Free Speech Union under attack? Talk to your Union.

Free speech under attack? Talk to your Union. 

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in a liberal democracy – as important, even, as the right to vote, since peoples ability to cast an informed vote depends on them first being able to participate in free and open debate about political issues and ideas.

Accordingly, the Bill of Rights Act states that every New Zealander has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”. Even before the Bill of Rights Act made it explicit, free speech was a right that New Zealanders took for granted. They exercised it (and still do) every day in letters to the editor and on radio talkback shows. 

Yet a perception has grown in recent years that New Zealandersright to speak freely and to hear all shades of political opinion, short of those that incite violence and hatred, is under sustained attack. Concern at the fragility of free speech rights led to the formation this year of the Free Speech Union, which has drawn support from across the political and ideological spectrum. The Free Speech Unions supporters, for example, include veteran leftists Matt McCarten and Chris Trotter.

Karl du FresneOne celebrated case involved the Canadian alt-right” (so-called) speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were barred from speaking at a council-owned Auckland venue in 2018. The excuse used for denying them a platform was that the event might be disrupted by protesters.

Activists quickly got the message that they could force the cancellation of speeches by people they didnt like simply by threatening protest action – a tactic sometimes referred as the hecklers veto. 

This controversy is still being played out in the courts, where the crowd-funded Free Speech Union has gone all the way to the Supreme Court in a test case aimed at preventing public authorities from using the fear of disruption as an excuse to de-platform” speakers.

In the meantime, other developments have reinforced the perception that freedom of expression in New Zealand is imperilled. The feminist group Speak Up For Women (SUFW), which advances the unremarkable view that only people born female can call themselves women, has been barred from holding meetings in public premises and had a prominent advertising billboard taken down in central Wellington. 

SUFWs struggle to get its message across in the face of determined opposition from trans-gender activists illustrates that the defence of free speech cuts across the usual ideological and political lines. People who identify with the radical left have found themselves on the same side as conservatives and libertarians.

In the latest outbreak of the speech wars, the action has shifted to a new and worrying arena. Seven respected university academics found themselves effectively blacklisted in July after they wrote a letter to The Listener challenging the notion that matauranga Maori – which can be defined as the traditional body of Maori knowledge – should be accorded the same status as science, as proposed by an NCEA working group preparing a new school curriculum.  

In an unprecedented pile-on, more than 2000 fellow academics, urged on by professors Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles, signed a letter denouncing the Listener Seven and implying they condoned scientific racism”. The response went well beyond legitimate disagreement. The sheer weight and vehemence of the denunciation sent an unmistakeable message to the academic community: express dissent at your peril. 

More alarmingly still, two of the Listener Seven are now being investigated by the Royal Society – an organisation dedicated, ironically, to the advancement of science – and may be expelled.  

What started as an academic debate has thus taken on the character of a heresy trial. Even more ironically, one of the professors under investigation, Garth Cooper, is a Maori who has earned international respect for his achievements in Maori health.  

Once again, the Free Speech Union has stepped up by creating an academic freedom fund to help defend the two accused. If the complaint against them is upheld, union spokesman Dr David Cumin says, academics will inevitably feel less safe expressing honestly held views on contentious issues.

The bottom line here is that science and academia need people who challenge accepted wisdom, otherwise we would be stuck forever in the status quo. But in New Zealand in 2021, the price for deviating from approved orthodoxy is punishment and ostracism. 

 

 

Karl du Fresne is a freelance journalist and former newspaper editor. He is the author of The Right to Know: News Media Freedom in New Zealand, and is a member of the Free Speech Union.


Free Speech Union Update: 30 November, 2021

Dear Supporter, 

We all know we're entering the 'silly-season', but as you can see from this Free Speech Union update, it's not because we're getting close to Christmas. 

Royal Society investigates Fellows for defending science 

Prof. Garth CooperLast week, we uncovered the investigation the Royal Society is conducting into two Fellows for their part in writing The Listener letter, which posited that mātauranga Māori is distinct from science. 

A counter-letter was swiftly drafted and circulated by Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles — which claimed to “categorically” disagree with the professors’ views. I had the chance to sit down with Profs. Cooper and Clements to discuss the mischaracterisation of what they wrote, and the backlash they have endured. You can listen to the podcast here.

We invited dozens of those who had signed the open letter to join us in this conversation to discuss their differences of opinion. Not one of them was willing to participate. 

Likewise, when we asked to sit down with Sandra Grey, the head of the Tertiary Education Union to discuss the implications of investigations like this on academic freedom, she was entirely uninterested in engaging.  

You might agree with the authors of the letter about mātauranga Māori and science or you might not, but that's really not the point. Prof Cooper is Māori himself and has taught kaupapa Māori for decades — it is crazy that the academy is so ideologically captured that it would condone this pile-on. The fact that those who are orchestrating these bullying and censorious tactics have no interest in engaging in a discussion is very telling. As you'll often find, one side of the debate around free speech is almost always more tolerant than the other. 

Coverage in Radio New Zealand, Newsroom, and Stuff, each present different perspectives, but what's clear is we're generating a conversation  and that's exactly what free speech is about! 

