Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Jerry Coyne: Canadian university advertises for scientists expert in Indigenous “ways of knowing”

The combination of Canadian wokeness and the migration across the Pacific of New Zealand’s “indigenous ways of knowing” trope has led to this ad by The University of Victoria. The U of V wants to hire three candidates in any branch of science with expertise “in either (a) working with Indigenous ways of knowing, or (b) in infusing Indigenous science approaches and perspectives into science.”

Click below to see the ad:

But before giving specifics, this being Canada, the ad has to have a VIDEO territory acknowledgment, to wit:

We acknowledge and respect the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples on whose traditional territory the university stands and whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day. We invite applicants to watch the “Welcome to the Territory” video and to visit the Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations’ websites to learn more about these vibrant communities. To learn more about the Indigenous community on campus, please see the Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement (IACE) office’s website.

Well, whose territory is it? And shouldn’t they be giving the U of V back to either the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples? (I guess they first need to determine who morally owns the land.)

Oy! This is part of a job ad! Well, granted, it may help attract those three scientists who are tasked with furthering indigenous ways of knowing or melding them with modern science:

But now the real meat: the job ad itself. Bolding is theirs:

Indigenization and Decolonization at UVic
The University of Victoria is committed to the ongoing work of decolonizing and Indigenizing the campus community both inside and outside the classroom. UVic released our second Indigenous Plan in 2023 and the Faculty of Science has drafted its Indigenization Implementation Strategy (2022-2026) as we prepare ourselves for the work ahead. Decolonization and Indigenization are integral aspects of the 2023 UVic Strategic Plan and the 2022 Faculty of Science Strategic Plan.

To advance our work on Indigenization and decolonization, the Faculty of Science is excited to invite Indigenous applicants for three faculty positions in any field of Science. The three available positions are at the tenure-track assistant professor level and are cross-posted across our six departments: Biochemistry & Microbiology, Biology, Chemistry, Earth & Ocean Sciences, Mathematics & Statistics, and Physics & Astronomy.

Among the qualifications is this:

“The candidate has interest, potential or experience in either (a) working with Indigenous ways of knowing, or (b) in infusing Indigenous science approaches and perspectives into science.”

Do I need to emphasize once again that there are no “indigenous ways of knowing” beyond the ways that modern science “knows” things. To be frank, indigenous “ways of knowing” are inferior to modern science, which has a whole armamentarium for determining what counts as “knowledge” (experimentation, controls, replication, hypothesis-testing, pervasive doubt, and so on). In contrast, indigenous ways of knowing invariably come down to simple observation of natural phenomena or assertions (say, about the efficacy of plants as medicines) that aren’t tested using blind studies. And without verification and replication and testing, you don’t have knowledge; you have claims.

In addition, Indigenous “ways of knowing” are almost invariably gotten down with a large dose of spirituality, religion, or tradition. Some Native Americans, for example, deny that their ancestors came to the area around 20,000 years ago, saying that their tradition tells them that they were “always here.” Under indigenous ways of knowing, experiments must conform to what is sacred: you can’t build a telescope, for example, on Hawaiian land that’s seen as sacred, or send ashes to the Moon because “Grandmother Moon lit the way for our ancestors.” (There are better reasons not to clutter up the Moon.)

It’s also for these reasons that part b) above—”infusing Indigenous science approaches and perspectives into science”—is largely futile. What does this even mean? What is an “Indigenous science approach/perspective”? Does this mean that fish are best found in area X at time Y, and that berries are likely to be found in locality Z in the fall? Or plant Q can cure you if you have malady R? If so, then yes, that’s empirical “knowledge” of a sort, but it has to be tested using real science, not “Indigenous science approaches”. The approaches may suggest hypothesis, but these “approaches” cannot become part of modern science until they’re verified using the tools of modern science. In other words, there is not Indigenous science, only science done by Indigenous peoples using the methods of modern science.

It is, then, more or less of a travesty for the U of V to hire three Indigenous people to “decolonize” science, which means, of course, to throw away the tools of modern science, developed by oppressive colonizers, and use whatever empirical/spiritual knowledge the new professors have. Or, as Wikipedia puts it,

According to Mpoe Johannah Keikelame and Leslie Swartz, “decolonising research methodology is an approach that is used to challenge the Eurocentric research methods that undermine the local knowledge and experiences of the marginalised population groups”.

