Why do rationalists position Science against Mātauranga Māori?

Written By: - Date published: 9:41 am, January 25th, 2023 - 142 comments
Categories: indigenous knowledge, science - Tags: , ,

Another piece on the internet by a Western* scientist calling indigenous knowledge superstitious woo that should be separated from the Mighty Western Science way of knowing. Take that as a content warning either way if you are reading on.

*The term Western Science refers to lineage and development of thinking/practice, not geography.

Jerry Coyne is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, with a focus on the origin of species. Here’s a quote at the start of his piece,

“In short, uncritical acceptance of Māori knowledge is arguably just as patronising as its earlier blanket rejection.”

—Nā Dr Michael Stevens, Emeritus Professor Atholl Anderson and Professor Te Maire Tau

It could also be said,

“In short, uncritical acceptance of Western Science knowledge is arguably just as patronising as its sometimes now current blanket rejection.”

And it’s dangerous (more on that in a minute).

I’m mentioning that quote because when I read Coyne’s piece, the ignorance was so blatant I had to resist the urge to not just write it off as another white dude doing white dudery. I’m mentioning race and sex, not because there is anything inherently wrong with being white and male, but because at this point in history there is a pattern of behaviour associated with white men, as a class, that needs mentioning for context. You know, the patriarchy and all that. The dominant system creates bias in science because of the particular non-universal way the Western mind sees and engages in the world, and then denies it. I can’t emphasise this point enough: different cultures have different world views, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. Dominant cultures have world views that theirs are the best and must be imposed, but this isn’t an idea share by everyone. 

In my post, instead of making a bunch of assertions about how ignorant Coyne is, and how useless he is as a source in the current cultural debates in New Zealand, I want to showcase parts of the article and explain what the problems are. Because if anything is needed right now it’s stepping out of the reactive assertion style of the debate and instead dig deeper into the ideas and the evidence. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is very wrong in what he is saying. But the onus is me to demonstrate how, not just make the assertion.

After the quote above, he’s straight into classic Eurocentric perspective of rationalism as god. He makes ignorant-outside-his-field arguments but does them in a way that sounds plausible and triggers confirmation bias in people who are uncomfortable with integration of indigenous knowledge into wider society.

Also watch for how he provides links to back up his assertions but doesn’t explain the relevance or what part of the link matters. His assertions are often so false that the vague evidencing is a nonsense.

Sadly, too many Māori as well as sympathetic descendants of Europeans can’t seem to grasp this simple distinction, which explains why in NZ, more than in any other country, “indigenous ways of knowing” are valorized.  In that country, there appears to be no stopping Mātauranga Māori—the gemisch of trial-and-error empirical fact, woo, and rules of conduct that constitutes the indigenous “way of knowing”—from snuggling in beside science, the only real way of knowing we have.

Here Coyne objects to the mixing different ways of gathering information about the world: human experience of and engagement with the world, cultural and spiritual practices he doesn’t understand, and tikanga. He doesn’t say what the problem is with that mix, but asserts that science is king and implies everything else is the lesser or downright useless.

Leaving aside the patronising hubris in his asserting, it’s obviously not the only real way of knowing we have. Humans lived and did all sorts of things before the advent of Western science. We knew that we needed to drink water, we learned how to make fire and cook food, we could swim and climb trees or mountains. We survived and thrived in extreme climates by adapting and developing new technologies and cultural practices.  We learned how to grow food, build things, sing, practice genealogy, create art, tell stories, explore and travel the oceans.

None of that required Western science per se, it wasn’t accident that we developed those things, and all of it is meaningful in terms of human existence. Humans have always invented and adapted by deep engagement with the worlds we have lived in, and we have developed a range of ways of making sense of those worlds. This doesn’t denigrate WS, it just points out the obvious that science isn’t everything.

He also doesn’t define what he means by science, we are supposed to just know or perhaps intuit (lol). It’s a defining feature of this debate that the term science gets used in a range of ways, most of which are cultural or personal perspectives. It’s distinctly arational to not set out one’s definition at the start if one is going to say science is king.

Now we have news of the convening of a conclave of tohunga, the Māori equivalent of the “medicine men” of indigenous North American tribal groups—or “priests” of religious groups:

One man’s symposium is another man’s conclave I guess. Tohunga doesn’t mean medicine men (sic). It means expert and leader in one’s field (I imagine Coyne thinks of himself in this way). This matters because it’s an inaccuracy that leads to equating Tohunga with woo, and thus being able to write them off (and yeah, that’s the point that people start using terms like colonialist in the negative).

On this point, Mātauranga Māori doesn’t mean ‘Māori science’, it means the knowledge base that is distinctly Māori that covers knowledge, wisdom, understanding, skill i.e. it’s not limited to science, and in contrast to much of Western academia, it is multi-disciplinary and holistic. It’s a problem to position Mātauranga Māori vs Western Science as if they exist in polarity. That polarity is a consequence of a certain way of thinking by the Western mind, a conceptual approach that not all humans or cultures share.

Some people see Mātauranga Māori sitting easily alongside Western Science, and us having the best of both worlds. I have yet to see a good argument for why we shouldn’t do this, other than the problems inherent in trying to bring two systems into alignment when one system is consistently denied and denigrated.

I refer in this piece mainly to the role of tohunga in curing physical ailments, which, before science-based medicine arrived, was based largely on herbal medicine. Some may have even worked, but we don’t know as they were never tested, and they are powerless against ailments that can be cured by scientific innovations like antibiotics or antivirals.

At this point I just want to call him an idiot and be done with it. Honestly, this guy is a numpty. I’m reasonably confident he knows how to use the internet, so why would he not just go and look these things up?

The thing that always surprises me about uber rationalists is that they can’t see the irrationality in their own thinking, nor apparently acknowledge their own belief sets. We know that herbal medicine works, because people have used it successfully over very long periods of time (ie it was tested) and kept records of that. We also now have science research that has either tested the specific medicine, or provided enough experimentation to support a proposed mechanism for how the medicine works eg lab tests to show the anti-bacterial properties of a plant.

Rongoā Māori (particularly healing with plants) has evidence bases in both practitioner empiricism and science. Here’s a piece this week from that bastion of woo, NZ Doctor, Scientists confirm kawakawa’s healing properties. For those wanting a solid sciency entry point into the topic, the classic New Zealand Medicinal Plants (1967, revised 1984) by two chemists and a botanist (S.G. Brooker, R.C. Cambie, R.C. Cooper) is worthwhile not least because of their referencing.

I need to diverge for a moment and point out that there is a plethora of science demonstrating the efficacy of plants generally in healing the bacterial infections that Coyne thinks can only be treated by antibiotics. The idea that plants are powerless against pathogenic bacteria, and that only the mighty science saves us from infection, is a belief, and a pig ignorant one at that.

You can look up the research done on garlic for example, here’s a pubmed search as a starter. It would pay to also read up on antibacterial resistance and the end of the age of antibiotics and consider whether the Western mind beliefs of scientists have led us to squander the effectiveness of antibiotics in a mere 70 years and that we might now need plants. Coyne’s obvious bias against herbal medicine is an exemplar of why we have a schism between conventional and alternative practices instead of them being integrated and available to all. That’s just dumb.

Humans didn’t need Western science to develop effective medicine. Other ways of knowing were sufficient for that development in the same way that we built boats or dyed cloth long before WS arrived. Yes, yes, science gave us a whole bunch of bloody useful things as well. Both/and. Read this paragraph again, because I am not saying WS is not useful or that it didn’t bring us essential things. It is and it has.

What Coyne is doing is demonstrating his belief that the only real way of knowing is the one he asserts (Western science). It’s a strongly held belief by some. What I don’t get is why it’s not acknowledged as a belief, as if belief is somehow bad. But belief is central to human experience, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s instead be honest about our beliefs and how they impact on what we do.

In the next part of the article, Coyne takes issue with the idea that colonisation of New Zealand by the British had a severely negative impact on Mātauranga Māori, particularly in respect of the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act.

Coyne argues,

The penultimate line is a gross distortion bordering on a lie. First, the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act wasn’t designed to “stop traditional traditional Māori practices”, but rather to replace dangerous and ineffective Māori ways of healing (and unfounded prognostications) with scientific (called “Western” medicine). Here’s the Wikipedia description of the Act (which, by the way, was wholly repealed in 1962, so that now Māori can subject themselves at will to the dangerous ministrations of tohunga)

The genesis of the Act is complex and requires listening more deeply to Māori from a range of perspectives (rather than just quoting the ones that support Coyne’s narrative). But has Coyne provided any evidence that traditional Māori practices were dangerous or ineffective? It would also be interesting to look at the state of Western medicine at that time.

I’d like to finish by quoting Incognito, who offered this superb short critique of Coyne’s work when it was discussed last year,

The denigration of indigenous medicine is strong in this haplessly biased piece. The writer also has his facts wrong and I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to push his narrative, as is often the case with many pig-headed closed-minded people who have an axe to grind. Any good (?) points he makes in his piece have to be taken with extreme levels of scepticism and warning.

Western medicine is slowly moving away from its mechanistic foundations of simple lock & key, drug & target biological interactions to more holistic thinking such as systems biology.


Old testing paradigms and dogmas in medicine and clinical trials are approaching their use-by-date to make room for personalised medicine based on validated biomarkers and unique patient profiles, which is ironically similar to what tohunga practised.

The biggest thing to be learned from indigenous ways of knowing perhaps is the vital importance of connection. Where Western science excels at taking things apart to understand them, Indigenous frames put them back together as whole that is more than the sum of the parts. There’s a sense of being bilingual here (or, more likely, multilingual). I don’t expect many hard scientists to soften their gaze sufficiently to allow this (although there are definitely those that do), but the rest of us have an opportunity with the current cultural debates to learn a new way of thinking that complements rather than colonises what we already know.

142 comments on “Why do rationalists position Science against Mātauranga Māori? ”

  1. tsmithfield 1

    Hey, thanks for this post Weka. I am glad you put that up.

    I will take a bit of time and try to give a considered response that is worthy of the effort you have put in.

    • weka 1.1

      cheers. I wrote this draft ages ago, but it was your comment the other day that prompted me to finish it. It's complex stuff, and Coyne has a way of sounding kind of right, but he's just so off that as Incog says, anything useful he is saying just gets subsumed (every post I've read of his is like this).

      On the upside, his ideas are a good showcase for the problems with how many Westerners think about indigenous knowledge.

  2. A.Ziffel 2

    I consider the first word of the phrases "western science" & "biological female" to be equally superfluous.