Journalist Graham Adams interviewed Prof. Cooper and concluded:

... we have ended up in a situation where a very distinguished Māori-Pākehā scientist who has helped thousands of Māori in their careers over several decades is being investigated by the Royal Society for what can only be described as holding a heretical view about the distinction between science and mātauranga Māori.

Who knew an eminent scientist expressing an honestly held opinion — that mātauranga Māori, while valuable as a form of knowledge, is not science — would end up dealing with an Inquisition in 21st century New Zealand?   

In another piece Graeme Adams wrote for us, he outlines the remarkable achievements of the late Prof. Michael Corballis, who until his recent passing was also under investigation by the Royal Society.

Prof. Michael Corballis

Some have claimed that Prof. Corballis was the best chance Auckland University has ever had of acquiring a Nobel Prize as he was arguably the global authority on left-hemisphere/right-hemisphere issues in neuropsychology. "Yet — despite having awarded him the Rutherford Medal — a full fortnight after his death the society had still not written an obituary. Unfortunately, Corballis had lately been relegated to zero from hero. His crime was effectively one of heresy."

Steven Pinker who celebrated the life of his former professor with a laudatory tweet, pulled no punches when he was asked about this issue while being interviewed by Kim Hill on RNZ over the weekend:  

Silencing or punishing someone for an opinion runs counter to reason. … No one is infallible; no one is omniscient. The only way our species has been able to do anything worthwhile is by voicing opinions and allowing them to be criticised…

If you’ve got a regime where merely voicing an opinion gets you silenced or punished then we’ve turned off the only mechanism we have of discovering knowledge. It is a way of locking ourselves into error…

If we have a regime that can subject someone to an investigation based on an opinion, we know from history that’s the way totalitarian autocracies work and oppressive theocracies work.

The Free Speech Union is committed to standing up for these distinguished professors, and their academic freedom.

Because of donations from supporters just like you, we have been able to cover the legal costs of the investigation and will be continuing to support them however we can.  

Getting the message out there

If you pick up the NZ Herald today, be sure to check out our full-page advert highlighting what the Royal Society is doing.

Full Page in the NZ HeraldClick for larger image

Hate speech petition presented with strong cross-party support 

Tens-of-thousands of Kiwis signed our petition calling on the Government to can their proposed hate speech laws, and on Thursday we presented this petition to a group of MPs at Parliament. Members from the ACT Party, the Green Party, and the National Party all agreed that the changes the Government is suggesting are dangerous. 

This proves the point we constantly make: free speech is not a Left-Right political issue. Free speech is about defending the basic foundation of Kiwis' democratic liberties. MPs who agree on virtually nothing else joined together with us calling on the Government to drop their anti-speech proposals. 

Hate Speech Petition Presented to Parliament

It is outrageous that the Government is proposing to impose harsher criminal sanctions for words than those that exist for a number of violent offences. 

Even more so given that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Justice have been able to say when asked what speech would or would not be prosecuted under the proposals. 

This places an unacceptable and undemocratic burden on the police and the courts which will inevitably be left with the task of exploring the application of these laws.

We've already seen a Police Officer in Auckland tell street preachers that "there's a difference between hate speech and free speech" and that they were "very close to the line" before any such laws have even passed. 

There is no public mandate for these changes. Of the 18,000 responses which were made to the Ministry of Justice about the hate speech proposals, 15,000 of them specifically endorsed the Free Speech Union's submission. Yet, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the submissions were facilitated by the Free Speech Union, the Minister has repeatedly refused to meet with us to discuss our concerns and has apparently requested none of the other ministers we have asked to meet with sit down with us.

We couldn't resist

It just so happened that as we were presenting the petition, Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi walked by, and so we had an opportunity to invite him in person to receive the petition signed by tens of thousands of Kiwis...

Unsurprisingly, he declined. 

Minister of Justice declines to receive petition

Hate Speech debate with Paul Hunt

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, has been a strong proponent of the anti-speech laws the Government is proposing. Free Speech Union Member Daphna Whitmore was invited to debate him on this issue and did a stellar job.

Hate Speech Debate with Paul Hunt and Daphna Whitmore

In his conclusion, Hunt parahprased Isaiah Berlin and claimed "'Total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and less gifted.’ And that’s why we need a high-level threshold of hate speech. Otherwise, the liberty of wolves will lead to the death of lambs."

This perfectly encapsulates the patronising and infantilising perspective that underpins the justification for anti-speech laws, and which ironically insults the ethnic, religious, and gender minorities of our country.

As Daphna points out, anti-speech laws are a political project which the elite imposes top-down with threats of imprisonment. Why? Because they don't trust everyday Kiwis to respect others or tolerate differences. 

>>> Watch the debate between Hunt and Whitmore here<<<

Jonathan Rauch, who we were fortunate to have as our most recent SpeakEasy guest, tackles the argument of authorities purporting to speak on behalf of minorities head-on in his interview with Dr David Cumin available on our podcast.

