Pages tagged "Academic Freedom"

  • 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 Letter

    The 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.

    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 Letter

    In 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 (published in 31 July 2021 edition of the New Zealand Listener)

    The Listener Letter

    In defence of science (republished 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

    ***

     

  • Free Speech Union is fighting for Academic Freedom

    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 Article

    The 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 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

  • Exclusive: Royal Society Is Investigating Academics For Defending Science

    17 November 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    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

    TIMELINE

    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.

  • Auditor General Letter

    If not showing view here – Auditor General Letter

  • 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’. 

  • Free Speech Union Academic Advisory Council Statement on the Listener Letter

    The Free Speech Union unequivocally supports the free expression of seven distinguished New Zealand academics who recently authored a letter to The Listener, titled, In Defence of Science as well as the free expression of their critics.

    We neither support nor oppose the argument in question, but instead defend the right to express honestly-held views, free of individual or institutional attempts to diminish or suppress them. In this regard the authors and some of their critics differ: 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. We encourage critics to engage in a constructive, evidence-based way, rather than making allegations that seem intended to damage reputations or careers.

    Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of New Zealand universities (under s 268(2)(d)(i)(E) of the Education and Training Act 2020), is that they perform “a role of critic and conscience of society.” This, in turn, requires universities to provide an environment in which academic staff can express ideas without fear of retribution or persecution – where they can question and test received wisdom and to state controversial or unpopular ideas [s 267(4)(a)]. It also creates an expectation that university authorities will tolerate a broad variety of views, and will defend staff from any pressure they may face as a consequence of expressing those views.

    It is, therefore, deeply concerning that among the critics were Professor Dawn Freshwater, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland – where all of the authors of the letter are resident – and the Tertiary Education Union, to which many academics belong. The criticisms levelled by these organisations warrant especial comment.

    In a public statement, Professor Freshwater affirmed the authors' right to express their views, but also implied they 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 that assertion, and by making this a caveat to her affirmation of the authors right to free expression, Professor Freshwater risks impugning their reputations unfairly. 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". A charitable reading of their letter would therefore suggest that the authors agree with Professor Freshwater that mātauranga Māori is valuable.

    It is worth noting that The Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao, an integral component of the New Zealand Government’s Science in Society Plan seems to agree with the authors, stating that "Mātauranga Māori is a knowledge base in its own right. It is Māori knowledge, including values and culture. It is different from modern science" (emphasis added).

    Scholars within a university frequently disagree, and the role of university itself is to maintain the ground on which that disagreement can take place, in good faith and in a scholarly fashion. That means that the university, like the FSU, ought to take a neutral stance, to defend unequivocally the right and duty of its academics to make good-faith arguments, and to defend them from unfair attacks on their reputations. Instead, Professor Freshwater’s statement has made it more difficult for academics at her university to voice honestly-hold views on contentious topics in the future.

    Dr Barry Hughes, also at the University of Auckland, wrote a letter on behalf of the TEU to the authors. Like Professor Freshwater, he opened by affirming that the authors are 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”. Dr Hughes went on to accuse the authors of being confused about what science is, of taking it to comprise “a set of indisputable facts about the world” and of “[presuming] that nothing is really known until it is known scientifically”. He concluded by asserting that “[the authors’] letter was damaging without being enlightening”. There is nothing in the letter to The Listener that, to our reading, justifies any of those acerbic accusations. It is outrageous for a representative of an organisation with a duty to protect academic freedom to make such baseless claims, and in such heated terms, in response to an argument put forward in good faith. Like Professor Freshwater’s statement, such a missive can only serve to make academics feel less safe to venture honestly-held views on contentious issues in the future and to render statements affirming free expression as lip-service only. We are not confident that the TEU would wholeheartedly fight for the free speech of members they disagree with should they need to.

    It is lamentable that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland and the TEU have taken such strong stances against the letter to The Listener, rather than encouraging respectful debate. In this context their comments about free expression come across as hollow platitudes. The net effect of the comments will be to chill scholarly debate, not to promote it.

    The Free Speech Union is committed to supporting all academics to freely engage in debate. If you would like to join us at the Free Speech Union, go to fsu.co.nz.

  • FSU Backs Academic Freedom To Call Out Flat-Earthers

    29 July 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    FSU Backs Academic Freedom To Call Out Flat-Earthers

    The Free Speech Union is backing a University Lecturer's fight for academic freedom, against University of Waikato attempts to stop him from describing people as "cranks", who claim on religious authority that the earth is flat, and that people lived alongside dinosaurs.

    Dr Raymond Richards who teaches history at the University of Waikato faces potential disciplinary action for his lectures about methods of critical thinking in history.

    A spokesperson for the Union, Stephen Franks says, “When anti-vaxxers are reminding us that the difference between science and superstition may mean life or death for innocent people, freedom for people to call things as they see them is as important as it ever was. When discerning fake news can be vital we should be supporting the teaching of critical analysis in universities. Not shutting it down.”