    • weka 2.1

      the rationale for the term western science is to,

      1. establish that it comes from a particular set of cultures and times (and thus makes it easier to establish the influences from those, and that they are not universally shared)
      2. explore whether people were doing anything that could be called science outside of or before WS.

      the rationale for the term biological female, is because the term woman is being appropriated in away that makes communication increasingly difficult. I use it so that people can understand what I mean with more clarity and nuance. That's useful.

      • Sabine 2.1.1

        neither should be used as both are clear

        female – the opposite of male, – no male will ever be female, both males and females currently are biologically as we have yet to create a perfect machine to resemble either or. And those that appropriate the word woman, girl, female will also appropriate biological female. If a disclaimer is now needed to make sure we are talking about woman – human females, use these words , woman – human female.

        Science – the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation, experimentation, and the testing of theories against the evidence obtained.

        Western is just a more palatable euphemism for not using white or european.We could just use science. Other places then the west equally does/did science and in the case of Math and Medicine and even Architecture did it long before the 'west' even had discovered the middle east, or even Asia from whom the West learned a lot of science.

        Matauranga Maori has its place whithin in the sciences, but is as of today not a science.
        I watched a docu years ago about Kalahari Bushmen that ate some berries to not go hungry. Someone wanted to make weightloss pills of that plant and the plant material can be found already in some 'health foods'. That is were science comes in. Why does it do what it does. Why does it turn hunger off, how does it affect the brain etc etc etc. Test it, peer review it.

        The indiginous knowlege tells us what this plant does and how to use it when in the circumstances of a bushman in the kalahari and they may have their own creation story around he discovery of that plant. That would be 'matauranga' . Science then will allow for the study of that plant, and just why it does what it does.

        No patent for he plant should begiven to big companies though. But well….that is global greed.


        But we can invalidate the word science as fast as we invaldiated the word women / female by including males into that category. Was that science or 'feels' that had us do this?

        The biggest problem today is that we are conflating two things, that while they go hand in hand are not related. Male are not females never will be. Science will neve be Matauranga Maori, ditto for the reserve. They are different things that compliment the other.

  3. Sorry for party Rocking 3

    Either the science is settled and science won, or science isn’t settled and because some it’s indigenous it has to be accepted as part of the syllabus. But if it isn’t indigenous then it is settled and can be part of the syllabus.

    Does no one take the time to consider the positions on science previously applied and how they the rigours of the observations of those positions have proved the hypothesis correct?

    like it’s…… a science?

    • tinderdry6 3.1

      It isn't a matter of being 'settled', in fact that in itself is a problematic concept.

      The issue is 'what is science?' I like the way the teacher who authored the letter describes science as a 'global endeavour'. It is both an approach to discovering how things work in the physical universe, and also the body of knowledge about that universe. That encompasses testable knowledge from a host of different cultures, but it does not include untested (or for that matter scientifically untestable) belief systems about the supernatural.

  4. tsmithfield 4

    Thanks for your article Weka. It is good to see the perspective from the other side of the debate.

    My perspective is that I love science. Seeing images from the Webb telescope, for instance, is inspiring. And advances in modern medicines have extended life considerably compared to several centuries ago.

    I think those who sensibly and respectfully criticise the integration of MM with science are more pointing to a categorization error, than any criticism of the value of MM as a whole.

    To me, science is race and culture blind. Maori sciene to me means Maori people doing science, rather than MM as a body of knowledge. To me, there is no such thing as "Western Science". Just science.

    "Science" has been defined as:

    …the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

    The key distinction between science and other valuable forms of knowledge and information is the "systematic methodology based on evidence" part of the statement.

    Science allows for accurate, reliable, and repeatable discoveries that enable prediction and advancement in a wide variety of fields.

    So, there are aspects of MM I would consider science. For instance, navigation by the stars would have involved a degree of trial and error, and resulted in a system that produced results accurate enough and repeatable enough for people to get from point A to point B.

    However, this can no longer be considered current science given that we now have satelite GPS that does the job much better. However, in a science history context, it could be a valuable lesson for students, on say a school camp, to try and navigate to a destination using those methods (with someone who can point them in the right direction if they get lost obviously).

    I see Rongoā Māori as a valuable starting point in the development of medicines and treatment. Further scientific investigation of aspects of Rongoa Maori will allow us to tease out placebo effects from direct benefits, assess varous side effects, and determine how far the medicine generalises (does it help children as well as adults etc). So, in this case, Ronga Maori would work hand in hand with scientific discovery rather than be distinct from it.

    There are other aspects of MM, for instance Maori legends, that would more appropriately be taught in an anthropology class. For instance, we know that the sciences such as plate tectonics is a better explantion than the legend of Maui fishing up the North Island. However, that is not to say there isn't benefits from understanding legends in the context of Maori culture.

    So, I think it is necessary to identify where the various elements of MM are best placed so far as its study is concerned. This says nothing about the value of MM. But rather how the various elements are categorised.

    Elements that are scientific should be studied in a science context. And I think something that would be of high value so far as inspiring Maori students would be to include a study of the work of prominent Maori scientists.

    • weka 4.1

      thanks t, good to hear your thoughts laid out clearly too.

      My feelings about science are mixed. I love aspects of it and many of the things it brings. I'm also acutely aware of the ways in which WS has caused a huge amount of damage (CC, nuclear war, iatrogenic illness). Here the term WS is useful, because I can see the methodological approach you describe being used within other worldviews and not causing those problems. The particular milieu that WS arose in did impact on the way that science developed eg an overemphasis on reductionist thinking and an underemphasis on whole systems thinking. I see many benefits in recognising this rather than being blind to it.

      So yes, the science method itself may be blind, but this description,

      …the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

      sounds a lot like what many gardeners do for instance. Would you say that someone who pursues how to grow fruit and vegetables, and uses a systematic methodology with an emphasis on repeatability, and who develops theory, practice and a body of knowledge in that process, is doing science?

      eg someone who breeds apple trees and produces a new variety using techniques that predate Western Science? Did the people who developed our common vegetables from the wild ancestors use science? Why/why not? We're talking about the beginnings of agriculture, so let's say 10,000 years ago.

      How are these people not allowing "for accurate, reliable, and repeatable discoveries that enable prediction and advancement in a wide variety of fields."?

      I see Rongoā Māori as a valuable starting point in the development of medicines and treatment. Further scientific investigation of aspects of Rongoa Maori will allow us to tease out placebo effects from direct benefits, assess varous side effects, and determine how far the medicine generalises (does it help children as well as adults etc). So, in this case, Ronga Maori would work hand in hand with scientific discovery rather than be distinct from it.

      Well quite, it would work hand in hand if it weren't for people like Coyne. Or those trying to segregate MM from WS.

      But there's something else to consider here. WS specialises in studying parts, hence it can say what the 'active' constituents are in kawakawa or garlic. It can use certain study techniques to tell us about populations (eg adults vs children) and effects (side, placebo).

      However this is distinctly different from the practice of medicine, which even within the mainstream is a mix of WS and things way more fuzzy than that. Good GPs get this and know that the relationship between the doctor and patient matters a great deal, so it's not just the drug or the herbal tea that is in play.

      Holistic modalities focus a great deal more on the individual and relationships than on the population and the drug. They recognise the inherent value in the placebo effect. Studying placebo in order to get the gist of the efficacy of a drug makes sense, but making use of placebo in a clinical setting also makes sense.

      My point here is that rongoā is not a subset of WS, nor of mainstream medicine. It's both a set of practices eg with plants like kawakawa, but it also has it's own holistic world view that is quite distinct from WS. This is the bilingual bit and until this is understood I don't think it's possible for Pākehā to assess the integration of MM into mainstream society.

      So, I think it is necessary to identify where the various elements of MM are best placed so far as its study is concerned. This says nothing about the value of MM. But rather how the various elements are categorised.

      I agree with this but unless the world view issues are resolved I can't see how this can be done well. I suspect that the problems we are seeing in curriculums is a result of that (and probably some overcompensating liberals not paying enough attention).

      From earlier in your comment,

      I think those who sensibly and respectfully criticise the integration of MM with science are more pointing to a categorization error, than any criticism of the value of MM as a whole.

      I agree with this too. The emphasis on sensibly and respectfully. The problem here is that people with a very strong bias against MM, eg Coyne, are skewing the debate so we don't get to talk rationally (lol) about the categorisation issues and how they should be resolved.

      • tsmithfield 4.1.1

        I'm also acutely aware of the ways in which WS has caused a huge amount of damage…

        I agree with you. I see science in a similar category to money, in that it is morally neutral. It can be used for good or bad. Hopefully, the good ends up winning out, and that science can end up helping solve the pressing issues of climate change, pollution, endangered species etc.

        Would you say that someone who pursues how to grow fruit and vegetables, and uses a systematic methodology with an emphasis on repeatability, and who develops theory, practice and a body of knowledge in that process, is doing science?

        Quite often, yes. I would agree that is science. And that is why I liked the definition I put up. It is more outcome focussed than perscriptive. Thus, the definition doesn't specify the need for double-blind experiments or whatever, rather methods that produce ''scientific'' results.

        However this is distinctly different from the practice of medicine, which even within the mainstream is a mix of WS and things way more fuzzy than that…

        But perhaps that "fuzzy" stuff is just stuff that is not fully understood yet, and could benefit from scientific study to see how it could best applied in various areas?

        but unless the world view issues are resolved

        I think those world view issues can be resolved by using the type of definition I pointed to that is not limiting science to perscriptive methods such as double-blind studies normally associated with modern science etc, but is broad enough to encompass methodologies that produce "scientific" results.

        The problem here is that people with a very strong bias against MM, eg Coyne, are skewing the debate

        That is the age old problem of throwing the baby out with the bathwater I think.

      • lprent 4.1.2

        eg someone who breeds apple trees and produces a new variety using techniques that predate Western Science? Did the people who developed our common vegetables from the wild ancestors use science? Why/why not? We're talking about the beginnings of agriculture, so let's say 10,000 years ago.

        Still being done today, both by humans and nature. For instance you can look at the plasticity of Tiger Snakes in aussie when they (probably) got dumped on small islands.

        I have several issues with both empirical systems and with 'WS' systems where knowledge is hijacked and used stupidly. Sometimes in the latter case for rational reasons (like questions of scale) and sometimes for commercial or paranoia reasons. But I'll limit my reply for the moment because I really do need to get some work done.

        So I'll just look at traditional empirical methods and focus on scale issues.