Victory in Michael Laws Case as Codes of Conduct threaten to undermine accountability

As well as taking on the woke academy and paternalistic Government, we're also continuing to look into the way Codes of Conduct are being weaponised and used to silence our elected local representatives. 

Cr. Laws

We were very pleased to let you know that the complaint against Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws covered in previous newsletters has not been unheld upon investigation.

Reports we've received from within the Otago Regional Council have claimed that the letter we sent to the Chief Executive was instrumental in the investigation, and the complaint being dropped. This just shows the way these complaints are lobbed about to intimidate councillors. 

Before the investigation was concluded, we sat down with Cr. Laws to discuss the case, and how common it is for these Codes to be used to attack elected representatives by bureaucrats. We doubt these Codes are lawful and are continuing work in examining their use to undermine democratic accountability.

Council codes of conduct: Facebook Live – Thursday 7pm 

FB Live Discussion on Council Codes of Conduct

On Thursday night, at 7pm, Free Speech Union Council Member and lawyer Stephen Franks will be sitting down with 3 Councillors from around the country to hear their stories concerning the opposition they have faced from Code of Conduct complaints, and proposals they have to improve the system, and defend free speech. We'll be going live on our Facebook Page, so make sure you have liked our page to receive a notification when we go live. 

Donate to the FSU

The attacks on free speech simply remind us again and again why a collaborative effort is needed to defend this core liberty. We are only able to operate because of members and supporters like you. 

Join the FSU

Thank you for making this work possible. 

Jonathan


Jonathan Ayling
Spokesperson

Free Speech Union
www.fsu.nz

 

 


A professor without honour in his own country

A professor without honour in his own country

Renowned psychologist Steven Pinker marked the death of his former teacher New Zealander Michael Corballis with a laudatory tweet. NZ’s Royal Society — of which Corballis was a Fellow and recipient of its most prestigious award — still hasn’t provided an obituary after putting him under investigation for his views on mātauranga Māori. Graham Adams reports.

The late Prof Michael Corballis

After Auckland University emeritus professor Michael Corballis died on November 13, the celebrity scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker tweeted to his 736,000 followers: “Sad to learn of the death of cognitive psychologist Michael Corballis, who taught me stats at McGill (I cite his lectures in Rationality) & did brilliant work on handedness, mental rotation, & [evolution] of lang. Also urbane, charming, witty, irreverent.”

The Harvard University professor of psychology expressed similar sentiments last December when Corballis published his autobiography, “Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind”, which tracked his brilliant career from growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand to teaching at McGill University in Canada before returning to Auckland University.

Pinker: “Michael Corballis is among the world’s deepest and most creative cognitive scientists, and he illuminates every subject he takes on with insight, wit, and charm. We’re fortunate that he has stepped back to and applied these gifts to the science of mind.” Five years ago, the Royal Society of New Zealand thought very highly of Corballis too. In 2016, it awarded him the Rutherford Medal, its most prestigious award, for his work on brain asymmetries, handedness, mental imagery, language, and mental time travel. 

Prof Steven Pinker

The award — named after Ernest Rutherford, our most famous scientist and Nobel laureate, who pioneered the orbital theory of the atom — bestows a medal and prize of $100,000. In its statement, the awards panel outlined Professor Corballis’s achievements: “He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of Psychological Scientists, the American Psychological Association and the Royal Society of New Zealand. 

“He is an Honorary Fellow of the International Neuropsychology Symposium and the New Zealand Psychological Society. He was awarded the Shorland Medal from the New Zealand Association of Scientists in 1999, a James Cook Research Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2000 and the Hunter Award from the New Zealand Psychological Society in 2006.”

The panel also noted: “Professor Corballis has written a string of popular books including: The Lopsided Ape, From Hand to Mouth, The Recursive Mind, Pieces of Mind and The Wandering Mind. These titles have made the latest thinking on difficult topics such as the origins of human language, mental time travel and the question of human uniqueness easily accessible to a broad audience.” 

Some senior academics say Corballis was the best chance Auckland University has ever had to snare a Nobel Prize given that he was arguably the leading authority in the world on left-hemisphere / right hemisphere issues in neuropsychology. Yet — despite having awarded him the Rutherford Medal — a full fortnight after his death the society had still not written an obituary. Unfortunately, Corballis had lately been relegated to zero from hero. His crime was effectively one of heresy.

At the time of his death, he was being investigated by the Royal Society — along with two other Fellows, Professors Robert Nola and Garth Cooper — with a view to expulsion.

They were among seven eminent professors who signed a letter published in the Listener in July that objected to mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) being given equal status in the school science curriculum with what an NCEA working group referred to as “Western” science. The Royal Society quickly denounced the professors: “The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by Royal Society Te Apārangi.

“The society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in The Listener letter to the editor. It deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause.”

What was baffling about the society’s statement — apart from the fact it felt moved to make one at all — is that it appeared to be responding to a letter the professors hadn’t actually written. They never said anything that implied mātauranga Māori isn't a “valid truth” — whatever that means — but simply that, in their opinion, it isn’t science. The professors also upheld “the value of mātauranga Māori” in their letter, stating that, “Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy.” They also acknowledged that “Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge” — even if “it is not science”.

