Thursday, July 29, 2021

Another dismal setback for intellectual freedom

Attacks on free speech – even freedom of thought, since that’s what the enemies of free speech ultimately want to control – are coming so fast, and from so many directions, that it’s hard to keep up with them.

The latest involves seven University of Auckland professors who have effectively been blacklisted for writing a letter to The Listener politely but firmly challenging the notion that matauranga Maori – which can be defined as the traditional body of Maori knowledge – should be accorded the status of science, as proposed by an NCEA working group preparing a new school curriculum.  

In the febrile ideological climate of 2021 the professors’ stance counts as heresy, and it brought the full, vindictive fury of the woke academic left down on their heads. Already the pressure has proved too much for Prof Douglas Elliffe, who has stood aside as acting dean of science. In an email to his colleagues, Elliffe said he was concerned that his involvement in the controversy would cause “division” within the science faculty. That doesn’t say much for the intellectual open-mindedness of his colleagues, but there you go.

What a triumph for the enforcers of ideological conformity, and what a dismal setback – another one – for intellectual and academic freedom. How much longer will universities maintain the sanctimonious pretence that they serve as the critics and conscience of society? In truth, they promote and protect an authoritarian culture in which dissenters risk ostracism.  

University vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater, who should have been the first to defend the letter-writers’ right to express themselves, came up with the all-too-familiar mealy-mouthed copout:  they’re entitled to their opinion, but

There’s always that pregnant word “but”. When you hear the upholders of identity politics and cancel culture make ritual noises about freedom of speech, you automatically brace yourself for the disqualifying proviso that you know will follow. Usually this can be summarised as “You’re entitled to express your opinion, as long as it’s one we're happy with. Otherwise we’d rather you kept your primitive, reactionary views to yourself.”

In this case, Freshwater didn’t want her university’s reputation tarnished by association with the letter-writers. In an email to staff, Freshwater said the Listener letter had caused “hurt and dismay among staff, students and alumni”. Really? I wonder how many she consulted.

It doesn’t appear to have occurred to Freshwater that the university’s reputation has been tarnished anyway, and in a much more damaging way, by her eagerness to cut the heretics adrift when all they were doing was expressing, in a non-inflammatory manner, a considered opinion backed by sound academic credentials.   

(As an aside, I note that Freshwater is another import, this time from Britain. It was an Australian, Jan Thomas, who barred Don Brash from speaking at Massey University in 2018. Are our universities really so useless that they can’t produce New Zealanders capable of running them, or is it the case that overseas appointees are more likely to have the desired ideological sympathies?)

This nasty little episode shows in stark relief just what academic dissenters are up against. They not only risk the wrath of censorious colleagues but must also face the probability that they won’t get a fair run in the media. Radio New Zealand broke the story yesterday, and its account – written by Maori news director Mani Dunlop – consisted mostly of quotes from activists and academics condemning the Auckland renegades and questioning, or perhaps I should say trying to undermine, their credibility. The primary object seemed to be to snuff out the Auckland professors’ (supposedly) bigoted ideas before they had a chance to take hold, much as one might stamp on a cockroach.

Special mention should be made of Victoria University professor Joanna Kidman’s impeccably thoughtful, mature contribution to the debate. In a sneering tweet reproduced (with implied approval) by RNZ, Kidman referred to the Listener letter signatories and asked, “Where do these shuffling zombies come from? Is it something in the water?” It was accompanied by a video clip from a zombie movie.

Now there’s intellectual engagement for you. If you ever wondered why the once honourable title of professor no longer commands the respect it once did, there’s your answer, right there. It probably comes as no surprise to learn that Kidman (Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Raukawa) is a sociologist - an academic discipline steeped in strict scientific rigour.

The takeaway message from all this? As usual, it’s that even respected academics speak their minds at their peril. Depart from ideological orthodoxy and you can expect to be howled down, possibly even at the expense of your career. The aim is to deter dissent and discussion, and the tragedy is that it works.

24 comments:

Unknown said...

It is such a big shame. I read some comments on Kidman's reaction on twitter, mostly apparently from students, mostly expressing their support for Kidman. Where has common sense vanished? Nevertheless, in this situation it will be good to support the Magnificent Seven.Here are their names:
Douglas Elliffe
Garth Cooper
Kendall Clements
Michael Corballis
Elisabeth Rata
Em proff. Robert Nola
Em. proff. John Werry.

Paul Goldsmith expressed the same stand as the seven above mentioned.

In Australian Spectator there are several articles by Peter O'Brien about indigenous science.
Alexandra Corbett Dekanova

Jim Rose said...