        Empirical methods is that they take a long time and are almost invariably have some quite dangerous backgrounds to them.

        For example look at cassava, a vegetable that concentrates cyanide in its roots. If we could ever look at the back story of how it became cultivated, there are almost certainly a lot of famines and dead slowly poisoned bodies in its history. There are a lot of our common and uncommon foods with that same kind of history – the link has a few.

        Same for foods like grains with their history of slow ergot poisoning from storage.

        Not to mention that most empirical breeding carries real lousy consequences.

        I'm sure that dog breeders doing inbreeding using empirical methods to get the traits that they wanted didn't intend to cause heredity genetic diseases – but that is what they got. You can find the same in virtually all animal breeds that humans breed for their utility.

        The same applies to plants and crops. Probably the most extreme example is the banana which has been cultivated for at least 6,500 years. Effectively the cultivated banana is close to a monoculture world wide and almost all of the non-wild varieties are in-bred and highly susceptible to diseases.

        Now obviously part of that last problem is to do with the misuses of modern farming technologies. However those technologies were developed to deal with large widespread issues – like how to feed thousands, then millions, and now billions of humans.

        Most of 'WS' technologies are about how to do certain things at scale and reasonably safely. Like how to feed billions of people. How to drop child and mother mortality rates.

        Sure I could use herbal remedies on what is likely to be a hit or miss approach, and I do in some areas.

        For instance, I've found that green mussel extract is great for me to relieving my very arthritic big toe – the one that has no collagen pad left. It is a good alternative to pain-killers or screwing the toe to the foot. Probably eating live green mussels would be better. But they are in short supply where I get food

        Worked for my mother which is where I picked it up from. It doesn't work for many if not most people. She discovered it did after she tried a bucket load of other traditional remedies – none of which worked well or at all. It appears to be a remedy that works on my mothers genotype for the type of arthritis that we get.

        In other words to find it was a empirical search, that works for us, where other similar remedies do not. I was just lucky that someone else had the time to search out a specific remedy for my genotype, because I certainly don't.

        This simply isn't a scalable technology.

        There aren't any studies to find out risk levels that it, like Rhubarb leaves or ergot fungi in grain, will slowly poison me. There aren't systematic studies that show what indicators are that it will work for a given person. I also have no idea if green mussel extract has a risk that is cross-associated with the medications that I take for a known a immediate problem with heart and stroke disease. No-one appears to have done any useful studies on it.

        For me, using it is all all guess work and personal risk assessment. Most traditional 'science' tend to be like this. It is anecdotal. Works for some people or places. Doesn't work in others. Using it is an empirical risk / benefit question. Using it at scale is very questionable.

        For me it was a choice between getting surgery to screw my toe to my foot at some point – which makes it really difficult to do things like climb stairs or even get off the floor. Or reducing my walking activity further. Or using painkillers regularly. Using the extract because it turned out to be mildly effective seems like a lower risk than all of those. I'll see how long it defers having to do one of the alternatives.

        Most of the dispute between traditional technologies and that of 'western science' hang on questions of scalability across areas (like phenotype or geography) that are far wider than where traditional systems were developed, and systematic testing of risks and benefits so that wider systems can use them.

        That is what western science provides. It makes mistakes, especially when looking about implementation on commercial scales. But it also has the information reasonably accessible that allows risk / benefit assessments across a global scale from the individual to the governmental levels.

        • tsmithfield

          Sure I could use herbal remedies on what is likely to be a hit or miss approach, and I do in some areas.

          I agree with you. And that is what I am saying about the need for herbal remedies to walk hand in hand with science.

          Such as green mussles and your arthritis.

          We notice a given supplement has a positive effect in some people, but not in others. So, scientific research can then aim to identify the characteristics of people it helps, any side-effects to be cautious about etc, so that a supplement can accurately be matched to the people it benefits. At that point it is getting into the realm of scientifically based medicine.

          • tsmithfield

            Further to my comment, I think that is where the definition of science I pointed to in my first post is helpful in that it focuses on methods that produce accurate, repeatable predictive results rather than the specific modern experimental techniques for instance.

            So, for instance, early Maori and likely Viking and other early navigators likely noticed consistencies in the patterns of stars across distance.

            There likely was some "experimentation" in a trial and error sense. And eventually navigation via stars would have become something that was handed down from generation to generation.

            It doesn't meet the standards of modern experimental design. Yet, I still hold it would qualify as "science" because the outcome was scientific.

            • nuke

              Sorry no, because there's either no underlying theory or the theory is religion i.e. the gods created it. Trial and error is not science. This is a common misconception but just not true, otherwise a cooking recipe would be science.

    • Thinker 4.2

      True, there is no such thing as western science, just science. But, that implies the scientific community embracing cultures and (not sure of my terminology) a broader sphere of things that science has hitherto distanced itself from.

      On the one hand, I would hope that whakapapa-based history would be happy to change if confronted with irrefutable proof from a scientific basis.

      But, equally, science would need to accept things that it hasn't been prepared to accept, like last weekend when I cut my hand and cut a piece off the alovera plant to treat it, instead of going to the chemist for my 'big pharma' cream and pain relief.

  5. Gosman 5

    There is no such thing as "Western science". There is merely science. Science is not merely a body of knowledge. It is a process of identifying new knowledge and revising old. Without this process it is as inflexible and likely redundant as any other traditional knowledge system which includes Matauranga Maori.

    In relation to the evidence that the Tohunga Suppression act was designed to counter harm caused by dodgy practitioners of traditional Maori medicine it is illustrative that all four of the MP's representing the Maori electorates voted for the act and they made speeches confirming that was the reason they supported it.

    • weka 5.1

      There is no such thing as "Western science".

      thanks for letting us know what your belief system is Gosman.

      In relation to the evidence that the Tohunga Suppression act was designed to counter harm caused by dodgy practitioners of traditional Maori medicine it is illustrative that all four of the MP's representing the Maori electorates voted for the act and they made speeches confirming that was the reason they supported it.

      Sure, but, it's more complex why it was supported than Coyne's superficial and science is god argument, and not all Māori believe the same thing. Would you be ok citing four Green MP speeches in parliament as being true for all NZ?

      It's also possible that legislation is implemented badly, and that some legislation brings both benefits and down sides.

      None of that demonstrates that traditional Māori medicine was "dangerous and ineffective"

      • Gosman 5.1.1

        The issue for Maori MP's like Apirana Ngata was not the act itself but that he expected a similar act to be passed to deal with purveyors of dodgy European medicine (of which there were and are a lot). This never happened and in that case it can be stated the legislation was biased based on race which is usually never a good thing.

  6. tinderdry6 6

    Thanks for starting this discussion Weka.

    I am less interested in Coyne's breathless commentary than in the contents of the letter he received from the NZ teacher. That teacher (who wrote anonymously) wrote about the "re-alignment of the new NCEA science curriculum with other teachers from the region", and how "Among the topics discussed were mātauranga Māori and its integration into the science curriculum". His/her concern was specifically what is taught in school in NZ as 'science'.

    He/She makes the following point:

    "First among my concerns is the presentation of science in this school’s unit plan as a “western” knowledge system. This is peculiar (to say the least), given that science is a global endeavor drawing on a toolkit with contributors from many cultures and ages. To call science a “western” knowledge system is to ignore the contributions of many cultures from places such as India, the middle-east, China, and the Maori themselves."

    I interpret this to be saying (as I believe to be the case), that there is no such thing as 'western' science. There is science, and it is influenced by a wide range of cultures.

    The writer makes their point further specific to the content of a unit plan:

    "The unit plan also makes the claim that both “knowledge systems” have equal authority. Again, this statement is based on a faulty premise and false dichotomy. To teach children that science is a “western” knowledge system is to undermine the idea of what science is. Ultimately, science is a collection of methodological tools and approaches that allow us to reliably distinguish and relate cause, effect, and chance."

    The writer expresses their concern about the introduction of "epistemic relativism" into the science curriculum, including this "the first lesson in the attached unit plan, whose focus is the subject of Maori gods and “their powers.” That has no more place in a science curriculum than for example, creationism.

    My takeaway from this is that the problem is not with people like Coyne; it is with an education system that now conflates science with mythology.

    • weka 6.1

      Coyne remains a massive problem so long as he writes posts like that and they continue to be referenced. For the reasons in my post.

      Unless the proposed curriculum document is made public, we are left with snippets and rumours. That's not the basis for a good discussion. If Coyne posted on TS those screenshots out of context, he'd get slapped down by the mods. Context is everything.

      In the meantime, I've address the issue of Western Science in the post and in a comment to tsmithfield above. Seems to me like a different term should be use because too many people think Western means white. But it's important to be able to point to the science that came out of Persia, Greece and Europe, and down to us through some fairly hefty cultural world views in the past half millenium.

      I would have no problem with (western) scientific methodology being taught as a stand along class to high school students, so long as they were taught other ways of knowing in other classes. Create an indigenous knowledge class alongside. The fight will be with the rationalists who see all MM apart from sea navigation etc as woo.

      As for epistemic relativism it would probably help discussions if someone linked to the current/recent curriculum. It's been many decades since I was in a high school science class and I don't know what they teach now.

      • tinderdry6 6.1.1

        Thanks Weka.

        "it would probably help discussions if someone linked to the current/recent curriculum."

        This is an overview.

        But I quote again from the teachers letter:

        "The highly decentralized nature of the NZ education system, coupled with the vague wording of the proposed curriculum by the Ministry of Education, introduces the possibility that local schools will ultimately be left to devise science programs based on faulty premises and questionable interpretations of the relationship of mātauranga Māori to science."

        (Emphasis mine).


        "Is the Ministry of Education intending to publish and distribute a detailed and authoritative guide on how schools should integrate mātauranga Maori in relation to science? As illustrated by the material presented at the meeting I recently attended, there is considerable potential for disagreement without ministry guidance."

        The Ministry is leaving a void here that has the potential to create even more of the rhetoric from the likes of Coyne.

        • Visubversa

          The Ministry of Education has already demonstrated their abandonment of biological reality in the RSE curriculum, so who knows what other scientific principles they are prepared to jettison in favour of an ideology.

          • tinderdry6

            I share your concern.

            The teacher whose letter was the catalyst for Coyne's piece wrote this:

            "Rather distressingly, it is quite political in how it presents the relationship of science to mātauranga Māori."

            Is this how the MoE rolls now?

  7. Tiger Mountain 7

    Good points Weka.