The society’s assertion that the professors were using a “narrow and outmoded definition of science” also seems odd given that the society itself didn’t go as far as to claim mātauranga Māori is scientific — even if its statement implies it might be able to be roped into a more expansive and more modish view of science than the one the professors hold.

Listener LetterThe society has dropped its charges against Corballis posthumously but Professors Nola and Cooper are still in its sights. Unsurprisingly, the issue is causing deep divisions within the Royal Society. 

Theoretical chemist Peter Schwerdtfeger  a German scientist, who holds a chair in theoretical chemistry at Massey University in Auckland and is the Director of the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics, the head of the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study, and former president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, one of Germany’s premier scientific and research institutes, commented:

“This witch hunt against the authors of the Listener article has to stop immediately. And shame on those who are drawing the racist card without even having allowed for a much needed and timely discussion on the involvement of mātauranga Māori in science teaching. 

“Many of my colleagues are too scared to speak out because they are attacked by the post-modernist ideologists. As a (yet) Fellow of the Royal Society, I am deeply embarrassed and shocked about this investigation, and perhaps a review of the Royal Society NZ is required to avoid leaving a sizeable stain in their history books.”

It is an open question whether the Royal Society can survive this scandal. Like  other organisations that have abandoned their founding principles for more fashionable standards, oblivion and irrelevance awaits.

As pointed out, “There can be little doubt the society has breached its own Code of Professional Standards and Ethics toward the seven letter signatories. 

“In particular, its Code states that:

  1. justice requires that people are treated fairly and equitably 
  2. respect for persons means respecting an individual’s right to make choices and hold views, and to take actions based on their own values and beliefs 
  3. duty of care describes the obligations that a reasonable person owes to others who may be affected by their acts or omissions.”

Perhaps what is particularly telling about the nature of this “witch hunt” is that it has been reported that three of the five complainants to the society dropped out when it became clear they would have to be identified for the inquiry to proceed.

It seems they were happy to help damage others’ careers and reputations anonymously but not quite as keen to put their own on the line by coming forward in public.

In contrast, in an interview with Kim Hill on RNZ on Saturday, Pinker made his own position very public.

“Silencing or punishing someone for an opinion runs counter to reason. … No one is infallible; no one is omniscient. The only way our species has been able to do anything worthwhile is by voicing opinions and allowing them to be criticised…

“If you’ve got a regime where merely voicing an opinion gets you silenced or punished then we’ve turned off the only mechanism we have of discovering knowledge. It is a way of locking ourselves into error…

“If we have a regime that can subject someone to an investigation based on an opinion, we know from history that’s the way totalitarian autocracies work and oppressive theocracies work.

“We know that the countries that have done well — the liberal democracies — have had freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry.”

Later in the interview, Pinker made it explicit who he was referring to as having been silenced: “My beloved former professor Michael Corballis…”

*********

Graham Adams has been involved in publishing in New Zealand for the past 40 years as a journalist, columnist, reviewer, magazine editor and subeditor. He has also worked as a book editor and screenwriter. He has a BA in psychology and French, and a MA in classical Greek, from the University of Auckland. He lives on Auckland’s North Shore with his partner, Megan. He believes strongly in free speech.


Māori professor under investigation for views on mātauranga Māori

Dr Garth Cooper has devoted his career to helping fellow Māori but he now finds himself in the gun over his opinions about science and indigenous knowledge. Graham Adams reports from the front lines of the culture wars.

Prof Garth Cooper

New Zealanders like their heroes talented and modest and preferably devoted to public service as well. Sir Edmund Hillary is the exemplar of that breed and very few have the mana he enjoys in our collective consciousness. Nevertheless, there are many others similarly talented and dedicated to the collective good but who go largely unnoticed outside their professional lives. One such is Professor Garth Cooper, who is suddenly in the news because he is under disciplinary investigation by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, the nation’s premier organisation promoting science and the humanities.Cooper is a Fellow of the society and — alongside eminent philosopher of science Robert Nola — risks being expelled from the nation’s most prestigious academic club.

The reason for the investigation is that Cooper and Nola were among seven professors who wrote to the Listener in July questioning a government working group’s proposal to give mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) parity with what were described as other “bodies of knowledge” — “particularly Western / Pākehā epistemologies” — in the school science curriculum. In other words, Māori knowledge would effectively be given equal standing with physics, chemistry and biology.

While the professors acknowledged “Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy,” they concluded that, “In the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.” They also responded to the working group’s claim that science had been used as “a rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge”. The professors conceded that science — like literature and art — “has been used to aid colonisation” but stated: “Science itself does not colonise.”

In the uproar that followed, their views were denounced by organisations including the Royal Society, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and the Tertiary Education Union — as well as the professors’ own Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater. Notably, none of the professors’ critics defended mātauranga Māori as being scientific. Freshwater, for instance, lamented the “hurt and dismay” caused by the professors’ stance on “whether mātauranga Māori can be called science” but she never went beyond faintly praising it as a “distinctive and valuable knowledge system”.

Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Shaun Hendy — who have been highly visible in providing scientific backing to political judgments by the Prime Minister over the past 18 months during the Covid pandemic — went as far as to co-author an open letter, announcing they “categorically” disagreed with the professors’ views. Curiously for a pair of prominent scientists, they responded to the professors’ assertion that, “Science is helping us battle worldwide crises such as Covid, global warming, carbon pollution, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation” with the baffling statement: “Putting science on a pedestal gets us no further in the solution of these crises.” Dr Wiles also tweeted a request for reinforcements: “Calling all academics in Aotearoa New Zealand. Add your name to the open letter if you are also appalled by that letter claiming to defend science published last week in the NZ Listener. It's caused untold harm and hurt & points to major problems with some of our colleagues.” More than 2000 academics, students and alumni from all over New Zealand answered her call and signed (although how many had actually read the original letter to the Listener remains uncertain).

Shortly before news of the Royal Society’s disciplinary action against Cooper and Nola broke, the Times Higher Education — the bible for hundreds of thousands of academics internationally — discussed the “unintended consequences” of the push for the “incorporation of Māori understandings into curricula”, and asked whether debate was being stifled. 

On November 11, under the heading “Does the teaching of indigenous knowledge need to be examined?”, the magazine’s Asia-Pacific editor, John Ross, outlined the expanding role of Māori language and culture in New Zealand before interviewing some of the protagonists in the national discussion that erupted in the wake of the Listener letter. The Royal Society declined to answer Ross’s question of how it had decided the professors’ letter was not only “misguided” but caused “harm”. Others — no doubt mindful of possible risks to their academic careers — offered their opinions anonymously. Professor Cooper was happy to respond. He said that although he didn’t speak te reo — because his Maori grandmother “thought my brother and I should learn English” — he nevertheless knew “quite a lot” of words in the language. He went on to explain that the main reason he signed the Listener letter was because he was “concerned [that teaching] Māori kids about the colonising effects of science [would] lead to loss of opportunity”. 

Crediting Ross Ihaka — a Māori mathematician who co-created the R open-source programming language — with producing “the most important thing that’s come out of New Zealand in the last 100 years”, Cooper worried about “young Māori scholars that would be the next Ross Ihaka basically missing out because they were told that science was a colonising influence of no interest to them.“ In response to this last assertion, a Māori academic — who had signed the open letter penned by Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy — emailed Cooper to ask if he “could please elaborate on how you came to the conclusion about what young Māori scholars want?”

The Listener LetterIn his reply (supplied to this writer), Professor Cooper thanked her for her query — and took the opportunity to “elaborate” as requested. His reply is worth quoting at length to give some idea of the calibre of the doctor and medical researcher the Royal Society is now considering expelling over his defence of scientific method: 

“I have taught young Māori scholars in medicine and in science for more than 30 years; during that time, I talked to several hundred (I estimate more than 400) about their career aspirations. Before that, I served as a medical officer (MB ChB) in Rotorua (1979-1980) where I served as house officer for Sir Peter Tapsell) and then in Auckland (1981-1985), including several years in South Auckland (based in Middlemore Hospital), where I looked after many (i.e. a large number) of young Māori as patients). During my time in Auckland, along with Dr David Scott, I pioneered a programme for a new approach to health care delivery in Ōtara, where a large proportion of the patients were Māori (1983-1985). I wrote and delivered the first course in New Zealand for lay community health workers, who went on to receive recognition by the Mayor of South Auckland (1985). The place where this programme was developed was the Whaiora Marae, where I worked part-time along with my roles in Middlemore. In my role as Professor in Biochemistry and Medicine at the University of Auckland (1995-present), I have personally written courses for young Māori and Pasifika students — specifically as part of the Māori and Pacific Admission Scheme programme at the University of Auckland — perhaps you know of it? This was between ~1994-2006. These courses were credited with leading to a substantial increase in the overall pass rate…" 

“I contributed, along with Profs Michael Walker and Linda Smith (~2005-2007), to the initial writing of the first (successful) application that led to the funding of Te Pai o Te Māramatanga, during which time I discussed their futures with numbers of Māori scholars who were entering into research careers through that programme. I have supervised young Māori and Pasifika scholars to completion of MSc and PhD programmes in science and in medicine. This involved in-depth interaction with these students over several years. They worked on my research programme on the origins and experimental therapeutics of type 2 diabetes, which I have undertaken over 40+ years because it is of major interest to Māori (kaupapa Māori research; vision Mātauranga). I have presented my teaching and research programmes to iwi at Hui a Tau, including Tainui/Waikato (with Dame Te Ata present), and to Te Rarawa and to Ngā Puhi. My teaching/research programmes were endorsed on each occasion."  

