“TRUST THE SCIENCE” – those three words have become the mantra of the global fight against Covid-19. That the population must be exhorted to trust the advice of scientists, however, speaks directly to humanity’s diminishing faith in the scientific ethos. There was a time when politicians didn’t have to ask.Nowhere has this loss of faith been demonstrated more dramatically that on the streets of London, Paris and, closer to home, Sydney. Once revered as a secular priesthood, scientists are now depicted as the willing accomplices of tyrants hellbent on the elimination of all human freedoms. One utterly deranged London protester breathlessly recalled that doctors and nurses had faced the judges at Nuremberg – “and they were hung!”
Leaving aside the absurdity of equating NHS doctors and nurses with Joseph Mengele and his entourage, the reference to the Nazi era is curiously apposite. Scientists of every kind flocked to the new Nazi regime. From rocketeer Werner von Braun, to atomic scientist Werner Heisenberg, scientists embraced Hitler’s new order as the invincible vector of rational modernity. The intellectual promoters of “scientific racism” and eugenics looked forward to working at the cutting edge of a ruthless, ultra-radical, technological society; unburdened by sentiment and driven exclusively by unfettered science.
So, what does this tell us about “the science”? The lesson to be drawn is that knowledge is always and everywhere embedded in culture. That the one cannot be separated from the other. Culture can empower knowledge, or suppress it; advance it or divert it to the utmost wickedness. Knowledge goes where it’s told.
In the guise of scientists, the holders and manipulators of knowledge often pretend to a status entirely independent of the inexactitude of cultural impulses and individual prejudices. But, as the horrific history of the Third Reich bears witness, those calling themselves scientists proved no less susceptible to the ethno-nationalist culture of Nazism than the most thuggish stormtrooper.
Unsurprisingly, scientists resist these assertions with considerable energy. Here in New Zealand, battle has recently been joined between those who argue that “Matauranga Maori”, the Maori way of knowledge, is no less deserving of respect and inculcation than “Western Science”; and those who insist that science and the scientific method transcend all indigenous understandings of the way the world works.
The seven highly respected scientists who penned a letter to the New Zealand Listener (31/7/21) expressing similar reservations, were particularly perturbed by an NCEA working group’s claim that “science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Maori and other indigenous peoples.”
From an historical perspective, however, the seven letter-writers’ objection to this characterisation of science is extremely difficult to uphold. The relationship between race and science in the history of Western imperialism is simply too strong; and the brutal uses to which the fruits of scientific inquiry were put, too irrefutable. Science both enabled – and justified – the European conquest of the world.
By contrast, Matauranga Maori recognises the wisdom of knowledge and culture working together: each one both tempering and expanding the other. Or, as the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Dame Juliet Gerrard, wrote back in 2019:
“[Matauranga Maori’s] approach of embedding practice in society and grounding the project in a community of acceptance before it starts is the very model of ensuring impact and connectivity. Often those trained in Western traditions, however fine, struggle to grasp this until it is perhaps too late. How many technologies will be developed in isolation before we learn that we need to engage our publics sooner, not later, to make sure there is cultural license to proceed?”
Another way of describing this approach might be “the democratisation of science”. Certainly, the tradition of citizen scientists, operating independently of big business and the state, and applying their scientific discoveries in ways that brought obvious benefits to ordinary people, goes a long way towards explaining why Europeans initially embraced the achievements of science.
It was what Churchill called “perverted science” that sowed the seeds of popular doubt and scepticism. Science without scruple or sanction; science driven by national self-aggrandisement and/or private profit.
Dame Juliet suggests that: “To turn the tide on anti-science sentiment, we need to reframe our science as ‘here to serve’ and ‘here to listen’.”
This is all Matauranga Maori asks. Not that we “trust the science”, but that we trust ourselves.
This essay was originally published by The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 July 2021.
"In the realm of facts science reigns supreme, in the realm of values you have to look elsewhere" Jordan Peterson.