All cultures prior to the age of Enlightenment have a certain amount of knowledge based on observations of the seasons and the attributes of plants And animals. They knew which plants are edible and which were poisonous and which had medicinal purposes.

Science is the child of the Age of Enlightenment because it was based on testable knowledge. Karl Popper defined science as a series of testable propositions and most of all of propositions you were willing to give up if they were refuted.

Doug Longmire said...

I support the Magnificent Seven completely.

I worked for 20 years for Medsafe as an advisory Pharmacist. This role involved me in having to apply the scientific principle to assessing various medical and quasi-medical products and claims.
This experience has led me to the total conclusion that the scientific method in assessing quasi-scientific claims or beliefs is paramount.

From what I have read - the above Seven applied those proven principles in their assessment of "Maori Science". For this, they have been punished by the wokarati.

Hilary Taylor said...

Incredibly sad. I had already emailed Freshwater expressing disdain and also Elliffe et al expressing moral support. And just now Kidman, as for Freshwater.
Good god these people are dangerous.
Another great column thanks Karl. Sheesh, what to do...

Odysseus said...

I am earnestly praying for the financial collapse of New Zealand's universities now that they no longer get to babysit foreign students for fat fees. (STEM subjects and disciplines such as engineering and medicine could be rehomed in institutes fit for the purpose.) The universities' moral and intellectual collapse occurred some time ago. Today they have become evangelists for Cultural Marxism. This short, scholarly video is well worth watching for an understanding of what is going on, including in regard to the proposed "hate speech" laws: https://videos.files.wordpress.com/siHmgN5n/what-is-cultural-marxism_dvd.mp4.

I wish the Magnificent Seven well. How can we support them and others who challenge this tyranny?

Graham Hill said...

Straight from pages of that Neo Marxist never happy, the principal of the "School of Resentment", Herbert Marcuse. It is noteworthy that sanity is now stigmatised as conservative and Marcuse believed that conservative voices needed to be censored and permanently. the danger seem to me to be that if "hurt" is a prerequisite, then that is a short step to an allegation of harm and thence to violence which begets violence as a response and lo we have moved along the atrocity paradigm.

The indiscriminate relativism is bewilderingly and intellectual tragedy, especially at the tertiary level, which Alan Bloom foretold in 1987. Students who are not taught to exercise judgment and common sense and thus cannot discriminate knowledge qualitatively does not conduce to a happy script for society or to problem solving. Lucifer's fall in Milton's Paradise Lost as an apposite metaphor because Hell is nihilism.

Michael Johnston said...

Great that you mentioned Popper Jim. His insight that it's falsifiability that makes a theory scientific is as brilliant as it is counter-intuitive. It is this principle more than any other that sets science apart, not least because it encourages habits of mind that mitigate human propensities to confirmation bias and wanting to prove ourselves right. Unfortunately most scientists have never read Popper and are not well equipped to defend their discipline against the woke left, because they can't articulate what it is that makes science different as an epistemic system. Now, of course, most would be too scared to speak up in any case.

Graham Adams said...

I studied philosophy of science under Prof Robert Nola in 1974. He's been writing and lecturing on science for more than 40 years. (From memory he has an MA in philosophy and a PhD in physics.)
If Siouxsie Wiles or Shaun Hendy were foolish enough to debate him, he'd eat them alive.

Graham Adams said...

I should have said that Wiles and Hendy are the authors of the "open letter" denouncing the seven professors — which shamefully was signed by more than 1500 academics and researchers.
Yesterday, Wiles tweeted: “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.”
So much for academic debate you might think.

Andy Espersen said...

I love the frequent use of irony and sarcasm in your article. Kidman will be justifiably proud of your glowing admiration of her chosen profession.

David said...


Academic freedom has been dying for some years, but this appalling episode demonstrates its utter death in this country.

Even worse is the silence from other academics and from the public media supporting the professors. Instead, these former supporters of academic freedom and freedom of expression are leading the campaign to have them all destroyed.

Shame. Shame. Shame on them all.

Kimbo said...

As a Christian I'm bemused that having rightly banished the pseudo-Sciences of Creation Science and Intelligent Design from the Science classroom, lecture hall and laboratory, that a similar construct (traditional Maori knowledge), while in part empirical but not fully-grounded in the rigour of the scientific method and subject to international peer review is being granted the status of science.

And you look at the original statement by the seven - that traditional Maori knowledge can sit beside and at times inform and supplement Science and scientific inquiry - and you see that they have given the proper place and inter-relationship to both Science and traditional Maori knowledge within the academy. Just as, if you want to know what the Book of Genesis says and means, you learn about it in Theology/Biblical Studies lectures, not the Geology or Biology departments.