“I was elected and served as a member of the Māori committee of the Health Research Council of New Zealand (for six years if I remember correctly), during which time I had the privilege of meeting with large numbers of young Māori at different marae from the deep South (Ngai Tahu) to the far North (Te Rarawa, Ngā Puhi). I served in a supervisory role on the Health Research Council for three more years, where my role was as an advocate for research in Māori Health. I also had the good fortune to be mentored during this time by people including Irihapeti Ramsden and Eruhapeti Murchie and was able to learn from them their views of the aspirations of young Māori. I also spent several years providing oversight and governance for a therapeutic intervention programme in the Bay of Plenty and East Cost of Te Ika-a-Maui for hepatitis B; this involved several thousand patients, most of whom were Māori, many of whom were young. I had the opportunity to learn from many of them at that time. Recently, I spent in-depth time with a young Māori MSc student who explained to me that he was very upset at Māori staff members who insisted on taking a one-sided view concerning his background, which was Pākehā (i.e. Ngāti Pākehā) as well as Māori, and that he was equally proud of both his Māori and non-Māori backgrounds. Finally, I also know what I think personally as one with Māori heritage (Ngāti Mahanga of Tainui/Waikato as well as Ngāti Pākehā) who underwent primary, secondary and tertiary education in New Zealand. In all, I estimate that I have provided substantive input and career guidance to as many as 5000 young Māori over 30+ years in these various roles. So this is how I know about young Māori and their aspirations.”

Donate to the Academic Freedom Fund

Astonishingly, this response to a specific query is not an exhaustive résumé of Professor Cooper’s work. As someone who is well acquainted with the extent of his contribution to medicine and health said: “There is much more he has done which he doesn’t discuss. Calling him ‘humble’ risks understatement.” So, we have ended up in a situation where a very distinguished Māori-Pākehā scientist who has helped thousands of Māori in their careers over several decades is being investigated by the Royal Society for what can only be described as holding a heretical view about the distinction between science and mātauranga Māori.

Who knew an eminent scientist expressing an honestly held opinion — that mātauranga Māori, while valuable as a form of knowledge, is not science — would end up dealing with an Inquisition in 21st century New Zealand?

 

**********

Graham Adams has been involved in publishing in New Zealand for the past 40 years as a journalist, columnist, reviewer, magazine editor and subeditor. He has also worked as a book editor and screenwriter. He has a BA in psychology and French, and a MA in classical Greek, from the University of Auckland. He lives on Auckland’s North Shore with his partner, Megan. He believes strongly in free speech.


In Defence of Science Article

The Listener Letter 

In defence of science (published with author's permission). 

A recent report from a Government NCEA working group on proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum aims “to esure parity for mātauranga Māori with the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA (particularly Western/Pakeha epistemologies)”. It includes the following description as part of a new course: “It promotes discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of Eurocentric views (among which, its use as a a rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge); and the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Māori and other indigenous peoples.”

This perpetuates disturbing misunderstandings of science emerging at all levels of education and in science funding. These encourage mistrust of science. Science is universal, not especially Western European. It has origins in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and later India, with significant contributions in mathematics, astronomy and physics from mediaeval Islam, before developing in Europe and later the US, with a strong presence acoss Asia.

Science itself does not colonise. It has been used to aid colonisation, as have literature and art. However, science also provides immense good, as well as greatly enhanced understanding of the world. Science is helping us battle worldwide crises such as Covid, global warming, carbon pollution, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. Such science is informed by the united efforts of many nations and cultures. We increasingly depend on science, perhaps for our very survival. The future of our world, and our species, cannot affort mistrust in science.

Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.

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

Kendall Clements
Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland 

Garth Cooper, FRSNZ
Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

Michael Corabllis, FRSNZ
Emeritus Professor, School of Psychology, Universituy of Auckland

Douglas Elliffe
Professor, School of Psychology, University of Auckland

Robert Nola, FRSNZ 
Emeritus Professor, School of Philosphy, Universituy of Auckland

Elizabeth Rata
Professor, Critical Studies in Education, University of Auckland

John Werry
Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland

***

Donate to our Academic Freedom Fund


Free Speech Union is fighting for Academic Freedom

Free Speech Union (New Zealand) Incorporated

Dear Supporter,

There is a worrying trend in universities and research institutions attempting to muzzle the very people whose job it is to ask questions. Some subjects are simply now off-limits. Academic freedom is under attack.

I'm emailing with disturbing news regarding the New Zealand Royal Society, which is on the cusp of giving in to the censors and expelling two scientists for signing a letter defending science.

The Royal Society has just launched a disciplinary investigation against a group of academics. I'm emailing to ask for your help defend the academics and stand up for academic freedom.

The Royal Society is prosecuting complaints against scientists for defending science!

The Free Speech Union can reveal that two academic fellows are being investigated for being among those to put their name to a letter In Defence of Science which was published earlier this year in The Listener.

Matauranga Maori Listener ArticleThe full text of the letter is copied at the end of this email

For context, the seven professors who co-signed the letter were responding to an NCEA working group that proposed that mātauranga Māori should have “parity” with “the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA (particularly Western / Pākeha epistemologies)” in the school science curriculum.

The key argument of the letter was 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…”.

They further opined: “Science is universal, not especially Western European. It has origins in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and later India, with significant contributions in mathematics, astronomy and physics from mediaeval Islam before developing in Europe and later the US, with a strong presence across Asia”.