The obvious danger of trying discern an aught from an is (a value from a fact) is equaled by the not so obvious danger of distorting and confusing facts with values. The scientists are rightly concerned that mythology and untested, un-falsifiable ideas are being presented as science. We could, for example, allow our lives to be dictated by astrology or the pantheon of ghosts and goblins from mythology as our archaic ancestors, in the absence of anything better, were wont to do. Good luck with that.
If an idea is unable to be replicated and tested and is un-falsifiable it's not necessarily wrong but it's certainly not science in any accepted meaning of the word. The attempts to tangle them up in the same discipline are a terrible mistake. You might end up with society insisting on some profoundly mad ideas - like a bloke in a dress is a woman. That sort of thing.
We tend to overlook that Maori had to adjust to a temperate climate from a former tropical infrastructure. Within generations Maori had maximised the flora and fauna potential for textiles, cuisine, medicine and tools. They transplanted tropical crops, with agricultural innovation such as the kumara pit, evidence shows that the tī kōuka was being domesticated in the south at the time of contact.
When Cook arrived in the Pacific he was astounded that the sailing and paddling vessels of the Polynesians were faster and more maneuverable than those he had seen in Europe and his world travels. The sail design and double haul design was to be taken up by boat designers through to today. Tupaia showed Cook knowledge of navigation, astronomy and geography to the point Cook down played the role out of suspected jealousy.
Minerals such as obsidian, basalt and nephrite were used as tools for some of the worlds great wood carving art, and the building of whare and waka. Through slash and burn clearance, great agricultural sites were established, while in the south a seasonal migratory society that depended on the knowledge of the seasons, plants and animals.
Great schools of learning, the wananga / wanaka were established for the transfer of knowledge.
Science is a western discipline? Well, Andalusia kept the west in touch with world science. Algebra is Arabian, zero comes from India...
When the new history curricular looks at the first arrivals in New Zealand and the generational development of tropical Polynesians in a new and temperate land, I hope it is an integrated syllabus with math, science and agriculture.
The problem is not science but scientism, where almost religious attitudes and stances are taken WRT science, especially when it comes to scientists saying things that TPTB want to hear and that reinforce their narrative.
Science is and always has been about disagreement over evidence, theories, "facts", assumptions and so forth. As Nobel Prizewinner, Richard Feynmen once said, "Science is the Belief in the Ignorance of Experts".
Then there's this:
By contrast, Matauranga Maori recognises the wisdom of knowledge and culture working together: each one both tempering and expanding the other.
Oh come one. You're writing the talismanic words "Imperialism" and "Colonialism" so often that you forget that science struggled for centuries against the "cultures" of feudal, tribal systems across the Middle East and Europe and that science and culture changed each other in the struggle - and still are. Where do you think the trans debate would be were it not for the technology of drug dosing, surgery and the wildly democratic communication of such ideas across social media platforms to an extent and with a speed undreamed of even fifty years ago? The whole movement would have developed far more slowly and might even simply have remained where it was for decades: a matter confined to the tiny percentage of gender dysphoric people, rather than turning into a 4500% increase in British girls claiming that they're trans.
For good or bad that is science and culture working together in the West, just as it has for millennia. There's no "contrast" at all with Maori approaches to the combo.
Finally there's this:
Leaving aside the absurdity of equating NHS doctors and nurses with Joseph Mengele and his entourage,...
Normally I would agree with you, but watch this as NHS nurses bluntly tell a high risk mother that they WILL be Covid testing her baby once it's born, that the baby isn't "The mothers property" once out of the abdomen & that the Safeguarding team (Social Services) are being notified because of their refusal.
What has been obscured in this debate is the distinction between knowledge and method. Matauranga Maori is a body of knowledge that has been gathered over many centuries from observation of natural phenomena. The science that has produced modern technology follows a distinct methodology however. I think Popper captured the essence of it when he argued Science was science because its method involved subjecting theories to rigorous tests which offered a high probability of failing and thus refuting the theory.
I think they were simply saying that embedding a distrust of science within a high school science curriculum might be a bad idea. Embedding that distrust within a Maori science curriculum might also result in less Maori pursuing a career in science.
