contributed to The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other popular periodicals. This article was first published HERE


Doug Longmire said...

In my 50+ years as a pharmacist, I used the scientific approach in my work and research.
Matauranga Maori is quite simply NOT science.
It may be "social studies" or "native history" or myths and legends, but is is not science.

DeeM said...

What's the collective noun for idiots? Whatever it is, that's what we have for a government, mainstream academia and media at present.
Anyone with half a brain can clearly see how badly this whole co-governance plan and blanket positive Maori discrimination is going to go and yet the establishment clings to it like a lifejacket in a hurricane.
I cannot believe the blind stupidity that has infected the corridors of power and influence in NZ. If only we had a vaccine against it. You feel like the guy on the street corner proclaiming that the end is nigh but everyone just puts their head down and walks on.
I'm hoping the average kiwi would be shocked if they knew what was coming their way, but I'm not so sure anymore.
They might actually show some interest and demand they were fairly represented...or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with the sentiment that mātauranga Māori is not science, that it's coming from someone who believes in Evolution is gross hypocrisy and a case of one set of false beliefs fighting another. Neither is true and both will lead society down dead end paths.

Unknown said...

The biggest mistake is calling Maori indigenous, they were just boat people like the rest of us who arrived a little later. Why white academics perpetuate the myth and kowtow to part Maori activists is beyond comprehension. Kiwialan.

Geoffrey said...

Who do the MM researchers ask when undertaking their research? Where is the core of knowledge to probe, interpret and apply? I suspect that it is themselves. It is that group of part Maori mediocrities that has emerged over the past couple of decades that is busy inventing new words and new memories so as to create an entirely new income generator.

Jana said...

Oh dear poor Nz. Every single aspect of our lives now has a racist element. I have two grandchildren who want to be doctors. To gain access to med school their grades have to be higher than Maori students. Is this right? Places are held for Maori students. If they are not filled by Maori they remain empty. This is ludicrous when we are crying out for doctors. These places should be filled by any race year is clever enough. These clever young people need to be taught true science not some very nice myths and legends. Nz needs to start rewarding those who work the hardest regardless of race.

David Lillis said...

Thanks to Professor Coyne for a sober analysis of the science vs. indigenous knowledge debate. We live in interesting times!

We must fight to protect science and the education of our young people and, of course, we can do so while valuing indigenous knowledge and its potential to complement science.

David Lillis

JEFF D. UPTON said...

We are indebted to Professor Coyne for his thoughtful and, indeed, alarmed response to this fiasco. I am appalled at the statement that Dame Juliet Gerrard is a convert to this Leftist psychosis. I previously had great respect for her intellectual integrity.
The literal interpretation of the Treaty [an agreement dating to 180 years ago] has about as much relevance to 21st Century NZ as "The right of the citizens to bear arms.." has to contemporary America.
Any NZ political leader who condemns this insanity has my unwavering support.

Jeff D.