The group who signed the letter faced swift backlash online, lead by Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles:

Siouxie

Dr Barry Hughes of the Tertiary Education Union also wrote a letter to the authors on behalf of the Union. He opened by affirming that the authors were entitled to express their views, but informed them that “[TEU] members found your letter “offensive”, “racist”, and reflective of a patronising, neo-colonial mindset in which your undefined version of “science” is superior to – rather than complementary to – indigenous knowledge”.

Similarly, rather than defend the right of academics to attempt to grapple with difficult questions, Auckland University's Vice-Chancellor put out a statement stating that asking the question of “whether mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni”.

She too also implied the academics had disrespected mātauranga Māori, asserting that "mātauranga Māori [is] a distinctive and valuable knowledge system".

There is nothing, however, in letter to The Listener that contradicts this. In their letter, the authors argue that mātauranga Māori and science are epistemically distinct, and that "indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture ... and plays key roles in management and policy". So, clearly, the letter actually supports the view that mātauranga Māori is valuable.

Notably, none of the criticisms levelled at the authors attempted to grapple with the author's key contention: that mātauranga Māori is simply distinct from science.

While the debate may rage as to whether the author's assertions are correct, there should be no doubt that the debate must be allowed to take place. That's why we have offered to help the academics, and crowdfund to defend them with an academic freedom fighting fund.

Whereas the letter to The Listener comprised only a reasoned argument – whether or not it is deemed valid and sound – some critics have resorted to ad hominem attacks on the authors, in particular accusing them – both directly and by implication – of racism. 

Similarly, proclaiming "hurt and dismay" and pointing to "major problems with some colleagues" does not help the rest of us understand why mātauranga Māori should be considered science. 

To shut down debate of this kind is to undermine the purpose of the academy: to wrestle with what we know, and try and extend it.

Donate to our Academic Freedom Fund>>> Donate now to defend academic freedom <<<

Ironically, the Royal Society was set up for the very purpose of advancing and promoting science, technology, and the humanities in New Zealand. Now it's trying to expel scientists for defending science. We have to help the scientists to fight back.

It is ironic that The Royal Society is trying to purge from the acadmy the authors of the letter.

The investigation of The Listener co-signees sends a chilling message to other academics: state contentious views at your own peril.

If the complaint is upheld, it will only serve to make academics feel less safe to venture honestly-held views on contentious issues in the future. This cannot be allowed to stand. 

The process of the human pursuit of knowledge depends on free speech, including of those who may hold views contrary to the mainstream. The Royal Society are abandoning its own heritage and the proud traditions of academic freedom which historically has been the defining mechanism allowing scientific knowledge to develop.

When academics can no longer ask questions or make certain arguments, without the fear of personal and professional reprisals, academic freedom is in peril. We must stand with those who are punished and have their reputations denigrated for having the audacity to venture honestly-held views on contentious issues.

The Free Speech Union is starting a fighting fund for Academic Freedom. 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. This fight is a fight for the right of anyone to peacefully and reasonably voice their opinion. 

Times like this make us question the real value we put on our liberties and freedoms. We are not willing to let the Royal Society, or anyone, bully and censor academics doing their job without reminding them that we still have free speech in this country.

Let's keep it that way. 

Donate button

Thank you to all of those who make these effort's possible. Our work relies on your support.

Dr David Cumin

David sig
Dr David Cumin
Spokesperson
Free Speech Union


The Listener Letter 

In defence of science

A recent report from a Government NCEA working group on proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum aims “to esure parity for mātauranga Māori with the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA (particularly Western/Pakeha epistemologies)”. It includes the following description as part of a new course: “It promotes discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of Eurocentric views (among which, its use as a a rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge); and the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Māori and other indigenous peoples.”

This perpetuates disturbing misunderstandings of science emerging at all levels of education and in science funding. These encourage mistrust of science. Science is universal, not especially Western European. It has origins in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and later India, with significant contributions in mathematics, astronomy and physics from mediaeval Islam, before developing in Europe and later the US, with a strong presence acoss Asia.

Science itself does not colonise. It has been used to aid colonisation, as have literature and art. However, science also provides immense good, as well as greatly enhanced understanding of the world. Science is helping us battle worldwide crises such as Covid, global warming, carbon pollution, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. Such science is informed by the united efforts of many nations and cultures. We increasingly depend on science, perhaps for our very survival. The future of our world, and our species, cannot affort mistrust in science.

Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.

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

Kendall Clements
Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland 

 

Garth Cooper, FRSNZ
Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

Michael Corabllis, FRSNZ
Emeritus Professor, School of Psychology, Universituy of Auckland

Douglas Elliffe
Professor, School of Psychology, University of Auckland

Robert Nola, FRSNZ 
Emeritus Professor, School of Philosphy, Universituy of Auckland

Elizabeth Rata
Professor, Critical Studies in Education, University of Auckland

John Werry
Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland

***

Donate to our Academic Freedom Fund


Adieu Liberal Education: Bienvenue Post-College Daycare

Academic freedom is defined in s161 of the Education Act as “the freedom of academic staff and students, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions”. Without an unwavering commitment to this principle, universities are unable to perform their role as the ‘critic and conscience’ of society, which the Act also requires of them. But in recent years we have seen attempts by university administrators to limit this cardinal rule in response to the purported need to protect students from ideas that risk causing ‘harm’; an undefined, ambiguous notion that may often be reduced to fear of having one’s worldview challenged. 