I’m not convinced that ‘Matauranga Maori’ will do anything but add another layer to the ‘precautionary principle’ beloved of the Greens, and hold NZ back in comparison with the rest of the world in the same way. Maori culture’s lack of scientific principles such as the scientific method, peer review, double blind testing and the institutions needed to bring about developments, not to mention tribalism and an oral tradition rather than written, means that the process of continuous refinement needed for civilisational progress is absent. The failure of Maori culture to manage its own people’s welfare in the modern world is testament to the concern expressed by the scientists.
On the other hand, as a Marxist-Leninist committed to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist oppression, I think the idea of incorporating Maori culture in the best that has been thought and said is an excellent way of destroying Aotearoa’s metanarrative of patriarchal colonialism. Bringing forth a generation of youth educated in critical race theory and its application to decolonisation will bring about changes of which future generations will be proud.
′′ Tolerance will reach such a level that intelligent people will be banned from thinking so as not to offend the imbeciles ′′ (Dostoevsky)
I would trust the opinions of 7 highly respected Scientists over your own interpretation of events I think . I suggest you do some reading of the actual history / philosophy behind the Scientific Method - I can suggest several titles and Philosophers to start with - Kuhn , Popper , Hume , Kant . You will find that inductive reasoning is likely at the heart of all Maori Knowledge - They see patterns in nature and make predictions - That is not "Science" . There are no Hypothesizes being formed , just pattern recognition . No analysis of why those stars are moving the way they are that allows the Maori Calendar to be constructed - If this is not clear to you - I imagine it is pretty clear to Signatories of the Letter .
The fact that the acting Dean of Science has now been forced to resign because of this is a far more relevant example of the increasing ethno-nationalism going on down under than your provided distant historical examples . Academic Freedoms are always the first things to go right ?
The push back against the seven scientists is more interesting than their very reasonable assertion. The Herald today has an article from a couple of secondary students (yes really, perhaps some deeper thinking would have been more helpful) in praise of "indigenous knowledge" as scientific knowledge. They completely avoid confronting the central claims. Pointedly no one is pushing for indigenous knowledge to be subject to proper scientific rigour for a very good reason; most of it is not, and shouldn't be confused with, scientific truth. For the sake of both.
One of the greatest mythological stories is of the Biblical flood; an elaboration of the idea that, if you allow yourself and your society to become corrupt and characterised by lies, reality (God) will assert itself (Himself) and you will drown in chaos. There are people foolishly trying to find the remains of the Arc but we can, and perhaps should, believe, even prove, that it's central assertion, it's warning, is true without accepting the need to believe that the tale wound around it as an accurate account. It's a metaphoric truth.
"Trust The Science" is a clear call to authority; unfortunately scientists have done themselves, and their calling, no good recently by allowing their theories and modelling to be presented as scientific fact by credulous governments and fear mongering media. How else would this Ferguson failure have been accorded any credibility.
"Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die. There were fewer than 200 deaths. . . .
In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. In the U.K., there were only 177 deaths from BSE.
In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.
In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a “reasonable worst-case scenario” was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K.
Last March, Ferguson admitted that his Imperial College model of the COVID-19 disease was based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus. Ferguson declined to release his original code so other scientists could check his results. He only released a heavily revised set of code last week, after a six-week delay."
Theory, Modelling and Matauranga Maori are sometimes the best you've got but never lose sight of the fact: They're not scientific truths.
So science must ask the people if it can discover things? That science is here to serve us? That science must listen?
That is more to do with propaganda than science. I agree that science is often used in ways that don't benefit us, but that is not science,that is human failings. To consider any cultural belief to be the equivalent of science is frightening, no matter what the culture, or the belief. However if we ate to go down this road, who gets to decide which of these beliefs are true and which are not. Of course what we could do, as the seven writers suggested, is use the structure of science to test them for validity. Or, as is more common, attempt to falsify them.
The relationship between race and science in the history of Western imperialism is simply too strong; and the brutal uses to which the fruits of scientific inquiry were put, too irrefutable. Science both enabled – and justified – the European conquest of the world.