    My recently late Uncle produced this book a few years back…and I got a copy for my current GP who is into Rongoā Māori.

  8. Molly 8

    Mātauranga Māori forced-inclusion proponents don't seem to value Mātauranga Māori enough to allow it to stand on its own.

    They demand that it is included in a discipline where the criteria and form is ignored, and called racist for not accommodating their unique contribution.

    Science does not need to be dismantled or disregarded to prove itself as non-racist.

    If you value Mātauranga Māori, then create stand alone Mātauranga Māori discipline and classes, and let those values shine through without distortion.

    For example: Mathematics and Biology are two distinct disciplines. We don't demand the inclusion of different cell knowledge in Pure Maths, nor the working skill of integration rules in Botany. At some point, a student may use both branches in their work, but the skills are taught under different disciplines.

    The clumsy attempts to shoehorn Mātauranga Māori into all science curriculums, and force the existing science base to ignore their own structures and evidence base to accommodate, diminishes both science and Mātauranga Māori.

  9. Corey Humm 9

    Glad to see a post from you today weka and I'm glad you have brought this up for debate.

    Science is science regardless of the culture that the science came from, just as many great scientific discoveries have come from non white people as white people.

    As long as a scientific claim that's being taught in schools can be proven in scientific tests and experiments it doesn't matter what culture the science comes from… If something can't be proven in scientific tests then it's not science and doesn't belong in a science class.

    What I don't want to ever see be taken seriously in NZ science classes is mythology, whether that be creation theory from Christianity, Greek gods, or Maui Fishing up half of NZ. That stuff can be taught but religion and mythology shouldn't be in a science class unless it's to debunk it.

    • weka 9.1

      Thanks Corey.

      where should the philosophy of science be taught? History of science? Sociopolitical aspects of science?

      It's such an interesting topic, because I think school kids should be being taught all those things. I don't really care I suppose if it's taught outside of hard/practical science classes, but am curious where those things were being taught say 15 years ago. What about at tertiary level?

    • weka 9.2

      Science is science regardless of the culture that the science came from, just as many great scientific discoveries have come from non white people as white people.

      Do you mean people outside of Persia, Greece, and Europe (the general lineage of Western Science)? So there were great science discoveries being made by the Chinese in 500AD? (as a random example) Or in the Pacific 1,000 years ago?

      • Belladonna 9.2.1

        Off the top of my head: China: papermaking, moveable type, gunpowder, compass.

        We know of these ones, because the scientists/inventors/engineers wrote down and shared their discoveries – and those writings have been preserved (not in their entirity – but more ancient writings are referenced in more recent (though still ancient) ones.)

        It's much more difficult to identify specific scientific breakthroughs in non-literate, oral cultures. We know, for example, that there were hundreds of generations of plant-breeding (deliberate, intentional, empirical biology) required to move from the ancestral teocinte plant, to the 'modern' corn. We know roughly how long ago (between 10-6K years and 4.5K years), and the geographical area that this development must have happened (Mexico), but we don't have records of who or how it was developed (AFAIK, not even oral traditions – except, possibly in the most mythical sense)


        • weka

          thank-you! Those are great examples.

        • tWiggle

          Jared Diamond's book 'Guns, germs and steel' discussed the exquisitely-balanced, highly-complex ecological management of the New Guinea highlands, which have been farmed sustainably for 10, 000 years.

          • Belladonna

            I love that book. Such a fascinating (and well-written) theory of 'why things happened, they way they did'

          • tWiggle

            He also explores the tension between Western cultural dominance and indigenous societies from a very personal, self-examining perspective, as well as a more historical approach.

  10. Drowsy M. Kram 10

    The biggest thing to be learned from indigenous ways of knowing perhaps is the vital importance of connection. Where Western science excels at taking things apart to understand them, Indigenous frames put them back together as whole that is more than the sum of the parts.

    Some (many?) scientists value “indigenous frames“, and understand the importance of 'connection'. In the first link, two (scientific) 'languages' (maths and biology) combine for educational purposes. It’s a beautiful example of putting things (back) together, imho.

    Leading Students to Investigate Diffusion as a Model of Brine Shrimp Movement [9 October 2009]
    We present our teaching philosophy, lecture notes, instructional and lab procedures, and the results of our class-tested experiments so that others can implement this exercise in their classes. Our own experience has led us to appreciate the pedagogical value of allowing students and faculty to grapple with open-ended questions, imperfect data, and the various issues of modeling biological phenomena.

    Mathematical Biology Education: Changes, Communities, Connections, and Challenges [2020]
    Mathematical biologists have been leaders in many of the programmatic efforts over the past 60 years to reform both mathematics and biology education. This issue brings together a review of initiatives that have been particularly effective as well as addressing challenges that we need to face.

  11. DS 11

    Wee issue here: prior to the development of Science, the West itself had systems of Natural Philosophy. Not ones based off the Scientific Method, of course, but others. Such things are interesting in a "History/Philosophy of Science" sense, but in no way sit alongside the actual Scientific Method. Nor is the Scientific Method cultural imperialism, any more than the system of formal Logic developed by Aristotle 2300 years ago constitutes cultural imperialism.

  12. tsmithfield 12

    To be fair to Weka, I think modern science is very broad and highly vairiable.

    For instance, if someone is about to drive over a bridge they would likely expect that the bridge designer had a good knowledge of the science of load bearing designs etc. And if someone is about to have a brain tumor removed, then they would probably hope the surgeon had a good knowledge of brain science.

    In other areas, science is highly variable, inconsistent, and a bit of a joke IMO.

    For instance, it wasn't that long ago we were told that coffee and butter were bad for us, and we spent half our lives avoiding those things. Now we are told that coffee and butter are good for us, and we should be preferring butter over margarine, which we were previously told we should be eating margarine instead of butter.

    We are told that according to "science" we should be consuming various vitamins in copious quantities, when in fact, all we are doing is creating expensive urine.

    Also, fields such as mine (psychology) are also a bit of a nonsense. For instance, there is publication bias that biases publication in scientific journals according to a number of extraneous factors, including studies that show a positive effect, whereas studies that show no effect or a contrary effect are just as valuable if they are done well. But they tend not to get published as much.

    Also, past research by classics such as Sherif tend to be reinterpreted in the context of the theory de ju.

    And a lot of the studies that are put up are of such little consequence that their only value is an attempt to keep someone in a job in some university.

    So, on that basis, a lot of MM is probably of equivalent value to some of that stuff that is loosely labled as “science”.

    • DS 12.1

      That's not really an issue for Science, but rather people misinterpreting data, based off correlation/causation and other things.

      The actual limits of Science were established by Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century, when he pointed out that what our senses tell us is not actually the same as real external reality.

      • tsmithfield 12.1.1

        That's not really an issue for Science, but rather people misinterpreting data, based off correlation/causation and other things.

        To a degree that is true. But, taking Weka's perspective, it does point to issues inherent in some more "flaky" areas of modern science.

        I am really trying to show that there is a huge gap between areas of science. There are some areas that even those sceptical of aspects of modern science would inherently accept the underlying science because their lives depend on it.

        There are other areas that are nowhere near as important, and nowhere near as thoroughly done where I think it is fair to poke criticisms at it.

  13. I don't know why?

    But often coming out hard on something, excluding all evidence from previous times/peoples, carrying this view on for eternity has always struck me as evidence of a closed mind.

    This seems quite paradoxical and contradictory to me.

  14. Stuart Munro 14

    I'm not really a follower of Matauranga Maori, though I have had a good yarn with a contemporary tohunga, who, I think, has a lot to offer. Much of it seemed to me closer to shamanism than charlatanry – ie more psychology than pharmacology.

    The limitations of western science have been given a pretty good airing, perhaps best done by John Ralston Saul. Yet there have been plenty of religious scientists, and I expect that Maori scientists can manage unlike systemic beliefs as readily as others have over the years.

  15. Jax642a 15

    This post/article or whatever you call it makes me sad.

    Science is science. Science cares not for race, creed or religion.

    I am Tahitian (well – my father was and my mother was a kiwi). Tahitian’s also learned about the seasons, when to plant certain crops, navigate etc. So did the Maori, and the Aztecs, and the early Chinese, the first people of America. Science is a process discovered by all races and no one can lay claim to it.

    And to say climbing mountains and knowing to drink water is some sort of science is, I’m sorry to the author, stupid. Humans didn’t sit around getting thirstier and thirstier until someone discovered drinking water. We come from millions, billions of years of evolution. Needing water to survive is not some sort of scientific revolution.

    • Think about turning water into safe fermented beverages to avoid illness? Vinegar and Beer two examples. Jax642a

      All societies explained their knowledge through stories patterns and relationships trial and error.

      In all cultures the the knowledge treasures grew more nuanced over time.

      As Chippie mentioned yesterday "fear divides".

      PS Climbing mountains is not possible in Tokelau

      All humans have curiosity.

      Openminded acceptance of difference can be hard.

      • weka 15.1.1

        oh yeah, the intention of beer is surely an example of science being done before the formalisation of process that became Western Science.

      • Jax642a 15.1.2

        "Openminded acceptance of difference can be hard."

        This sentence makes no sense. Can you restate your meaning?

    • weka 15.2

      You sound like you have had some kind of reading comprehension difficulty. I didn't say this,

      And to say climbing mountains and knowing to drink water is some sort of science is, I’m sorry to the author, stupid.

      I said that humans have multiple ways of making sense of the world, science is one of them, not the only one.

      • Jax642a 15.2.1

        "science is one of them, not the only one."

        you can make sense of the world however you like but if you can't show it, you don't know it.

        If you tell me you make sense of the world through a person in the wall who tells you things then I would ask for evidence. If you can't show me anything outside of your say so then… why would I believe your understanding of the world?

        If though you propose an experiment to demonstrate this person in the wall can make predictions that can be quantified and repeated then you are doing it right. Otherwise it's just your say so.

        • weka

          I don't need science (in your definition) to grow food. If WS disappeared off the face of the earth, I would still be able to grow food. That's about as meaningful as it gets, because without food humans won't last very long.

    • weka 15.3

      I am Tahitian (well – my father was and my mother was a kiwi). Tahitian’s also learned about the seasons, when to plant certain crops, navigate etc. So did the Maori, and the Aztecs, and the early Chinese, the first people of America. Science is a process discovered by all races and no one can lay claim to it.

      I frequently come across people who claim that science wasn't done before the advent of what we call the scientific method now. Of course all peoples do science, this is my point. It's why I don't get the objection to bringing Mātauranga Māori into science education.