    Earlier this year, Dr Richards in teaching his course referred by way of example to “religious cranks” who said the earth was flat, the sun smaller than the moon, and that dinosaurs and Adam and Eve had met.

    Following a student raising a concern, the Head of the Social Sciences School summoned Dr Richards to a meeting. They did not reach an agreement but HR later wrote to him saying they “do not expect to have a repeat of these matters”.

    The Head of School also cancelled an in-class test of the students’ understanding of the methods of critical thinking.

    “Universities have a duty, codified in the Education and Training Act 2020, to uphold academic freedom that includes the freedom of academic staff to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and state controversial opinions.”

    Dr Richards will be delivering the same lecture to this semester’s students on Friday at 10 am, in room S.1.01 at the University of Waikato.

    “The University has let down its students and staff by sending a strong signal that ‘hurt feelings’ will be enough to shut down academic teaching.”

    A copy of the letter sent to the Vice-Chancellor this morning and a lecture outline is available to view at https://www.fsu.nz/waikatoletter

  • Free Speech Round Up: Mighty Ape | The n-word | JK Rowling coverage

    Thanks for standing with the Free Speech Union and our cause for free speech. Since our launch on Wednesday, hundreds of New Zealanders have joined our new union.

    Why New Zealand needs a Free Speech Union

    Our Spokesman, Dr David Cumin joined Peter Williams on Magic Talk on the launch of the new Free Speech Union and why it's needed. Click here to have a listen.

    Remember that this effort is 100 percent powered by people like you. To join the Free Speech Union click here, or donate here.

    Mighty Ape pulls 'transphobic' books from sale after targeting by online mob

    On Monday the Free Speech Union wrote a public letter to online bookseller Mighty Ape asking its founder to reverse the decision to ban books on transgender issues.

    On Saturday Stuff reported on the new ban:

    Transgender Kiwis have accused retailers Paper Plus and Mighty Ape of selling “transphobic” books, which describe being transgender as a mental illness.

    The books in question are Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters by Abigail Shrier and When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson.

    Both books examine the notion of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), a term coined by an American professor in 2016 to describe an alleged epidemic of youth coming out as trans due to social contagion and mental illness.

    Cerian Rees was one of a number of people who sent emails to Paper Plus and Mighty Ape expressing concern over the books.

    Rees said the books spread lies and misinformation about transgender people, and could be used to justify bigotry or harassment towards the community.

    “One of the main lies pushed is the notion of ‘rapid onset dysphoria’, which is made up pseudoscience that anti-trans lobbies use to attack vulnerable youth.

    “I would hate to be a trans kid who came across these books on a shelf, or even worse, my parents buying one and letting it guide them on how to treat me,” Rees said. […]

    Waikato University psychology lecturer Dr Jaimie Veale said books like those promoted fear and hatred of transgender people.

    “This puts us at serious risk of worsening this stigma, discrimination, and violence. I haven’t read these books, but I can see with a title like ‘the transgender craze seducing our daughters’ that this sort of work is clearly designed to promote fear, hatred, and extremist anti-transgender views, at an already marginalised group,” Veale said.

    “I’m also aware that there are publications similar to these that promote potentially harmful conspiracy theories about trans people being a product of the medical community.”

    A spokesman for OutLine, a rainbow mental health organisation, said it was “disappointing” to see books like this advertised for sale. […]

    Mighty Ape said books on its site were automatically imported from Nielsen’s BookData database, which compiled books that had been published publicly.

    “While we do try to monitor this as much as we can, due to the sheer volume of books published each year, some material we would not typically be comfortable selling can slip through the cracks,” it said in a statement.

    “I have notified our books product manager, and both books have now been removed from our website. I sincerely apologise for any hurt or disappointment this may have caused.”

    At the time of publication, both books had been pulled from Mighty Ape.

    Mighty Ape's decision shows contempt towards New Zealanders and our ability to arrive at informed opinions.

    The point of non-fiction is to have an exchange of ideas that can extend our knowledge. The avenue for criticism should not be ignorant calls to ban but thought-provoking reviews and counterarguments. The right to examine ideas and critique them is the bedrock of an open, diverse, and tolerant society.

    Allowing veto by threat over which books we may be permitted to read is not acceptable, and is what one expects of an authoritarian anti-democratic regime, not from a major bookseller.

    As for the Waikato University lecturer quoted in support of the ban, she is literally judging a book by its cover. For an academic to claim a text ‘promotes fear and hatred of transgender people’ when she hasn’t even read the text, is pathetic.

    The full text of our public letter is available on our website.

    If our would-be censors can send emails of complaint, so can we!

    If you agree that booksellers shouldn't give in to the online mob, feel free to also send a note to Mighty Ape's founder by email.