I remember in Sunday school gazing skeptically at the poster of the lion and the lamb. Primates have always invaded other primates territory and agriculturalists have displaced hunter gatherers.
Why are we bothering with these moral positions? Maori were an isolated culture and the lack of food species meant a low population. European agriculture captured the eco-system and increased carrying capacity about 40 times. It happened at the cusp of history as we had just managed to sail all over the globe.
There is a point beyond which even justice becomes unjust. — Sophocles
By contrast, Matauranga Maori recognises the wisdom of knowledge and culture working together: each one both tempering and expanding the other.
This is confusing positive behaviour with a lack of technology, how do you know what is possible without science?
"....those calling themselves scientists proved no less susceptible to the ethno-nationalist culture of Nazism than the most thuggish stormtrooper."
Curious, isn't it, that ethno-nationalism exactly characterises the culture of radical Maori activism. And a cohort of scientists in NZ have bought right into it. But not those who signed that letter, and the other brave souls prepared to stand up for their profession. Plus ça change, it seems.
Here's what that letter actually said:
"Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of local culture and practices and plays key roles in management and policy. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself."
They're quite right. Science is the child of the Enlightenment. It's the falsifiable hypothesis, as Karl Popper succinctly described it. Maori knowledge is folklore, and practices grounded upon observation of natural phenomena. Science it isn't.
I'd add that they're much more polite about Matauranga Maori than were my lecturers of many years ago. Much of it is animist mumbo-jumbo: that was their view back then. Difficult to disagree, really.
From the above link:
"...their main objection is with a particular description as part of a new course - which "promotes discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of eurocentric views (among which, its use as a rationale for colonisation of māori and the suppression of māori knowledge): and the notion that science is a western european invention and itself evidence of european dominance over māori and other indigenous peoples.""
Well they might object: as should all of us. Surely this revisionism isn't to be the basis of what our children and grandchildren are to be taught? Their letter points out that modern science has its underpinnings in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. And, of course, India and China: peoples in these times and countries would take strong exception to being characterised as "Western" - even had that term meant anything to them.
"Science both enabled – and justified – the European conquest of the world."
It did no such thing. Science has no agency: its fruits were and are used by people, for both good and bad. Exploration and colonisation are part of the human condition: were that not the case, we would not now be the species that we are.
As to "colonisation", those shouting loudest about it in this country have conveniently forgotten that Polynesia was colonised in just the same way as was the rest of the world. Had the Polynesians been able to reach Australia, you can be sure they'd have done it. However, it appears that the closest they got was the north coast of Papua New Guinea.
"...grounding the project in a community of acceptance before it starts..."
Then it wouldn't be science, would it? It'd be Maori knowledge and folklore. It's also worth noting that, while this may be the way in which the Maori world operates now, it certainly didn't prior to the first European arrivals. Oral histories confirm that.
Science proposes hypotheses: that's the whole point of it.
You quote Dame Juliet Gerrard as observing: "How many technologies will be developed in isolation before we learn that we need to engage our publics sooner, not later, to make sure there is cultural license to proceed?”"
And she characterises herself as a scientist? Good grief....and God help us all. Yet another who apparently doesn't know what science is. And isn't. Yet she's a science advisor to the PM.
From the above link:
"As Rangi Mataamua says we did not navigate to Aotearoa on myths and legends. We did not live successfully in balance with the environment without science. Māori were the first scientists in Aotearoa."
This is nonsense. The first Polynesians came to NZ using the same means by which they'd island-hopped across the Pacific: the stars and following the flight patterns of migratory birds. These are the means by which humans explored everywhere else in the world, until the development of navigation technologies.
And Maori didn't live in balance with the environment until they were forced into it by diminishing food resources. They were saved from starvation by the arrival of Europeans with megafauna (pigs and goats) and chickens, and cultivars (potatoes, cabbage, carrots) that would grow in the cold climate here.