      • Jax642a 15.3.1

        "It's why I don't get the objection to bringing Mātauranga Māori into science education."

        Because it isn't science. Science is divorced from race, creed or sex. The Theory of Gravity, for example, is a system that doesn't discriminate. Gravity works everywhere – for everyone and anyone can demonstrate it. It isn't related to someone's ethnicity. It is universal.

        The Greeks were demonstrating Gravity long before Maori. Gravity was universal before there were even people, or the planet we live on. So what do the Maori, or the Aztecs, or the Shinto, or the Egyptians have to do with discovering gravity? Nothing – it is all encompassing.

        So what part of that universal theory has anything to do with someone's race?

        “I frequently come across people who claim that science wasn’t done before the advent of what we call the scientific method now”

        I didn’t say that and can you please be more specific about what this means? Because as a sentence that doesn’t make sense. What are you trying to say?

      • nuke 15.3.2

        But for the most part pre-scientific cultures didn't do science because there was no underlying theory, there was no attempt to replicate results or try and disprove them, and they were grounded in religion.

        Just because it's knowledge, doesn't make it science. They are not the same thing.

        Mātauranga Māori incorporates a lot of religion, so bringing it in to science is both a violation of the education act (supposedly secular), and an affront to other religions, who will also want their piece of the action. This has already happened in India with Hinduism.

        Just look at the problems introducing Mauri will cause in chemistry science education. Ridiculous.

        • weka

          You appear to be new here, so a heads up on commenting. We curate robust debate on The Standard, and there's an expectation that people will make clear arguments of their position (which you are doing, thanks), and also will back up with evidence. It would be good if you started providing examples for your assertions and demonstrating how they are true.

          For instance, you said,

          But for the most part pre-scientific cultures didn't do science because there was no underlying theory, there was no attempt to replicate results or try and disprove them, and they were grounded in religion.

          Can you please explain what you mean by 'for the most part'. Also what you mean by pre-scientific. Are you placing science as modern science in the past 300 years?

          Can you please also provide some examples of tech developments in pre-scientific cultures that were grounds in religion rather than a replicable methodology.

          You might also like to have a look at Belladonna's examples of cultures not using Western Science i.e. not using either modern science of the last 300 years, nor the lineage of science development from Perisia, Greece and Europe over a longer period of time (although I'm guessing Persia's influence travelled East and merged with the progress being made in Asia). She names,

          Paper, moveable type, gunpowder, compass from China, where there is a written tradition, and the breeding of corn into its modern form by oral tradition cultures.


          I'd like to hear an explanation of how science wasn't used in those.

          • nuke

            Thanks for the welcome.

            The epistemology of science is fascinating and hard to cover in posts like these, but I'll have a go responding to your questions, which broadly fall in to this area.

            The signature change in the Reformation that really established science as a discipline compared to all that came before, was to place science outside religion and require that any claim on something being scientific to be replicatible, underpinned by some sort of theory, and capable of generating new knowledge.

            Over the past 300 years of so humanity (not just westerners) have added many things to the toolkit of science, most recently things like double blind trials, pre-publishing methodology and assumptions, publishing of data and algorithms etc. These are all tools to overcome the fact that when we do science, we are human, and like to fool ourselves, so we need many tools to ensure we can replicate and generate new knowledge while minimising the fooling part. Sure we don't always get this right, which is also why science is a temporal process, with time and replication needed to weed out the results where we have either fooled ourselves, or just weren't sophisticated enough to generate a valid model of reality.

            This means that knowledge generated through trial and error and absent theory or replication or generation of new knowledge, is not science, and anything with religious/spiritual underpinning is also not science.

            'For the most part' refers to the fact that the things many people, including your good self, take to be science, are just not science and are often actually technologies e.g. examples like the invention of animal husbandry, Polynesian navigation, agriculture, gunpowder, the compass, paper, corn etc. You can do and invent all these things, without needing science – you don't need theory, don't need to replicate it (because they are tools with no theory), and often didn't generate new knowledge. E.g. a good example is movable type, which was invented in China and never improved. Because it was very slow to use but obviously better than monks writing longhand, it was adopted and massively improved in Europe by Gutenberg and others through experimentation, but again, they didn't need science for this.

            Possibly the only exception I know about is mathematics. The Greek and Persian cultures invented much of our modern mathematics, underpinned by theories, and subsequently rigorously tested by other mathematicians. So this might be an example of pre-modern (if you will) science.

            "Can you please also provide some examples of tech developments in pre-scientific cultures that were grounds in religion rather than a replicable methodology." – Gunpowder is a good example. The early Chinese thought it had the power to scare off evil spirits. But again, trial and error creation of gunpowder is not science – you can invent it without needing any underlying theory of chemistry or physics. And a replicable methodology is also not enough to be science, otherwise a cooking recipe would be considered science and it's clearly no such thing.

            If we look at Mātauranga Māori, we have concepts like Mauri, which is clearly a form of spiritualism. Forcing this in to the Chemistry curriculum is just wrong as it clearly fails all tests of being science and violates fundamental concepts of chemistry. Also, where is the replicable proof that it even exists? Oh, no-where, it's just an assertion by some extremist advocates that it's science, absent any evidence. Maori astronomy is also not science because it is the naming of stars without any form of classification system, prediction, and underpinned by a religious theory of creationism. Why push this in to science? It's clearly not science.

            I hope this clears up my position – sorry for the length of this reply.

            BTW, where postmodernists fail is that they believe just because humans do science and are fallible with biases etc, what they generate must also be biased. This is a logical fallacy that does not follow from the initial premises. It's possible to generate 'facts' through fallible biased processes, through any cultural lens – e.g. gravity. It's also easy to disprove the relativist position that all systems of knowledge are equally valid e.g. some people don't believe in the theory of gravity. While it's fine that they can hold that view, it's not a valid view – just ask them to jump off a tall building. Their system of knowledge would immediately fail, so clearly doesn't have equivalence to a system that believes gravity is real.

    • roblogic 15.4

      Wrong. The history and philosophy of science did not emerge from "all races". Modern empirical science is only about 300 years old, it was birthed from Enlightenment rationalism in Europe.

      Of course all cultures have produced the occasional genius, but a confluence of circumstances (geography, politics, philosophy) in Europe produced the disciplines we now recognise as the sciences: (astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics), and the great libraries and universities.

      • Jax642a 15.4.1

        I think you misunderstand what I am saying. Science wasn't "invented" by anyone. All it is is a method of compiling knowledge. It is just epistemology quantified by a method. People, humans, have predicting navigation on the patterns of the stars long before 300 years ago – now we have used that to create a pattern of predictable events which can be repeated.

        • roblogic

          "Science wasn't 'invented' by anyone".

          Perhaps you're thinking in broader terms than I am. The Scientific Revolution was a pretty amazing time where mysticism and magical thinking finally gave way to measurement and testing.

          • Jax642a

            I think maybe I misunderstood you and we are talking at cross-purposes.

            Apologies if so.

  16. gsays 16

    Good post weka.

    So often we hear of science catching up with traditional knowledge. The case you cite, of kawakawa properties being investigated. There was a wee snippet on this on RNZ but I can't find a link for it.

    The other aspect of 'western science' that can bring out the cyncism in me is, who is paying for it? So many examples of big business funding research and then spinning/twisting the results. (Took a bit of effort to not type Big Pharma/pFizer, but didn't want to derail the post..)

    Some folk I know who have degrees/doctorates seem to have a closed mid or an unhealthy fixed view that seems to be linked to their university experience, the arrogance that comes with "I know" that stifles their imagination or wonder.

    • Jax642a 16.1

      "So often we hear of science catching up with traditional knowledge"

      Do you have an example of this?

      • gsays 16.1.1

        The study into kawakawa that weka links to in the post.

        It's pleasing to see that the scientists "have found more than 60 biologically active compounds in kawakawa leaves", rather than claiming to have 'discovered' them.

        Lots of indigenous people and their reverance and relationship with the land, all connected and science describing the 'wood wide web'.

        • Jax642a

          That's not science catching up with traditional knowledge though. That's science studying the world as per repeatable experiments.

          You forget all the other parts of traditional knowledge that science has disproven and are not valid. It's not traditional knowledge, it's investigating the world around us to see what is valid, repeatable and quantifiable. Traditional knowledge told us Powered Rhino Horn was good for erectile dysfunction. Hot tip – it isn't

          Your using one example and applying to all examples. Example: see a population that uses a particular leaf to chew and that population has healthier teeth than other populations. We investigate, experiment, create a hypothesis, double blind study, extract the key molecular structure and create a new toothpaste. That isn't science catching up with traditional knowledge – that's just basic evaluation of the world around us. There is a key difference. ALL science is building upon traditional knowledge because it grows over time. Newtons Theory of Motion and Gravity is traditional knowledge now – having being supersceded by Relativity.

          Traditional knowledge is just basic epistemeology investigated and either negated or enhanced. It has no special value.

          • Robert Guyton

            Rhino horn – hot tip!

            Good one!

          • gsays

            All fair enough from a rationalist lens.

            I don't need to know the bio-chemistry involved with dock leaves being relief from stinging nettle.

            If one is seeking to commercialize the relationship, great, engage a scientist.

      • Robert Guyton 16.1.2

        Yes. Science has proven the powerful effect of placebo.

  17. Great post. I agree with the main thesis: we should include Māori & Polynesian insights in science or anywhere else that they add value.

    However I wonder if some of the objections come from those observing cultural and philosophical shifts that undermine the overall project of science: to provide an objective understanding of reality.

    Secular rationalists want public education not to favour any culture or religion. This seems reasonable, but in practice it means that only the dominant (Pakeha) cultural perspectives are taught as valid.

    OTOH, Far left groovy liberals want everyone to be validated, and your "lived experience" is just as valid as mine. Weirdly this means that if one kid believes something false and easily disproved (there is a lion in the cupboard!) we are not allowed to correct him.

    Who would be a teacher…

    • Jax642a 17.1

      "Māori & Polynesian insights in science"

      Can you give me one of these insights?

      "This seems reasonable, but in practice it means that only the dominant (Pakeha) cultural perspectives are taught as valid."

      Can you give me an example of this in relation to scientific theory rather than culture?

      • roblogic 17.1.1

        Insights: Agriculture, navigation, warfare are part of the traditional stuff. Today there is more focus on environmental stewardship. The R programming language is one notable invention in my field.

