Foreign academics and media weigh in on Royal Society investigation

Dear Jonathan,

Young's Spectator Article

News of the Royal Society's troubling decision to investigate three of its distinguished Fellows for defending science in a letter to the New Zealand Listener magazine has now made international headlines.

Toby Young – the General Secretary of our sister organisation (the UK's Free Speech Union) who is an Associate Editor of the Spectator Magazine – couldn't believe his ears when we told him about the NZ Royal Society's investigation into its members who signed the Listener letter. You can read his full piece here.

Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union UK'In a rational world, this letter would have been regarded as uncontroversial. Surely the argument about whether to teach schoolchildren scientific or religious explanations for the origins of the universe and the ascent of man was settled by the Scopes trial in 1925? Apart from the obvious difficulty of prioritising one religious viewpoint in an ethnically diverse society like New Zealand (what about Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?), there is the problem that Maori schoolchildren, already among the least privileged in the country, will be at an even greater disadvantage if their teachers patronise them by saying there’s no need to learn the rudiments of scientific knowledge.' 

Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, one of the world's most well-known public intellectuals, also tweeted an article by Emeritus Professor Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago on this issue.

Professor Dawkins (who is a Fellow of the British Royal Society) wrote 'SHAME on the NZ Royal Society' and called on his Twitter followers to write to the President of the Royal Society, Roger Ridley.  Richard Dawkins Tweet

In a letter to the President of the Royal Society, Professor Coyne wrote 'I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughingstock.' Jordan B. Peterson TweetJordan B. Peterson

Tweeting Young's Spectator column, Jordan Peterson asked the question on everyone's mind, "Why punish a scientist for defending science?"

The bullying and 'pile-on' which is being orchasrated by the Royal Society and cultural elites like Siouxsie Wiles is baffling the scientific establishment around the world. 

If you are an academic, we encourage you to join with these eminent international academics and scientists like Professors Dawkins, Coyne, and Peterson, and call on the Royal Society to drop this witch-hunt- you can email the President at [email protected]

The Free Speech Union will again be contacting every academic in the country to ensure that they are aware of what an embarrassment this investigation is (and the witch-hunt it represents). 

Times Higher Education is another global publication that has reported on the NZ Royal Society's investigation (behind a paywall - republished with permission at the end of this email). It added its voice to condemnation:

'The RSNZ said that it was unable to comment until the disciplinary process had run its course. THE also unsuccessfully sought comment from the society’s president, the chair of its academy executive committee and several high-profile critics of the Listener letter.' 

To defend free speech with people power, we need you onboard

Jonathan, as we've built momentum this year, our opponents have looked for ways to discredit us. They like to say that we are just a small group of disgruntled individuals out of step with progress (the irony being progress has only ever come because of free speech). 

When we first broke the story about the Royal Society's investigation, we were referred to as 'the so-called Free Speech Union' or 'the organisation calling itself the Free Speech Union', like this tweet from Dr Siouxsie Wiles:

Tweet by Dr. Siouxsie Wiles

But someone needs to be there to call out bullying and craziness like the Royal Society's investigation. If we band together, our opponents' smears just won't work. Going into 2022 we need as many individuals as possible standing up for free speech. 

Jonathan, will you join us in this fight to defend free speech and debate in New Zealand? 

Membership means you'll have a team in your corner if someone comes after you because of your speech. Whether it's with embattled professors, local councillors, activist groups, or DHBs, we have a track record of standing up for our member's speech- and winning. Click here to join.

Join the Free Speech Union

Thank you for your support and making this effort possible. 


Jonathan Ayling

Free Speech Union

Article from Times Higher Education:

New Zealand academics investigated over Māori knowledge letter 

Royal Society asked to expel decorated members who criticised plans to incorporate mātauranga Māori into curricula 

December 6, 2021 

John Ross 

A debate about the nature of science has become a litmus test for academic freedom in New Zealand, as some leading scholars face possible expulsion from the country’s learned academy. 

The Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ) is investigating current and former University of Auckland professors whose controversial letter to the editor of The New Zealand Listener, published in July, criticised plans to embed mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in the school science curriculum. 

The RSNZ received five complaints demanding disciplinary action against the three society fellows who had contributed to the letter: medical scientist Garth Cooper and philosopher Robert Nola, along with psychologist Michael Corballis, who initiated the letter. Professor Corballis, who won the Rutherford Medal – RSNZ’s highest honour – in 2016, died suddenly last month. 

New Zealand’s Education Act guarantees academics and students the freedom to “question and test received wisdom, put forward new ideas and state controversial or unpopular opinions” within the law. The Listener letter authors insisted that they were exercising this right in criticising the incorporation of mātauranga Māori in school and university science programmes, which they likened to giving creationism the same scientific status as evolutionary biology. 

But the complainants alleged that the authors had committed at least nine breaches of the RSNZ Code of Professional Standards and Ethics – including failing to “behave with…integrity and professionalism”, “claim competence commensurate with their expertise” or “take reasonable…precautions to protect vulnerable people” – and violated the society’s “good character obligation”. 

The RSNZ then launched a formal investigation. Its complaints procedures state that the society’s council “may initiate an inquiry if it has reason to suspect that a member may have breached…obligations”. 

Massey University theoretical chemist Peter Schwerdtfeger, who won the Rutherford Medal in 2014, said the society’s approach was baffling. “I think they had a choice, but it was just bluntly rejected. The Royal Society now is so influenced by mātauranga Māori ideology that they started an official procedure, and once you start it, you can’t stop it,” he said. 

Professor Nola said the investigation was currently determining whether the complaints could be pursued under the RSNZ rules. He said the Listener letter was not a piece of research and therefore not covered by the society’s code. 

“The Education Act and the code give us the right to express our views, in a clause about being a critic and conscience of society, even though the views might be unpopular. We had no idea at the time how popular or unpopular they were. They’ve proven to be more popular than we thought,” he said. 

Critics have questioned how the RSNZ can undertake an impartial inquiry after its president and the chair of its academy executive committee denounced the Listener letter authors in a statement posted on the society’s website. 

Times Higher Education understands that two of the three panellists originally enlisted to investigate the complaints were removed after it emerged that they had signed an open response condemning the Listener letter. 

The RSNZ said that it was unable to comment until the disciplinary process had run its course. THE also unsuccessfully sought comment from the society’s president, the chair of its academy executive committee and several high-profile critics of the Listener letter.

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  • Jonathan Ayling
    published this page in Blog 2023-11-17 12:17:17 +1300

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