They were not the first scientists in NZ. They didn't spend time figuring out the taxonomy of the big flightless birds here: they ate them to extinction. The Royal Society notes that by about two centuries after the first arrivals, those birds were extinct. And it's clear that Maori had neither the resources nor the expertise to return to the nearest islands (the Cooks) in order to obtain pigs and chickens to supplement their diets.
The reaction to the academics' letter in defence of science tells us everything we really didn't want to know about how far - and how quickly - universities and the media have fallen down the rabbit hole of identity politics.
I'm simply astonished at what's been said by many people who really ought to know better.
D'Esterre, that was reasonable commentary. Thought you might like what Zizec says ... three variations of the same formula. Gates’ charity implies the formula: respect all cultures, your own and others. The Rightist nationalist formula is: respect your own culture and despise others which are inferior to it. The Politically Correct formula is: respect other cultures, but despise your own which is racist and colonialist (that’s why Politically Correct woke culture is always anti-Eurocentric).
The correct Leftist stance is: bring out the hidden antagonisms of your own culture, link it to the antagonisms of other cultures, and then engage in a common struggle of those who fight here against the oppression and domination at work in our culture and those who do the same in other cultures.
I'll limit myself in commenting on only one of your points (although diametrically opposed to most), that is the point of the Moa.
Almost everywhere humans arrived out of Africa the meta-analysis died out. NZ was settled late, but fitted the global pattern.
While Maori undoubtedly hunted Moa and Moa eggs to what was correctly described as an industrial level (Tiwai Point archeology site the most prominent proof), however, there was one species of Moa, the Crested Moa, which had only lived in Northwest Nelson around Mt Owen. There is no evidence of human hunting or eating this remote species. Yet it went extinct the same time as the other Moa. The reason? Kiore, the Polynesian Rat. The Moa eggs and laying cycle made Moa vulnerable to mammalian predators.
Undoubtedly Maori hunting speed the extinction of the Moa, but even without the hunting, Moa were going to be extinct after first contact.
"Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, the underlying process is frequently the same from one field to another. The process in the scientific method involves making conjectures (hypotheses), deriving predictions from them as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments or empirical observations based on those predictions."
So – which of these did Maori not do when they arrived in New Zealand, confronted with unfamiliar terrain, climate, and food sources? Pakeha marvelled at the fortifications produced by Maori in the Anglo Maori wars. Is engineering not a science? Does agriculture not involve science? The Baron has actually said all this pretty much, but I notice no one is taking him to task – got nothing?
Incidentally, every group of human beings that left Africa ended up eating the megafauna to extinction and being forced to come to balance with the environment, some of whom were more successful than others. And no matter what you might think, pigs and goats are not megafauna.,
I do not know if you mean your last paragraph seriously or as a kind of irony. But as I lived in a communist country I can assure you that the future generations would not be proud but deeply damaged and ashame. You just do not know what you are talking about. God save New Zealand from Marxism and any kind of communism and socialism.
To Kit Slater. I am not sure if you mean the last paragraph seriously or as a kind of irony but as I lived in a communist country I can assure you that the future generations would not be proud but damaged and deeply ashamed. You just do not know what you are talking about. God save New Zealand from Marxism Leninism, communism and all kinds of socialism.
Alexandra Corbett Dekanova.
Thanks GS, I tried to say that but auto correct turned mega fauna into meta analysis some how. Cheers.
Interesting Barron, we humans have always had dangerous travelling companions. We could say tongue in cheek that the rats tried to wipe out the human fauna of Eurasia with bubonic plague. The introduction of kiore to these islands does however undermine the recieved wisdom that Maori killed off the moa. Narratives have a habit of getting away from the facts.
AutoCorrect as a bastard. I must admit I did a bit of a double take when I saw that. :) But this website is so archaic you can't edit your own posts if you make a mistake, you can't post photos or other pictures, the replies aren't nested so you can't see a if you have been replied to without going through the whole damn lot, and you don't get notified if someone has replied to you. It's almost enough to make me abandon this place altogether to be honest.
To: Guerilla Surgeon.
First of all, GS, this is not a website, it's a blog. A blog, moreover, created by Google Blogger and supplied, free-of-charge, to who ever downloads it.