        Example: Sorry, I am not familiar with Māori perspectives on science, I was talking about education in general. But my noob understanding is that Māori take a more holistic view and don't view the world as ideal Platonic abstractions so much.

        Mātauranga Māori

        • Jax642a

          Yes but many many many, all, cultures in existence today independently came across navigation, warfare, agriculture and the like. Centuries before the Maori did. Oxford University predates the Aztec empire. The Egyptians were doing this before the time of Christ.

          These insights aren't related to Maori in the slightest. We should be teaching the HOW these systems work, not WHO came up with it.

          It is a method, not a cultural insight. The Greeks were doing this long before Maori even set foot in NZ.

          • roblogic

            "The Greeks were doing this long before" Yes but we live in Aotearoa and independent discovery and invention is still noteworthy. We shouldn't teach that science is only the domain of dead white guys either.

            • Jax642a

              "We shouldn't teach that science is only the domain of dead white guys either."

              No – we shouldn't teach science is the domain of anyone at all. Science is a process of gathering information and creating a model of reality which adheres to reality and is repeatable by all.

              There is no Maori science, there is no white man science. There is only a process of how to gather, interpret and communicate fundamental facts about the world in which we live. Race, sex, creed, religion or taste in music doesn't change these facts and should be left out of science all together. Maori or otherwise

              • roblogic

                All or nothing eh? Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

                • Jax642a

                  That's not even remotely close to anything I said.

                  Science is a process. A method of understanding the world around us. There is no Maori science, there is no western science.

                  2 + 2 = 4 regardless of ones race or creed.

                  The escape velocity to leave earths gravity is about 11km p/second

                  Radioactive isotopes decay at same rate and is no matter who you are you get the same rate.

                  Science doesn't care for culture.

                  • roblogic

                    Please tell that to the French when they teach about Pascal, the Americans who rave about Ben Franklin, the Brits who celebrate Newton, the Jews who produced Einstein, the Greeks and Archimedes, and whoever printed Rutherford on the NZ $100 note.

                    What you want is just whitewashing and it's gross.

                    We have a real problem in NZ with lack of engagement in a Pakeha centric curriculum, a lack of trust in Pakeha science and Pakeha institutions, exactly because there is no consideration given to our tangata whenua and the treasures their culture and knowledge brings.

                    • nuke

                      You are putting words in his mouth.

                      That's people celebrating their cultural achievements, not science being cultural. Science is a tool, methodology and set of results, performed by humans. You are conflating the two things. Science will incorporate anything into itself if it stands the test of being scientific (replicable, falsifiable, underpinned by theory, and capable of generating new knowledge

                      The reason there is an increased distrust of science is the politicisation of science, which is exactly what those pushing Mātauranga Māori into science are trying to do, same old shit that the Christians tried in the US with Intelligent Design.

              • No…. you can't leave the music out of science! "They Might be Giants" is essential listening 🙂

        • mpledger

          Ross Ihaka (one of the originators of R, along with the Canadian, Robert Gentleman) is Māori but does just being Māori mean that what you do comes from Mātauranga Māori? The R programming language is an implementation of the S programming language and S was developed at the Bell Labs in the USA. So, where does that place Mātauranga Māori in the scheme of things?

          I guess the thing would be to ask Ross.

          • roblogic

            Good question, I thought R was an interesting example. I suspect its name stems from its creators (Ross, Robert) but also perhaps Rūaumoko, the god of earthquakes, volcanoes and seasons in Māori mythology (per Dr. Ihaka’s wiki page)

            Here's a snippet of Ross's thoughts from this interview (39:26):

            And i think… Maori knowledge also stands on its own. The difference between the sort of traditional Greek based science and Maori science was explained to me once… for Greek science the fundamental question is "how?" meaning "by what mechanism?", "what causes things?", so you tend to drill down into fine detail and look at things; whereas Maori science was based on the question "why?" meaning "to what end?" so "why do these things happen?, what flows from that?" so that leads to a much more holistic view of the world and science, so things like ecology would fit much more i think into that world view but something like mathematics well it sits out there on its own, even for most people in science it's a mystery.

    • nuke 17.2

      "but in practice it means that only the dominant (Pakeha) cultural perspectives are taught as valid". Nope. What has been validated as scientific is taught, no matter what culture created it.

      • roblogic 17.2.1

        What I really enjoyed about science & maths as a child was that the answers were right or wrong, the rules were clear, and the facts were unassailable.

        But later as I went on to further education I realised that picture was a simplified caricature and reality is much more complex and interesting.

      • weka 17.2.2

        "but in practice it means that only the dominant (Pakeha) cultural perspectives are taught as valid". Nope. What has been validated as scientific is taught, no matter what culture created it.

        This might be true if science existed in a vacuum. But it doesn't, and thus decisions about what research is done, and how it is done, are greatly influenced by politics, values, world views, ethic, and commerce.

  18. all shamans died out when western medicine proved its efficacy.

    trying to make something out of nothing or making claims that cannot be sunstantiated are akin to juvenile omnipotence and believing ones own thoughts to be facts.

    toeing the party line does not make science right or wrong.

  19. nuke 20

    The issue of Mātauranga Māori being considered Science is a clear case of categorical error as to what science is and how it operates.

    The category error arises because Mātauranga Māori advocates are stating that something that is information or knowledge is science.

    Any way of knowing, including trial and error, is not science IF it fails the most basic test of science – is there some underlying explanation (theory) that can be explained and replicated by others? Coyne explicitly says that if indigenous systems of knowledge pass this test then they are science. So knowledge by itself is not science, even amazing things like Polynesian systems of navigation.

    Your argument rests on the assumption that all knowledge systems are equally valid, and by doing this you make the categorical error that science is knowledge, so if Mātauranga Māori is knowledge then it’s science. Knowledge (and belief) by themselves are just not enough to make it science.

    This can be shown with a simple example.

    Take the idea of the earth being flat – there’s a few people that believe this, while most other people believe it’s round – two ‘ways of knowing’ and two different, contradictory pieces of ‘knowledge’. If all ways of knowing were equally valid, and knowledge was science, then both these pieces of knowledge would be equally true at the same time. This is obviously not the case. There is no good theory that leads to a planet being flat via natural means, but the theory of gravitation and mass does naturally lead to round planets. Plus you can prove this via mathematics and photograph from space.

    You also give the example of Rongoā Māori. That’s a good one because it includes herbalism. If there is any efficacy in this, then science will investigate, try to understand why it works, and replicate the result. This is exactly how we got Aspirin and Neem antiseptics from indigenous cultures. By Rongoā Māori also has prayer and lunar cycles, which clearly isn’t science unless you’re willing to privilege one cultures religious beliefs over other cultures. Can you prove the existence of Papatuanuku?

    Mātauranga Māori is not science precisely because it is a way of life, incorporating religion, spirituality and knowledge, but nothing resembling theory, explanation and replication that would bring it in to science. This is not a ‘positioning polarity’ as you say, it’s a definitional and process issue. The process of living Mātauranga Māori ensures by its very nature that it isn’t science.

    Just ask Mātauranga Māori expert Mason Drurie, who himself is Maori:

    “You can’t understand science through the tools of Mātauranga Māori, and you can’t understand Mātauranga Māori through the tools of science. They’re different bodies of knowledge, and if you try to see one through the eyes of the other, you mess it up. They might be aiming at the same thing, but going there in different directions.”

    The overriding thing that non-scientists just don’t get is that no-one in the science community cares how scientific knowledge is generated – anything can become part of science if it can be explained and replicated, with some sort of underlying theory to explain why.

    Why so many people are concerned about this conflating of Mātauranga Māori with Science is to look at the proposed changes to the Science curriculum, e.g. where Mātauranga Māori advocates and the Ministry of Education are pushing the concept of Mauri into Chemistry. Mauri is a life force that is attractive, life enhancing and preserved in water as it moves and changes.

    This is just wrong on so many levels and clearly not science. There are many cases in chemistry where things repel, so it fails the test of contradicting physical observations made by all cultures that practice modern chemistry. Secondly, it fails with it’s own concept of life preserving – with water, if I add sulphates and make sulphuric acid, it’s clear that if you drink it it won’t enhance your life, it will kill you, so again, this concept is just plain wrong. And thirdly, prove it! What is Mauri? Where is it? How do we test for it? Are Maori the only people that can see it because no one else seems to have this?

    Mauri is just vitalism reborn, something Western science disproved over a hundred years ago. Somehow I can’t see Mātauranga Māori advocates willing to prove its validity and incorporate it into science because it’s just not possible to do so.

    Why is the MoE pushing this into the Science curriculum and confusing and corrupting students understanding of chemistry?

    You also make the ‘connection’ point, that indigenous systems of knowledge are somehow superior to science because they are holistic. Well that’s a contradiction because you said at the outset it was science, but really this is a red herring from lack of understanding of science. Science is deeply connected at all levels. Sure you can disappear down a rabbit hole investigating some esoteric scientific point, but everything is connected by the underlying, cross cutting system of mathematics, chemistry and physics, which have a solid foundation that anyone can prove independently, no matter their culture.

    Finally, what’s with this obsession that Science is ‘Western’? This seems to be something Mātauranga Māori advocates and the Ministry of Education are pushing big time, but it’s not true. There are more Chinese and Indian scientists than Western scientists, and huge parts of science originated from other cultures e.g. Algebra comes from Arabic/Muslim cultures. Why denigrate their contribution to humanity’s science Taonga? Also science itself isn’t a tool of oppression and destruction – people are. People put the fruits of science to bad uses, including oppression, but science is really the only toolkit we have to stop fooling ourselves about reality.

  20. Nic the NZer 21

    While this post says it is an attempt at a valid argument, rather than rhetoric castigating Coyne, it comes up short. It needs to address what he is actually saying on the topic, which it does not do.

    First off I'll put a loose definition of what is science. Science comprises two systems which work together. The first is a description of how a system works, or a method for achieving something. This may be in language or mathematical equations or both. This is what is taught in science class. In some cases only the best known description for how something works is considered up to date, though incomplete theories can prove useful in many contexts. Subject to the second part its important to understand that this description merely being logically consistent with respect to its assumptions is not enough, it also needs to be demonstrable in practice.

    The second part is the set of experiments which demonstrate in practice what the theory describes to happen. The important point here is not actually that the experimental results are described by the scientific description (though that does provide confidence in a theory), but that experiments have not been discovered which demonstrate this description to be incorrect. This is the important bit of the scientific endeavor, its that it systematically discards ideas it finds to be incorrect. One of the social results of this is that the experiments at CERN have been described as a bit of a disappointment. This is because as expected they emphatically demonstrated the existence of a Higgs particle, but there was nothing coming out of the experiments which was not already pretty well described by the standard model (of particle physics) so nothing much to create new ideas from happened.