    >> click here for a customisable template <<

    Should universities be scared of the N-word?

    A University of Waikato professor has apologised after saying the n-word during a lecture, as part of a discussion about the reclamation of offensive terms.

    According to the NZ Herald:

    The University of Waikato professor was teaching a lecture on representation and reclaiming terms when she said the racial slur out loud.

    The teacher says she believed some students might not know what word was being referred to unless it was uttered in full. She later apologised to two students who complained, as well as to the class.

    One of the students, who spoke to the Herald, said while she believed the apology to be sincere she was shocked anyone felt comfortable uttering the n-word in 2021, regardless of context.

    That student - who is Fijian - had been called the slur many times in her life, but had realised that despite her own skin colour she should not use the term "because I am not ancestrally linked to slavery in the Americas or the Caribbean".

    "It did offend me that she thought it was okay to say it, especially her being a white woman." […]

    The Fijian student and another student complained and the professor apologised to both individually. She also posted an apology to an online student forum.

    "I am deeply sorry for any hurt this may have caused. I had not wanted to assume that everyone in the class understood the term and so attempted to provide context but in retrospect, I realise I did this very poorly.

    "In trying to get the point across that it absolutely does matter 'who' uses 'reclaimed terms', I inadvertently deeply offended some. Again, please accept my most sincere apology."

    But he acknowledged the context in which the incident took place – a university lecture room, where robust debate was encouraged.

    Last year, Auckland's Lynfield College said it would censor racial slurs from teaching materials, after a student filmed a teacher using the n-word while reading a passage from a book.

    The school told teachers they should no longer say a word that represented "condensed generations of pain".

    This is getting ridiculous. We are sorry students might be offended, but no words should be off-limits for discussion at a university. Context is everything and there’s absolutely no sign of bad faith here. Academics should not be forced to apologise because students find a topic offensive. If so, our universities are doomed.

    Credit where credit is due, even Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon now acknowledges context is important. In this instance, he refused to criticise the academic. Good.

    Wairarapa's JK Rowling ban getting international coverage (for all the wrong reasons)

    You’ll recall a few weeks ago we told you about the Harry Potter quiz being cancelled at a Wairarapa book festival, which was set to examine modern “cancel culture”, because of JK Rowling’s views on transgender issues.

    We told our friends at the UK Free Speech Union, who gave the story to the Times of London (subscription required).

    A literary festival in New Zealand has cancelled plans for a Harry Potter-themed event because of JK Rowling’s comments on gender issues.

    Peter Biggs, chairman of the Wairarapa book festival, reportedly decided to drop the annual children’s quiz after consultations with the LGBTQ community.

    Seven Harry Potter novels and a multibillion-pound film franchise helped make Rowling, 55, the most famous author in the world, but she has faced stern criticism since expressing her views on whether men who identify as women are the same as biological females. […]

    Toby Young, the founder of the Free Speech Union, which is due to open its first branch in New Zealand next week, said: “JK Rowling is one of Britain’s most influential and respectable contemporary writers.

    “This is why the decision by the Wairarapa book festival to cancel a children’s Harry Potter quiz because of comments JK Rowling made during an important debate on women’s-only spaces is chilling.

    “If the creator of our most successful export since James Bond can be declared persona non grata, anyone can.”

    Speaking of the UK group, a couple of items from their last update caught our eye as being just as relevant to New Zealand:

    Political speech should never be compelled

    Freedom to speak your mind is essential in a democracy, but free speech also means “the right not to be legally forced to engage in political speech”, arguesSpencer Case in Arc Digital. In universities, corporations and organisations of all types, people now feel compelled to sign petitions they don’t agree with, and, in some cases, sign loyalty oaths that are far more draconian than the ones people were forced to sign during the McCarthy era.

    The roots of cancel culture

    Historian Tom Holland argues that Christian ideals remain at the heart of modern culture war battles, while journalist Malcolm Gladwell says a failure to understand and offer forgiveness is at the heart of modern cancel culture: “Cancel culture is what happens when you have a generation of people who are not raised with a Christian ethic of forgiveness.” Christopher Schelin compares the phenomenon to “old-fashioned church discipline”. It’s certainly not new, writes Raymond Keene in the Article, comparing modern woke witch-hunts to purges carried out by the Romans and ancient Chinese.

    Wherever it comes from, cancel culture sucks, says Suzanne Harrington in the Irish Examiner. Musician Glenn Danzig warns that it will stop another “punk explosion”. He told NME, “There won’t be any new bands coming out like that. Now, they will immediately get cancelled.”

    Free Speech Union's submission on the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill

    Finally in this update, last week we submitted on the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill. If passed, the Bill would create a 150-metre perimeter outside healthcare services, in which no one could intimidate, interfere with or obstruct a person entering the clinic. You can read the transcript of the presentation I gave to the select committee here.

    Thank you for your support.

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