What's more, it comes "as-is" with its own set of rules - none of which I wrote, or am allowed to break.
It is also a moderated blog, of which, I, not you, GS, am the Moderator. (For which, I am pretty sure, a great many contributors to Bowalley Road are very grateful!)
Rather than post misspelled or grammatically inelegant comments, I would strongly urge you to proof-read them before posting them. An old-fashioned idea, I know, but it saves a remarkable amount of embarrassment.
If, however, you are looking for all the bells-and-whistles enumerated above, then by all means enjoy them on Facebook and Twitter. You will, of course, have to "enjoy" much else besides, but, as the carnival barkers say: "Youze pays your money and youze makes your choice!"
Where in my post did I blame you for the blog site Chris? It is what it is. And while everyone should make an effort to proof read before they post sometimes things slip through. But I don't regard an edit function, or a nesting function as bells and whistles. They're all over the Internet, not just on blog sites but on media sites that allow comments as well. Perhaps you could suggest to the owners of the site that they update it a bit.
The Barron: "....that is the point of the Moa."
It wasn't just the moa. NZ had a number of large flightless birds, which were eaten to extinction by the Polynesians. The Royal Society points this out here:
"At the time of initial settlement in the AD thirteenth century , New Zealand's terrestrial fauna was dominated by large, flightless and naive birds, and abundant land-breeding seabirds and pinnipeds, which provided a rich source of easily hunted animal protein that helped to sustain early population growth . However, in less than two centuries, intense hunting pressure  and forest clearance by fire [45–47] caused massive and widespread extinctions and a reduction in large easily harvested prey species."
And the article below points out how easy it is to tip populations into extinction:
"....kill as little as five or 10 per cent breeding-age females and the population immediately starts to slump because you’re effectively killing a dependent pup, and potentially an unborn pup as well. Maintain that harvest over three, four, five years and you’re on your way to a complete population collapse."
Nick J: "....the recieved wisdom that Maori killed off the moa. Narratives have a habit of getting away from the facts."
Both links I posted point to extinction by hunting. No doubt the kiore played a part, but probably not a major part.
The first arrivals did what humans everywhere have done: alter the environment (eg, fire) and eat what was available. Then, after megafauna extinctions, the indigenes were obliged to manage such food resources as remained. It isn't clear what's contentious about this, except insofar as emerging ethno-nationalism wants to present a picture at odds with the evidence.
Guerilla Surgeon: "....which of these did Maori not do when they arrived in New Zealand, confronted with unfamiliar terrain, climate, and food sources?"
It's important to remember that the first arrivals were Polynesians, not Maori as they were when Cook arrived. Maori society evolved over the centuries between.
They certainly didn't do any of that in respect of the megafauna which they found here on arrival: hence the large-scale extinctions. With regard to cultivars, fern roots and puha were pretty much the only edible plants already here. The cultivars they'd brought with them generally didn't flourish in NZ's cold climate. Those that survived required careful husbandry, and the cultivation of them was governed by rituals and religious practices (animist, prior to first contact). See this:
"...the fortifications produced by Maori in the Anglo Maori wars."
The engineers in this household point out that they were earthworks and not engineering. The use of earthworks for defensive or other purposes has a deep history among humans, going back to the Stone Age.
"Does agriculture not involve science?"
It does, but it is perfectly possible to grow plants without having any knowledge of the underpinning science. Humans have done this for millennia.
"...pigs and goats are not megafauna."
Yes: they were in the NZ context, when Cook gave them to the indigenes. By that time, everything larger here had gone extinct.
I'm puzzled at the insistence on ascribing the term "science" to food-gathering and cultivation practices in NZ prior to first European contact. Maori culture at that time was Stone Age: that resulted from NZ's remoteness and the fact that, after about the 15th century, Maori had neither the resources nor the expertise to return even to the nearest Pacific islands. No contact with other humans meant no technological evolution or advancement. It doesn't in any way mean that Maori were inferior: they were modern humans, just like everyone else.
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