    This is the system Coyne describes as 'our only real way of knowing', and according to him anything which meets these requirements could be taught in science class. Any alternative methodology which is also a real way of knowing should have two properties, being distinct and different from science, and also able to tell true and false descriptions of the world apart. Regardless of what alternative methodology is being applied, if the claim is that this is incorrect a counter example should be found. A counter example might be something which we know to be true, even though we know it a) not to work that way in the real world (e.g a known wrong belief), or b) simply assumed whether or not it works that way in the real world (e.g a religious belief).

    Some things are not counter examples, so examples of plant based medicine which are known to work, especially evidenced by modern medical trials. These meet the criteria so could be taught in science class or used in scientific medicine.

    I've seen plenty of challenges to why Coyne writes, but none which address what he or Richard Dawkins are actually saying anywhere. Just counter arguments which amount to Matauranga Maori says some true things. Nobody is denying that. Nobody is denying that Maori Cultural knowledge should be taught in NZ schools. All that is being said is that myths should not be taught as scientific knowledge.

    • nuke 21.1

      Totally agree. Lots of playing the man here (Coyne), not playing the ball, and some considerable confusion and ignorance of what science actually is.

      The issue is that Matauranga Maori advocates are trying to cloak themselves in the mana of science without stepping up to do the hard yards which would require them to critically analyse their own beliefs and discard those parts that aren't science but which they are pushing to be taught as science e.g. Mauri. This concept is simply vitalism in Maori form, something discarded over a hundred years ago in Europe.

      • roblogic 21.1.1

        And now we are moving past the mechanistic classical science that views the world as a machine, and recognising we are part of a living ecosystem (per MM).

        Science moves on again.

  21. tsmithfield 22

    Any alternative methodology which is also a real way of knowing should have two properties, being distinct and different from science, and also able to tell true and false descriptions of the world apart.

    I agree with you. Which is why I liked the definition of science I cited in my opening comment under this thread, that science is:

    …the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

    This definition is broad enough to give room for methodologies that may be produce good results yet not meet the standards of modern science. So, for instance, navigation by the stars, which I think was clearly scientific.

    But, to qualify as science, it needs to meet this definition in some way. Otherwise it is an art.

    And, the other point is, that I think there is a clear distinction between the hard sciences (e.g. Chemistry, physics, etc) which are based on centuries of discoveries of various laws and principles that have lead to major technological advances in society, and the softer sciences, some of which I think are quite flaky. For instance Marketing Science.

    So, I think one of the key questions is to define what we mean when we talk about MM being integrated into science. If it is to be integrated into the core science subjects such as chemistry and physics, then not much of it will pass the grade.

    However, in less stringent sciences there might be more of a place for it, because those sciences are also at a much lower threshold.

    There is a reason that it is possible to do a psychology degree as both an art and a science, but not so much physics.

    • Nic the NZer 22.1

      I wouldn't have much use for Marketing Science (or Economics) in the school science curriculum either.

      Its really only the primary and secondary school curriculum which is pertinent to this. The issue really is if the teacher can maintain a consistent picture of the subject for the students. When the teacher can't maintain epistemic consistency about the basis for some idea being understood then some students are likely to have trouble interpreting this aspect of the class.

      I also think there are a large number of people who genuinely don't understand the distinction between math (models) and scientifically validated models. There are plenty of mathematically logically true and internally consistent models which don't work in practice.

      These are important details of epistemology of science which can be tricky to understand, and are unlikely to fit into a school science curriculum. But it should be kept consistent at least.

  22. Just addressing the headline "why rationalists oppose Matauranga Maori". There are good reasons.

    1. People have used Maori medicine as a pretext for abuse

    2. Gender theory as a political/propaganda project, demands the rejection of objective knowledge about human biology

    3. Some of the fundamentalist style religions and cultures also reject the scientific establishment and embrace conspiracy thinking.

    4. The anti-vax movement is probably the worst example of this, once rationality is ejected, they don't know who to trust and turn to the nearest snake oil merchant, i.e. Steve Bannon (Counterspin) or Alex Jones (Infowars) or their local imitators.

    So whilst I am supportive of inclusion, we also need to be careful. There is something funny about the zeitgeist of Gen Z: they live online so much that they are a generation terribly disconnected from reality and anyone who tries to disabuse them of their fantasy world is immediately seen as a bigot. This is a real problem for educators, whose whole job is to dispel childish notions and help children to learn.

    • nuke 23.1

      So true. This is a repeat of the science wars of the 90's. The postmodernists just won't let it go, but they can't see the error in their logic. Just because science is a human system, subject to human foibles and cultural differences, doesn't mean it can't produce truths.

      This 'all views are valid' religion has to stop because it's just wrong. Some people don't even believe gravity is real, or the earth is a sphere, so are their beliefs just as valid under science? Obviously not because it would require two incompatible realities to exist at once, which is clearly not the case.

      • roblogic 23.1.1

        It shouldn't be seen as a war. In the end it will probably just mean a couple of extra classes on MM for NCEA science.

        Bringing Māori concepts into school science: NCEA – PESA Agora

        • Nic the NZer

          Not keen.

          The authors seem more interested in challenging and changing the teachers, rather than improving science education in NZ. The primary point of the curriculum is not to make teaching it more complex, its to present a body of knowledge which can be taught and is relevant to the subject and to some extent mastered by the students.

          Further, even though its basically presenting a few Maori words into the curriculum, they go on to explain that these words can't be expected to be properly understood by the culturally European science teachers. This does not bode well, if the teachers are expected to be unable to understand the actual meaning of language they are using.

          This would be a weakness of the curriculum if it was trying to convey complex scientific concepts while failing to explain in enough detail what the words mean, or the surrounding subject. Say the secondary school curriculum trying to present quantum entanglement in physics class with no further explanation for what a quantum state is. All that's likely to result is that nobody present has a real grasp of what the subject is about, and no reasonable way to get closer to understanding it.

          • roblogic

            Luckily that's not the actual curriculum, it is an article pitched at teachers. I thought it clarified things quite well.

            Taiao – environment

            Mauri – life (a different way of looking at "MRSGREN")

            Whakapapa – genetics, heritability

            MM (according to the article), and using a different language, will allow students to reconsider the categories of NCEA science. Perhaps it seems a bit "meta" but those were good examples, IMHO.

            • Nic the NZer

              Mauri is not in fact a different way of looking at "MRSGREN", as pointed out by the article. The categorization of things into alive and dead under this scheme is different and includes apparently things like rivers as being alive.

              If the school science curriculum had items discussing things which are alive and the environments which support life this would seem to be a quite appropriate translation. Its quite jarring as described here.

              Anyway, I'm sure that the school science teachers who do read that will appreciate being condescended to.

    • weka 23.2

      1. People have used Maori medicine as a pretext for abuse

      By that measure we should reject mainstream medicine because of the numbers of doctors who have sexually abused female patients. Both examples would be irrational reasons.

      I'm not quite sure what the argument you are making is. Are you giving examples of why some rationalists reject MM? Or saying these are legitimate?

      I agree there needs to be discernment in integrating MM into education systems. Isn't that a given though?

      • roblogic 23.2.1

        Yes, I am saying that rationalists have a reasonable case. There's an abundance of muddled thinking & people with a poor grip on reality. Basic science seems to elude 50% of the population.

        "School science" tends to teach simple rules, putting everything in black and white. Even this is quite hard for many students.

        I am cool with MM. Science is fuzzy at the edges and growing in unexpected ways. But introducing MM will not be easy for teachers.

        • weka

          I agree that some rationalists have reason to be concerned. I think generally we should be looking at the problems as well as the value. I'm not sure the reasons you gave work, but agree that science literacy is a major issue. Do you think that people developing science curriculum may not have sufficient literacy? Or that they are being given things to include that they don't understand and the process isn't rigorous enough?

          • roblogic

            Hmm. Good questions, there is an expert teacher in my family, I need to ask her.

            We have experienced a shortage of STEM teachers for a long time, I am sure curriculum writers are capable, but the actual teaching of these topics will probably be uneven.

          • nuke

            I think that the MoE 'experts' themselves don't have the first clue about the epistemology of science. E.g. pushing Mauri into Chemistry.

            Coyne himself cites a post from LinkedIn from a Matauranga Maori advisor to the MoE who seems to believe that because Maori drew some swirly patterns they knew about different galaxy morphologies before Nasa and the James Web Space Telescope did. This is a perfect illustration of the problem. Human eyes are incapable of seeing these structures, so his assertions are ridiculous.

            • weka

              most people in this debate don't have the first clue about mauri /shrug.

              Coyne's posts are littered with shitty referencing. He often posts a quote out of context and then lays out his own view as if it's self evidently true. If he did that on The Standard he'd get slammed.

              If you want to make a point about something, then please provide the evidence yourself. This means make the argument, short quotes, link. Otherwise it's just another assertion that can't be argued for or against.

  23. tsmithfield 24

    I think one of the important questions to ask is whether MM adds to the understanding in any particular field.

    So, for example, I don't think MM is going to help advance our understanding of the double slit experiment so there probably isn't much point in incorporating it there.

    But it probably does increase our understanding of ancient navigation in the South Pacific. Also, it probably does add something to medicine by identifying specific indigenous plants that could be a starting point for more in depth medical research. And, there are probably aspects of MM that could enhance and enrich areas such as community and social psychology.

    So, I think the best thing to do is to identify where MM enriches and advances areas of science and incorporate it in those areas.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 24.1


      That double slit expt (1803) is a great example of (early post-)Enlightenment science.

      Imho it's crucial that more Māori students become interested and engaged in science if Aotearoa NZ is to truly succeed. Adding Mātauranga Māori to our school curriculum will have positive effects (just like the double slit experiment, there will be constructive interference) – whether those effects include significantly better understanding, and greater participation in scientific endeavours, only time (decades) will tell.

      Like most things, the effective introduction of Mātauranga Māori into the curriculum will require good design and implementation, not to mention good will. What happens at the coalface (schools) will be key – it's (much) easier to teach something when you believe/understand it yourself.

      What I understand when I look at or think about something (anything) will often be different to what someone else understands, and there may be elements of truth in each 'understanding'. But 'things' in the natural world are what they are – modern scientific methods underpin an enormous expansion of scientific knowledge and understanding – it's been mind-blowing, but is it the only/last word? People can see truly (and falsely) using a variety of ways of knowing, and individuals are fond of "works for me" methods.

