Exclusive: Royal Society Is Investigating Academics For Defending Science

17 November 2021


Exclusive: Royal Society Is Investigating Academics For Defending Science

The Free Speech Union can reveal that two academic fellows are being investigated by The Royal Society of New Zealand for being among those to put their name to a letter in defence of science which was published earlier this year in The Listener Magazine.

Two distinguished New Zealand scientists and members of The Royal Society of New Zealand co-authored a letter to the Listener in July in which they claimed that “...Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices and plays key roles in management and policy. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself…”.

Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis was a third individual who signed the letter to also be included in the investigation, yet he sadly passed away on Saturday morning after a battle with cancer. This leaves Professor Garth Cooper and Emeritus Professor Robert Nola to face investigation by the Society after several complaints were made against them. They have been informed that their membership could be terminated.

And the investigation appears to have a preconceived outcome, as The Royal Society has already published criticism of the 7 letter signers, including the two fellows who face disciplinary action.

Free Speech Union Spokesperson, Jonathan Ayling, says the investigation is an affront to free speech.

“The Royal Society was set up for the purpose of advancing and promoting science, technology, and the humanities in New Zealand. This investigation sends a chilling message to other academics: defend science at your peril.

“The process of the human pursuit of science depends on free speech, including of those who may hold views contrary to the mainstream. The Royal Society are abandoning its own heritage and tradition of academic freedom.

“Academics should be the critics and conscience of society, not group-thinkers aligned to any particular ideology."

The Free Speech Union has launched a crowdfunder to defend these individuals and academic freedom from the Royal Society and similarly close-minded organisations.

“We stand behind the academics freedom of speech and are proud to help them defend their right to critique and raise consciousness of important contemporary issues” said Mr Ayling.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi has strategic objectives to “better inform and educate Aotearoa New Zealand” and “develop an increasingly diverse Academy and membership”. Their code of conduct states that members must “not harass, bully or knowingly act with malice towards individuals or groups of people;” Yet the authors seem to have been subjected to bullying themselves.

“The academics have been called ‘racist’ and smeared by fellow scientists and are now having to engage lawyers to defend their opinions on science from an institution that should, instead, be encouraging debate and promoting science.”

Scholars within a university frequently disagree, and the role of academic institutions is to maintain the ground on which that disagreement can take place, in good faith and in a scholarly fashion. That means that The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the FSU, ought to take a neutral stance, to unequivocally defend the right and duty of its academics to make good-faith arguments, and to defend them from unfair attacks on their reputations. Instead, the Royal Society has chosen to proceed with disciplinary investigation and so has made it more difficult for academics in New Zealand to voice honestly-held views on contentious topics in the future.

New Zealanders who wish to support the Free Speech Union’s efforts to defend the two academics and the principle of academic freedom are encouraged to support the cause at www.fsu.nz/donate_academic_freedom.

Similarly, all academics, and members of the Royal Society are encouraged to join the Union at www.fsu.nz/join


mid-July Listener letter published

July 23 Counter letter published (Hendy/Wiles)

Oct 06 The three co-authors notified of complaints and process

Nov 10 Three of the complaints withdraw; two remain. New investigation panel also named.

There were 5 complainants; now there are only 2.

Jacinta Ruru was part of the original investigation panel and a Prof of Law at Otago; she also signed the Hendy/Wiles letter. Also a signature to that letter was Prof Blaikiw, who was convenor.

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  • Free Speech Union
    published this page in Media releases 2023-11-20 16:20:43 +1300

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