This limitation on academic freedom is informed by the notion that universities should be a ‘safe space’ for students, particularly those hailing from marginalised communities. But trying to create a safe space for feelings inevitably costs the ability of universities to play host to a safe space for ideas. 

Massey University's academic freedom policy, for example, revised after the Brash affair in 2018, pays lip service to the sanctity of academic freedom and freedom of speech. Yet it claims that these freedoms might properly be restricted by the University in order to “safeguard the safety, health and welfare of its students”. Previously, attempts to suppress the exercise of fundamental freedoms required more than vague pronouncements that a person is made unsafe, or has their well-being threatened, by the fact that somebody is discussing ideas they don’t like (perish the thought). 

As public institutions, universities have an obligation to uphold freedom of expression with the usual justified limits imposed by s5 of the Bill of Rights Act. Indeed, the only constraint envisioned by the legislation is that academic freedom must be exercised within the ‘bounds of the law’. But according to Massey’s proctor Giselle Byrnes, Massey’s ‘policy supports and validates academic freedom while emphasising that with this freedom comes the responsibility to ensure that others are neither harmed nor hurt in the exercise of this privilege.” 

This is not some difficult balancing act. It is an irreconcilable contradiction​ ​​​— either academic freedom is a right to be exercised within the bounds of the law, or it is a privilege to be exercised with regard to the feelings of others ​​​​— it cannot be both. And if it is the latter, it is difficult to see how our public institutions of higher learning can function if anyone who may find the confrontation of a debate stressful holds a veto power over them taking place.

It is a fact of life that asking questions runs the serious risk of offending others, and it is absolutely advisable that academics exercise their freedoms in accordance with the highest standards of not only ethics and professionalism, but simply manners and decency. But, to cite Professor Clark Kerr of the University of California, “The purpose of the university is to make students safe for ideas – not ideas safe for students”. While universities must be cognisant of their pastoral duties, they must also remain places where the space to think freely, to state controversial ideas, and to challenge orthodoxies is vigorously protected. 

What might be deduced from Massey’s policy specifically, and the troubling culture embraced in each of our universities generally, is that pastoral care has taken over from the academic and discursive role of universities. To place the potential for hurt feelings over academic freedom flies in the face of the whole purpose of a university; not for fragile minds to be coddled, but for robust thinking to be tested. In light of that, are universities now more akin to young-adult daycare centres than training institutions for tomorrow’s innovators and leaders? For surely it is only children who would need such patronising ‘protection’.  

 


Defence of Michael Laws: Letter to CE of Otago Regional Council

In response to media reporting on a Code of Conduct investigation that could see Otago Regional Councillors lose his committee chair and deputy chair roles, the Free Speech Union is seeking more information with a view of assisting Mr Laws or challenging the legality of the Code.

 


Email to Local Councillors calling for them to stand for free speech

Good morning,

 

History reveals that freedoms taken for granted are freedoms lost.  

Given your important work in local government, and the influence you have in your region, I wanted to write to introduce the work of the Free Speech Union.   

The New Zealand Free Speech Union is a registered trade union with a mission to fight for, protect, and expand New Zealandersrights for freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual inquiry. We envision a flourishing New Zealand civil society that values and protects vigorous debate, dissenting ideas, and freedom of speech as cultural cornerstones. Our tens-of-thousands of supporters form a broad coalition of New Zealanders.

We are eager to work with you to ensure Kiwis' freedom of speech is protected. 

If you would like to hear more about our work, please come back to me and Id love to share more about specific projects were working on, such as our campaign against arbitrary hate speech laws, standing with cancelled academics, or ensuring newspaper censorship is challenged.

In what other Union would you find Matt McCarten, Chris Trotter, Judith Collins, and David Seymour all as members?

Given the diversity of opinions and perspective in our Union, there is virtually nothing that we will all agree on apart from the fact that we should all have the right to express our opinions and beliefs peaceably. 

Freedom of speech is just as crucial at the Council level as it is in Parliament or our universities. 

With division and polarisation on the rise, leaders like yourself have a role to play in ensuring our society retains free speech as a cultural cornerstone. Whether it is labour unions speaking up for workers rights or public commentators highlighting inconsistencies in progressive thinking; religious leaders leading their congregations in long held statements of faith or environmentalists standing for a liveable tomorrow, if we cant have the conversation we cant move forward together.      

Thats the scary thing- dialogue and speech across the country is being shut down. 

Would you stand with us in this important work to keep conversations open?

Please reach out if you would like to know more about our work, or if there is any help we can offer you in defence of free speech. 

Regards, 

 

Jonathan Ayling

Chief Executive   Free Speech Union  

Mob +64 21 842 215  |  Email [email protected]   

Free Speech Union (New Zealand) Incorporated  |  PO Box 10512, The Terrace, Wellington 6143  |  www.fsu.nz  


Letter to NZME Board regarding censoring advertising