Episode 9

Published on:

6th Feb 2022

Science vs "Other Ways of Knowing" with Professor Jerry Coyne - The Shape of Dialogue Podcast # 9

About Jerry Coyne - www.whyevolutionistrue.com/about/

Jerry’s Why Evolution Is True blog - “Ways of knowing” - https://tinyurl.com/3tmmx59d

Email Royal Society of New Zealand chief executive paul.atkins@royalsociety.org.nz


In July 2021, seven University of Auckland professors published a letter to the editor in the New Zealand Listener, titled In Defence of Science. The professors' were responding to a Government education report (see link below), recommending parity for Mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge) in the secondary school curriculum, and in particular, in the science classroom.

The report states: 

”Our goal is to ensure parity for Mātauranga Māori with the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA (particularly Western/Pākehā epistemologies)." 

The report also states: 

"Philosophy and History of Science is a unique strand in Pūtaiao [Māori word for Science], with no equivalent in the New Zealand Curriculum. It 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. Pūtaiao allows opportunities to incorporate Māori perspectives and knowledge about the natural world into the classroom. In this regard, it decentres Western epistemologies and methodologies." 

The professors' letter arose from their concern for "the disturbing misunderstandings of science emerging at all levels of education and in science funding", which they state “encourages a mistrust of science”. Their concern is in the context of the decline in maths and science achievements in New Zealand schools, particularly by Māori and Pacific Island students. 

Their letter stated: 

"Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local 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. To accept it as the equivalent of science is to patronise and fail indigenous populations; better to ensure that everyone participates in the world's scientific enterprises. Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, but it is not science". 

The reaction to the "In Defence of Science" by the University of Auckland, the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi, the Tertiary Education Union, and the New Zealand Association of Scientists was not positive and can be viewed in the following articles… 

Scientists rubbish Auckland University professors' letter claiming Māori knowledge is not science https://tinyurl.com/2p8v2h9s 

University academics' claim Mātauranga Māori 'not science' sparks controversy https://tinyurl.com/2ybvk3ja 

Research Professional News - Public letter from academics sparks Māori science row https://tinyurl.com/3juc66yc 

An open letter in response to the professors' letter by professors Hendy and Wiles, An open response to In defence of science


Sadly, professor Corballis is no longer with us. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in October when the Royal Society announced a breach of conduct inquisition into professor Corballis and two of his co-authors, professors Nola and Cooper, all fellows of the august institution. The Society launched the inquisition having publicly criticised the professors for their letter. Furthermore, the Society initially included two inquisition panellists who had previously signed the Hendy/Wiles open letter against the professors, and all five complainants who sparked the inquisition were anonymous. The Royal Society's stated role is to "advance and promote research and scholarly activity, the pursuit of knowledge". However, the Society seems blind to their lack of impartiality and due process and to the irony of prosecuting some of New Zealand's most preeminent scholars for academic expression well within the limits of their professional, legal and ethical obligations. The inquisition is still pending. However, only professors Nola and Cooper are now being investigated. Professor Corballis can no longer clear his name from the inquisition's claims. For professors Nola and Cooper, it seems that the inquisition may well be the punishment itself.


Education report https://tinyurl.com/3yfry76h 

In Defence of Science

More In Defence of Science - Supplementary Note to In Defence of Science

Briefing doc - professors Corballis, Nola and Cooper and the Royal Society 


Mātauranga Māori definition - https://tinyurl.com/4w3rcfut

Hitchens - Free Speech - https://tinyurl.com/uh9t6hrz

University of Chicago Freedom of Expression


Kalvin Report on Political and Social Action


Music: Kyrie from Bach B Minor Mass conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Buy it here: https://music.apple.com/gb/album/mass-in-b-minor-bwv-232-cum-sancto-spiritu/1053521016

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About the Podcast

The Shape of Dialogue
For the inquisitive mind
The Shape of Dialogue podcast focuses on the foundational principles that make societies function at their best. It initially started with an investigation into free speech, it continues to discuss relevant and interesting topics about our world and how best to navigate through it.
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