      It's not a competition ("You're in the top 1%" laugh ) – it's an exploration. Give it a go.




      Understanding Science 101
      The Scientific State of Mind
      Some scientific discoveries are chalked up to the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time to make a key observation — but rarely does serendipity alone lead to a new discovery. The people who turn lucky breaks into breakthroughs are generally those with the background knowledge and scientific ways of thinking needed to make sense of the lucky observation.

      The key to this story of discovery lies partly in Becquerel’s instigating observation, but also in his way of thinking. Along with the relevant background knowledge, Becquerel had a scientific state of mind. Sure, he made some key observations — but then he dug into them further, inquiring why the plates were exposed and trying to eliminate different potential causes of the exposure to get to the physical explanation behind the happy accident.

      • tsmithfield 24.1.1

        That is a fine sentiment.

        But, how would you go about adding MM to a science such as chemistry, for example, where the focus is on interactions between chemicals with well established outcomes?

        I agree with inspiring young Maori to take up science. Which is why I think it is a good thing to highlight Maori scientists who are engaged in science, or to adapt the style of learning to make it comfortable for Maori students.

        But MM itself doesn't really seem to add much to hard sciences like Chemistry. I would be interested in your thoughts though.

        • Drowsy M. Kram

          But MM itself doesn't really seem to add much to hard sciences like Chemistry. I would be interested in your thoughts though.

          Like you, I can't see how MM understanding/knowledge could enhance hard science aspects of chemistry, particularly matters atomic/theoretical, but that’s just me. There's biochemistry, geochemistry, environmental chemistry, chemical engineering, etc. The idea of exploring new ideas and/or combinations is exciting.

          Why not give it a go – can it really do more harm?

          • tsmithfield

            I have already said there are a few aspects that would fit within hard science, especially science history (e.g. navigation), or knowledge of plants as a starter for medical research. And that I see aspects of MM could fit within areas like Community and Social Psychology.

            So, I am not opposed to the idea entirely. But, in terms of content, I think the best case I can see is that MM straddles the science and arts in a similar way to psychology or marketing science.

            But, taking that approach would tend to place it more within a university context rather than the hard sciences which tend to be the focus of secondary schools, which is where concerns have been expressed. Though, having said that, some high schools do run introductory courses in psychology. So, who knows.

      • nuke 24.1.2

        Two points here. Why do you assume Maori students will even know what Mātauranga Māori is? This is an assumption that proponents are making but all my Maori whanau have no understanding of MM so I think this is a stretch at best.

        Secondly, yes it's not a competition. Science will incorporate anything that is scientific, but Mātauranga Māori is not science so you just add to confusion in students and teachers, and increased workload.

      • nuke 24.1.3

        Two points here. Why do you assume Maori students will even know what Mātauranga Māori is? This is an assumption that proponents are making but all my Maori whanau have no understanding of MM and don't care about it, so I think this is a stretch at best.

        Secondly, yes it's not a competition. Science will incorporate anything that is scientific, but Mātauranga Māori is not science so you just add to confusion in students and teachers, and increase their workload.

        • Drowsy M. Kram

          Why do you assume Maori students will even know what Mātauranga Māori is?

          No assumption – it's possible that many/most students will have no awareness, let alone an understanding of MM, whether or not they're of Māori descent.

          If MM is introduced into the NZ school curriculum then I would expect that many/most students would develop some understanding of MM over time. As I remember, that's how it worked with other subjects half a century ago – except for foreign languages; despite years and years of tuition, I made little progress.

          And yes, incorporating MM into the school curriculum will be challenging for students and teachers – not sure that's a good reason not give it a go, but happy to defer to students and teachers.

  24. Mike the Lefty 25

    Another pertinent question not explored here is whether the views of the anti-vaxxers and health conspiracy theorists have any relevance to Matauranga Maori.

    What I mean is that if the conspiracy theorists reject many aspects of Western based medicine you might expect them to embrace MM as an alternative.

    But I have never heard them saying anything about it.

    Anyone who can shed a light on this?

    • weka 25.1

      Anti-vax, vax hesitancy, and freedom all feature very heavily in alternative health circles. Where that intersects with Māori, sure MM is a thing. Much like the rest of NZ, Māori are doing their own thing, many Pākehā are oblivious.

  25. Maurice 26

    It appears to be more a clash of belief systems than of scientific method.

    Including MM in our scientific subject teachings will surely expose it to the scientific method system of Hypothesis > Theory > Science Law with removal of the unprovible at each step (to be revisited from time to time to make sure no value remains hidden there).

    It may mean much of MM is removed by scientific method leaving just the distillation of the remainder as worthy of inclusion as "science". That is how 'science' has and still does work – surely? Any evidence validated will be included; the disproved removed.

    Are those forcing inclusion prepared to accept that – or will distillation be resisted?

  26. tsmithfield 27

    Just because the scientific method is a recent development, it doesn't mean cultures before that weren't doing science.

    Anytime anyone built something that stood up for a reasonable period of time they were doing science.

    For instance, the building of the pyramids or Stonehenge would have required knowledge of how to use levers in order to move massive stone blocks.

    Some of the Roman stuff is incredibly impressive. For instance, the Pont du Gard is an incredibly impressive structure. And the museum there displays a lot of Roman stuff including plumbing, a lot of which looks incredibly modern (including taps).

    And, some Roman bridges are still in use in France and are part of the roading network. In fact the one in this link stood up to a recent flood whereas more modern ones were swept away.

    And, there is the likes of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey which is incredibly impressive, and pushes the date of early civilisation back thousands of years. I think these ruins have been dated back to 12000 BC or earlier.

    • tsmithfield 27.1

      I think civilisation lost huge amounts in terms of early science due to events such as the burning of the library at Alexandria and the dark ages that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, and probably set us back by centuries so far as science is concerned.

      And so far as early science goes, we have Euclidean Geometry that is still used today, but dates back to around AD300. And the contributions of Aristotle who was definitely doing science around 400 BC, amongst others.

      • roblogic 27.1.1

        The dark ages weren't so dark. The conflict thesis is probably atheist propaganda from the Enlightenment.

        Science is a human project and thus it's fallible. It is entangled with establishment power structures and has been used for great harm (nukes) as well as good (vaccines).

        I was around when the Chemistry dept nearly burned to the ground at Auckland Uni. The "science" of Economics face-planted embarrassingly in the GFC of 2008. Ever heard of the "p-value" or replication crisis that calls into question many 'accepted' results in the natural sciences?

        The saving grace of science is that asking questions and gathering data is more important than protecting doctrines.

        • tsmithfield

          The dark ages weren't so dark. The conflict thesis is probably atheist propaganda from the Enlightenment.

          That is true. But we still lost a lot. I saw a dramatised series on Queen Victoria recently. In one episode, Prince Albert was complaining about the toilets and plumbing in Buckingham Palace. His comment was that the Romans had all that a long time back, so why couldn't they have it in supposedly much more modern times.

          I guess it was a drama, so we will never know if the conversation ever took place. But the fact of the situaton at Buckingham palace was certainly accurate.

          Ever heard of the "p-value" or replication crisis that calls into question many 'accepted' results in the natural sciences?

          Yes. More of an issue in "arty" sciences such as psychology. In the hard sciences things tend to work, or not. But in fields where the method of research is often subjective rating scales, results need to be taken with a grain of salt, and ideally supported by meta-analysis rather than individual studies.

    • roblogic 27.2

      Goblekli Tepe also featured in "Ancient Apocalypse", a fascinating series.

      • tsmithfield 27.2.1

        Yes. I watched that as well. Quite a lot of speculative stuff. But, it looks reasonably likely there was some major event back then such as a commet strike that caused a lot of preexisting society to be wiped out.

        And the fact that Gobleki Tepe exists would support the theory of a much more ancient origin of civilisation. Afterall, Goblekli Tepe didn't appear out of nothing, so suggests a skill base that must have taken hundreds if not thousands of years to develop prior to that.

    • weka 27.3

      Just finished watching that Gobekli Tepe youtube, it was superb. I read about that area and prehistory many years ago mostly from feminist writers. Good to see something made so recently. Most of it makes sense to me, and I'm kind of surprised that people are surprised that 'monuments' were made before cities. Why wouldn't the nomadic peoples of the region build once they figured that tech out?

    • nuke 27.4

      Not really true. Lots of cultures built stuff with no underlying theory, just trial and error, which isn't science. But yes, the Romans did have theories that underpinned much of their engineering so that was likely science. Early Mathematics is also science because it fit all the tests – replicable, falsifiable, generates new knowledge, had an underlying theory,.

  27. tsmithfield 28

    Something else from ancient civilisation that seems well before its time is the Antikythera Mechanism. It looks like something a modern watch maker would be proud to create. So, how they did it with the technology available back then, who knows.

    Unless Von Daniken was right all along.. Lol.

    Though, why would aliens give that sort of technology. If they were that advanced they would have set up some satellites and given everyone cellphones with google maps.

    • roblogic 28.1

      Not aliens, but maybe a significant civilisation (Roman Empire tech level) that got wiped out in a global catastrophe. That would mean that Atlantis, the Tower of Babel, or similar myths have some basis in lost history.

      This history, alongside philosophical developments in science (including MM), is kinda cool, as (to me) it points to a Telos at work in history and science. We are moving away from viewing the world as a machine and more as a living organism.


      • tsmithfield 28.1.1

        Though, that particular item probably isn't old enough for that, or aliens. I think it is dated at about 2000 years old.

      • nuke 28.1.2

        There seems to be this established view that science is not holistic, which is just wrong. All science is underpinned by a set of fundamentals in physics and mathematics, and so is connected, and science itself has been studying interconnections for centuries.

        People focus on esoteric little papers and say "oh look, it's so blinkered and narrow in focus" but any time you study something you will inevitably need to do some sort of deep dive to understand a micro-point but that doesn't mean that science not holistic.

        If Matauranga Maori was truly a science we would see this focus on micro and macro detail, but we don't.

  28. maibly because matauranga maori have made no contributions to scientific knowledge

  29. That_guy 30

    Honestly it often seems to me like a bunch of academics shouting at each other because nobody bothered to nail down the definitions of the things that they are shouting about.

    Even with some quite restrictive definitions of "science", some parts of matauranga maori clearly qualify as science, and even with the most permissive definition of science, some parts of matauranga maori clearly don't.

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