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Racist Science

masonbee Politics

There is a folder I keep with media stories that disturb me so much that I don't feel able to write about them for a while. One of those folders is called Racist Science and is to do with the seven New Zealand scientists who had the courage, knowledge and belief to stand  up and say, "The emperor has no clothes".

This is in homage to them and a reminder to the mob, including the 2000 scientists, and everybody else who tries to cancel people. We should all think of and thank the seven often.

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, University of Auckland

Douglas Elliffe
Professor, School of Psychology, University of Auckland

Robert Nola, FRSNZ 
Emeritus Professor, School of Philosophy, University of Auckland

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

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

Table of Contents

What is Mātauranga Māori?

But first, this subject involves Mātauranga Māori. What is it? Well, if you look at Wikipedia it is the modern term for the traditional knowledge of Māori. There aren't many examples given but if you follow one of the links then, "Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand" gives a better example and has this handy table of the differences between Mātaurangi Māori and science.

Mātauranga MāoriScience
Participatory ‘experiencers’ of systemsDetached ‘observers’ of systems
Explicit intrinsic valuesImplicit instrumental values
Knowledge as belongingKnowledge for control
Intuition as methodIntuition rarely acknowledged
Inclusion of facts and valuesFacts and values separated
Everything is interconnectedEverything physical is interconnected

It should be pretty clear that while Mātauranga Māori may include some elements of science, it is not science.

What happened?

For the seven scientists the saga began with some proposed changes to the National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA). In response they co-wrote a letter to a magazine called the Listener. You can read that letter on the Free Speech Union's website.  It disagreed with the governments intentions to teach science as being;

  1. Equivalent to Mātauranga Māori
  2. A vehicle of colonial suppression.
  3. An invention of the West.

It also contained the paragraph, 

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. 

It is for this they were pilloried. In one article from a Spinoff guest writer called Tina Ngata the seven were either called outright;

  • Privileged
  • Racist
  • White Supremacist
  • Colonialists
  • Gaslighters
  • "...true testament to how racism is harboured and fostered within New Zealand academia..."
  • Part of a global system of racism.
  • Holders and promoters of harmful and discriminatory views toward minorities.
  • Examples of the failure of Universities.
  • Writers of the weak arguments that feature in academic racism.
  • ...

And that was just within the first four paragraphs. The full article is 30 paragraphs long. It finishes with,

The authors have, in their desperation to protect their own privilege, comfort and relevance have ultimately defeated themselves, and exposed their letter for what it is, not actually a defence of science at all, but a defence of colonial racism.

This post will also be forwarded to Auckland University. If you would also like to write to Auckland University about this letter, here are some UoA leadership addresses for you:
PVC Māori:
PVC Pacific:

Don’t just do it for racism, do it for good science.

And a call to download and share this gif (click whitespace to restart gif loop).

Gif by Tina Ngata inciting race based attacks against New Zealand Scientists.

The Royal Society launched an investigation into the seven, the University of Auckland vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater said they had harmed students and staff with their words, they were criticised by the Tertiary Union, the New Zealand Association of Scientists castigated them and eventually 2000 New Zealand Scientists signed a letter rebuking them.

It is a sobering thing to see that the group think in New Zealand is so strong that 2000 scientists are willing to throw aside rational thought to join in.

They were pressured to publicly apologise, the media attacked them, Clements was removed from courses he had taught for years, Auckland University allowed opponents to attack them and then blocked their replies, they were called racists, colonial racists, shuffling zombies, the New Zealand Medical Journal published attacks on them, the Royal Society of New Zealand labelled them misguided, Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles wrote in Stuff News  that they were trying to intimidate their junior colleges with lawyers, the list goes on...


In the end support did come, but not very much from New Zealand. Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago wrote a long piece to the Royal Society of New Zealand ending with,

I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughingstock.

Richards Dawkins Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science wrote another letter to the Royal Society reminding them they are supposed to stand for science,

If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country who will? What else is the Society for? What else is the rationale for its existence?

Toby Young of the Spectator wrote,"Why punish a scientist for defending science?" that included this great paragraph,

The witch-finders disregarded several principles of natural justice in their prosecutorial zeal. For instance, two members of the three-person panel turned out to be signatories of the ‘open letter’ denouncing Professor Cooper so had to be replaced. In addition, all five complainants were anonymous and when the Society asked them to identify themselves, three fell by the wayside. But two remain and the investigation is proceeding apace, with a newly constituted panel. 

You will note there was no real New Zealand support with the exception of Kiwiblog and the newly formed Free Speech Union who raised awareness but had trouble with the Academic community as, in their words...

”Sadly several other Fellows have also indicated they will vote in favour, but because of the potential harassment and bullying they believe they would receive (from some current and former members of the Academy and the RSNZ Council, and from colleagues in senior and other positions within their university), they do not wish to disclose their names in this document, especially if it becomes public. 

“Many younger Fellows and others have said (again in writing) that their jobs would be at risk signing this letter. 