Yes, science, now used worldwide by many non-European people, is still seen as not only “Eurocentric”, but as “undermining local knowledge and experiences” of Indigenous groups. But that like science undermining, as some Māori insist, their tradition that their Polynesian ancestors discovered Antarctica in the 7th century A.D? If so, then “colonizing science”, which really means using modern science, is going to win, for it tells us that there is not a shred of evidence for such claims. As best we know, Antarctica was seen by Russian sailors in 1820.

These job ads, then, are threefold travesties. They undermine real science by replacing scientists who could be finding out real stuff with scientists committed to buttressing Indigenous “ways of knowing”. They suck up money by funding largely futile endeavors. And, worst of all, they confuse students (and the populace) about what science really is: a set of methodologies, developed over a few centuries, that gives us ever closer approaches to truth. It has no legends, Gods, or spirutuality.

One could add, I suppose, that these adds are really efforts to advance science, but a big DEI initiative to advance Indigenous people themselves. That’s fine, but you shouldn’t don’t do that by sacralizing their ways of knowing. Instead, you ensure that they get the opportunities to study and practice modern science—the so-called “Eurocentric” science that is the only real “way of knowing”. To do otherwise is to erode the understanding of science.


Finally, we see below the racial requirements (their bolding). Note that you don’t really have to be an indigenous person; you only have to identify as indigenous, and do so in writing. But that is weird. If the University has an equity plan and the government a Human Rights Code limiting applicants to Indigenous peoples, on what basis do they allow a non-Indigenous person who self-identifies as one? (I doubt such people would be accepted for the job anyway.). Of course this would be considered a violation of the law in America, but Canada isn’t the U.S.

In accordance with the University’s Equity Plan and pursuant to section 42 of the BC Human Rights Code, the selection will be limited to Indigenous peoples. Our search committee will review the pool of applications from those who self-identify with this designated group. Candidates from this group must self-identify in their cover letter to be considered for this position.

Jerry Coyne is an American biologist known for his work on speciation and his commentary on intelligent design, a prolific scientist and author. This article was first published HERE


Peter said...

Three candidates, how fortuitous is that for us here in NZ?

Our Government should encourage three locally based academic notables to apply for these roles to the extent that if it has to subsidise U of V, it should and, indeed, even if incentives have to be given these persons, it would be taxpayer money very well spent for the future stability of the nation to be shot of them, and quite likely a hugely enlightening experience for the indoctrinated students under their warped guidance.

The three I'm thinking of are Profs. Mutu, Charters, and Ruru, who I'm sure would also admirably fulfil U of V's woke DEI requirements.

I'm sure many would wish them well, and Bon Voyage!

Anonymous said...

Decolonisation? The colonisers made Canada. Made it so good that woke weird liberal self haters want to tear it down and revert to pre colonisation. You know, when life expectancy was 30. There were no medical care.

These woke are dangerous.

Barrie Davis said...

Maori knowledge is said to be “the body of knowledge originating from Maori ancestors, including the Maori world view and perspectives, Maori creativity and cultural practices”. That description is antithetical to science.

Scientists know they have a world view or a lens, but they use methods, especially statistical analysis, to avoid it. Hence science is, or tries to be, acultural, non-partisan or universal. So science is ‘western’ only in the sense of being a western European invention centered on the scientific method. Knowledge generated using science cannot be European, Asian or Maori knowledge. Maori knowledge, as described above, is mythology rather than science.

It is disappointing that the West has so readily surrendered our most precious things including democracy, science and our self respect.

Anonymous said...

Laughable. But sad. Oh dear never mind. Because when “you’ve got nothing I want, you’ve got nothing I need” (sing along eurocenticly) what to do?

robert Arthur said...

As an employee I found the most draining tasks were those somewhat intangible. I would find the employment offered very taxing. But then I have not had Maori Studies or equivalnt training to prepare me. And I have read Churchill extensively which has largely destroyed the ability to write complete waffle in the modern obtuse tertiary style.