The cultural implications of black holes

Thanks to an observant Oiler an interesting exchange of views was spotted recently.

Bellarmine University

First out was Dr Bob Brockie with his thoughts on changes?that happened?in 2010: quote

Things changed when our Royal Society reformed itself into an “Academy” and appointed representatives of the humanities to its councils.

These artistic and literary councillors, going under the name Te Wh?inga Aronui o Te Ap?rangi? brought a lot of cultural and political baggage from the humanities with them. […]

This year, Te Wh?inga write that the Royal Society “needs to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally, and bring alongside that inequity and diversity issues in a?holistic manner”.

This is outrageous.

The Treaty has no place in scientific endeavour. To make it the centrepiece of the Royal Society?agenda beggars belief.


Otago University recently proclaimed that Ng?i Tahu must be consulted about “all areas of research”?before scholars undertake their work. All proposals must be?submitted to the Office of M?ori Development. Staff and students are warned that consultation may take time so are advised, “to start well in advance of preparing your proposal”.

There may be some justification for these requirements when researching M?ori DNA, or M?ori archaeology but most?scientists who pursue these topics make sure they are on side with local M?ori and come to appropriate?arrangements with them before undertaking their research.

Otago researchers are looking into everything under the sun ? zeta functions, quantum physics, logistics, dental technology, Roman Law and compositions by Brahms. What expertise do kaitakawaenga have in evaluating these research proposals?

It must be also be acknowledged that Ng?i Tahu run a number of commercial companies (running a surplus of many millions annually) and could go thumbs down on research that questions or challenges its business motives or operations.

I am astonished that a M?ori iwi has the audacity to impose these heavy-arm rules on scientists, and more astonished that Otago University has acquiesced in these proscriptive, inquisitorial demands.

The only researchers to speak out about these issues seem to be retirees. Young researchers dare not question these moves for fear of being labelled racist and putting their careers at stake.

Acceding to?these pressures degrades the standing and reputation of?the Royal Society and academia. end of quote

Dr Margreet Vissers, Associate Dean (Research), was in print the following day defending the University of Otago. quote:

Oh dear. Just when you think progress is being made. Just when you think that we have learnt some valuable lessons from history. Just when you think that we are finally moving forward to a more inclusive society that allows everyone a voice. Then you read Bob Brockie’s?column […] and you realise there is still work to be done to counter ignorance, arrogance and prejudice. Oh dear.

Dr Brockie, in apparent defence of the purity and authority of science, has taken aim at all of humanity ? and the Humanities. He claims scientific endeavour in New Zealand, nurtured until now by the Royal Society to provide “independent advice on scientific matters, free of political, commercial?or cultural bias”, is under threat from our institutions, including the University of Otago.end of quote.

Ummm, Dr Brockie took aim at all of humanity?? Really?? Must have missed that paragraph. Dr Brockie claimed scientific endeavour in New Zealand?is under threat from our institutions? Really? All our institutions?

His piece mentioned the Royal Society of New Zealand [now Royal Society Te Ap?rangi];?Te Wh?inga Aronui o Te Ap?rangi;?Otago University and, by association, Ng?i Tahu and?the Office of M?ori Development.

That seems to leave quite a few institutions and a very large chunk of humanity outside the scope of Dr Brockie’s criticism.?quote.

The source of this threat? Apparently it is the Treaty of Waitangi, founding document of our nation, being peddled by the dreadful Arts and Humanities people who are using it in an attempt to compel scientists to somehow abandon their scientific rigour and integrity.? Ouch.

Dr Brockie couldn’t be more wrong. Where to start? Firstly: as a research scientist, I reject the notion that we (Western Science)?have all the answers. Our current model of the scientific method, used worldwide, is strongly based in the philosophy of science, developed across millennia and on many continents by men and women in the Sciences and Arts.

The state of our current knowledge has likewise been contributed by all peoples, and to be blind to the input of others is unhelpful for the advancement of science. To be inclusive does not preclude rigour or the impartial nature of scientific research. Science is inherently open-minded: all possibilities deserve to be considered and failure to act in this way results in a narrow-minded approach and potentially biased results.

I am not afraid that my academic research will be corrupted by considering the perspective of others, and I greatly value the scholarship and deep knowledge base of our Arts and Humanities colleagues.?end of quote.

So when did Dr Brockie exclude any of the above? When did Dr Brockie exclude the perspective of others?

And while we are on the topic what did our tangata whenua contribute to the development of the scientific method over the millennia??quote:

Secondly: consideration of the Treaty of Waitangi has added depth and breadth to our scientific endeavours. The research institutes in New Zealand, including the Universities and Government Crown Research Institutes, have made considerable progress in adapting their processes to ensure more inclusive representation for Maori as Treaty partners, and to recognise the voices of other minority groups.end of quote.

I have had a scan through the?Treaty of Waitangi but could not locate the section dealing with the String Theory of the cosmos, the development of graphene or T-cell Immunotherapies – must have skipped past them.?quote.

In contrast with Dr Brockie’s view that Ngai Tahu somehow has vetting rights or imposes “heavy-armed rules on scientists”, or that science researchers are somehow compelled by the University to take part in an “inquisition”, the process of Maori consultation is a supportive discussion between researchers and a Maori Research Advisor to consider the specific cultural implications of any proposed study.?end of quote.

What utter twaddle.? What are the cultural implications of the Higgs boson, gravity waves, holographic memory or quantum compression?? quote:

Over the past decade or so, this process has been extremely helpful for staff. Consultation has expanded the scope of many research projects, including studies in education, mental health, cancer and cardiovascular disease.end of quote.

This is undoubtedly true, as they are all areas of research that affect Maori, but there are many branches of science where consultation with iwi is simply a virtue signalling waste of time and money.quote:

Thirdly: as an academic at the University of Otago, I am proud of the progress made in recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi and very happy for the University to continue to promote and advance the interests of Maori.

This is not being undertaken for political expediency, but to make a real difference to the experience of Maori students, staff and the New Zealand people. I note with pleasure and admiration the increasing number of confident and highly competent Maori graduates, and look forward to welcoming them into our research workforce.

Dr Brockie, you need not fear. This is an exciting time. Science integrity is in good hands, and the Royal Society and Universities are still autonomous, academic institutions. But in the words written by one notable retiree ? the times they are a-changin’. Thank goodness. end of quote.

Has anything changed about scientific principles or the scientific method to now require input from Maori?

Why are Maori invited above the Scots, Dutch, Korean, Croatian, Chinese, Irish, Indian or any other of our national groups?

To say, “This is not being undertaken for political expediency” is disingenuous.