“Two Fellows (major Royal Society NZ medallists) said this: ‘Better not [sign] at this stage… I agree with all the statements — but you can’t imagine the pressure being put on us. I will vote for the motion though.’”

And: “In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at [the University of Auckland] if I do so.”

But, it was enough though for people to take a breath, find a little courage and look at what they were doing.


Unfortunately for the smear posts written by Tina Ngata, the New Zealand media, University of Auckland, The Royal Society of New Zealand, Siouxsie Wiles and the rest of the mob it turned out that the seven were not just exemplars of science but also of morality and respect.

It also turned out that Mātauranga Māori encompasses all of Māori knowledge from mythology to the lunar calendar and thus, while it may contain or scientific knowledge it it falls far short of what we can define as science itself. 

Tina Ngata, in particular, managed to score an apparent own goal as it turned out Garth Cooper was not only Maori, but an extremely humble man who's contributions to Māori have spanned many years.

The Royal Society of New Zealand eventually released a statement saying it was essentially nothing to do with them.

The Panel concluded that the complaints should not proceed to a Complaints Determination Committee. The Panel referred to clause 6.4(i) of the Complaints Procedures: “the complaint is not amenable to resolution by a Complaint Determination Committee, including by reason of its demanding the open-ended evaluation of contentious expert opinion or of contested scientific evidence amongst researchers and scholars.”

However, there does appear to have been an internal backlash though with seventy of the Royal Society’s four hundred fellows calling a no-confidence motion in the society.

University of Auckland vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater was critiqued for purporting to speak for the views of the University and released a statement and an opinion piece that, while neglecting to apologise or mention how the University had blocked the Listener 7's ability to reply to criticism, said,

Our seven academics were entirely free to express their views, however the University was also free to disagree with those views. That does not mean the University is censoring or trying to silence our academics, it is merely making clear that such views are not representative of the myriad views within the institution; and that the University may at times disagree with the views expressed by its academics. That is healthy in a university.

Siouxsie Wiles and Stuff News were taken to the Media Council for the article "Academics: Use your mana to aid colleagues, not fight them" which lead to a retraction and a ruling against them by the Media Council. The article now reads,

Clarification: The following sentence has been removed from this column: “Astonishingly, some are now intimidating junior colleagues with lawyer's letters.” These "lawyer's letters" were sent by the University of Auckland following a Privacy Act request made by two of the "Listener Seven" letter writers. (Amended Dec 31, 2021, 5pm, and on January 5, 2022, 10.30am).

Additional note (March 7, 2022): The Media Council has found the statement “Astonishingly, some are now intimidating junior colleagues with lawyer’s letters” was inaccurate and required immediate and clear correction. The Media Council ruling can be read in full here.

What has happened to them now?

All of the signatories of the letter came under immense personal, political and professional pressure and as of May 2022 the outcome has been,

Kendall Clements

Kendall Clements continues to work at Auckland University and defend the letter. You can listen to his experiences here and here.

Garth Cooper

Dr Garth Cooper was investigated by the Royal Society for almost a year and eventually left the society. You can listen to his experiences here.

Michael Corabllis

Michael Corballis died on November 13, while being investigated by the Royal Society and still defending the letter.

Douglas Elliffe

Professor of Psychology Douglas Elliffe stepped down from his role as acting dean.

Robert Nola

Robert Nola was investigated by the Royal Society and eventually resigned from it saying,

A resignation can be a sharp reminder that it ought to provide a better forum for the discussion of contentious views instead of condemning them on websites or having panel investigations into them.

Resignation notes

You can read more of his views on Mataurangi Maori here.

Elizabeth Rata

Elizabeth Rata continues to work at Auckland University. You can read more of her critiques and views on Mātauranga Māori here.

John Werry

John Werry continues to work at Auckland University.

Further Thoughts

When I said at the beginning that I didn't feel able to write about this I didn't expect to get to the end and still feel so effected by these peoples stories. These seven people have essentially been the subject of a cultural, media and state enforced racial censorship.

And the speed at which the thought police jumped on them is scary. The attacktivist Tina Ngata published a racist slur campaign complete with email addresses and information about likely weak points within days. And as far as I can see she has never published a retraction or apology to the seven even though almost the entirety of her accusations are false.

Worse, the New Zealand government has continued to push through not only Mātauranga Māori requirements in education but elsewhere. In just the last few days AgResearch has announced,

The new structure led by Mrs Estoras is central to AgResearch’s vision to have the knowledge system of Mātauranga Māori in equal footing with Western science and existing structures that have helped support positive change in farming practices and food production in Aotearoa over the decades.  

And the new Emissions Reductions Plan for New Zealand includes,

Embedding Te Tiriti and mātauranga Māori into research, science and innovation

In essence the seven not only lost but are a living example to others of what happens if you question the emperors clothes. Please help stop this happening, join the Free Speech Union.

Further Reading