Unknown said...

I think everyone needs to realise that the woke left and their Marxist ideology are just one aspect of a multi-pronged attack on our humanity and our common sense. Covid, PCR, BLM, Antifa, lockdowns, vaccine passports, the destruction of the global economy, big tech censorship, attacks on free speech, and the recent buying up of the global economy at cents on the dollar (check out a very recent Corbett Report for details and solutions), as well as the takeover of academia throughout the Western World by a woke Marxist ideology are all proceeding from one source. But like Catherine Austin-Fitts said in her talk with James Corbett, “they need us to be able to pull it off”, so if we don’t engage - what can they do? But we do have to be aware of the scale of what’s happening and be really well informed, not only about IT, but about what a truly just and human world will, or does, look like. When you see, in spite of how well organised “they” are, that the thing is so big, and basically all of it has to fall into place seamlessly, then you can see how open it is to imminent collapse. I believe that common sense and compassion for others are key in this situation. And, like Christ said, we have to “love our enemies”: can those woke ideologues and banksters and scamsters really be happy doing what they do? Don’t think so ....

Ian P said...

Validity of 'science' without a written language?

Odysseus said...

I visited East Berlin on a Stasi-supervised guided tour in 1985. It seems New Zealand is becoming more like East Germany every day. Perhaps it was a role model for the International Union of Socialist Youth?

Doug Longmire said...

Science does not have a race or a culture. Science is an objective matter of fact. There is no place at all for any racial input.
As soon as anybody starts to try and give a racial twist to any science (e.g. tribal myths etc) then it stops being science. There is no racial bias in the formation of the universe or the orbit of the electron around the nucleus. Any racial accent or bias is totally laughable.

Doug Longmire said...

Last week, my wife and I had a lovely 2 days break at an Airbnb in Martinborough. We love the Wairarapa. The weather was superb and we spent a half day meandering our way to Cape Pallier via Ngawi. The scenery is just breathtaking. We stopped several times to just gaze in awe at the magnificent clay escarpments, bounded on the other side by the rolling Cook Strait.
At Ngawi, we had a chat to the locals and counted about 30 bulldozers there.
On to Cape Palliser, and more stunning scenery.
On the drive back, we stopped and had a good look at a batch of seals who were sunning themselves on the berm.
The only concern was that the road to Cape Palliser has had washouts and is very narrow in parts and looks in imminent danger of collapse.
However, I do understand that the government does have higher priorities than road maintenance - for example $2.75million to gangs, $280million for an elite cycle bridge and $55million to Pravda to induce then to be the propaganda wing of the government

Richard said...

Mani Dunlop -'nuff said.

Karl du Fresne said...

This is what you get when media organisations promote diversity in the newsroom: journalists who see themselves first and foremost as advocates for their minority group.

Chris Morris said...

The other issue with Mani Dunlop is potential political partisanship. Will she ever do an article attacking the government policies, especially say in Conservation where Maori have a real interest? That will be interesting to watch.

Eamon Sloan said...

Thanks to Karl and all other commenters. I am pleased to know I am not alone. I have thrown a letter at our best loved newspaper the Dominion Post. I am challenging the Glenn McConnell column. If it does not make the cut the wording is further below. I had fired a separate broadside at McConnell’s email address.

McConnell replied with a copy of an open letter, from some unknown point in academia (?), which was a reply to the Auckland professors. It was a Google link which is now no longer available. Sad. But, I managed to copy a listing of so called signatories. Wait for it, there were 1,738 names!! I know more than a little bit about spread sheet science. I do not believe that all 1,738 agreed separately to have their names appended to a reply. More than likely it was a mailing list of names who had agreed in advance to have their names attached to anything an organiser cared to publish.

Trivia. There were: Main Universities 1,219 names, including 248 Professors and 649 Doctorates. Other names originated from here there and everywhere including some Health Boards.

Letter to Dom Post:

Glenn McConnell’s column of 29th July must be challenged on a number of fronts. The main thrust of his column attacks certain views relating to science, indigenous knowledge and proposed changes to the NCEA curriculum. The views were those of seven Auckland University professors, published recently in the New Zealand Listener.

Within the New Zealand Listener letter, on two occasions, the writers freely acknowledge the place of indigenous knowledge. Their point however is simply that basic indigenous knowledge in and of itself is not and never will be actual science.

McConnell quotes University of Auckland vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater who stated “the university’s official position was that matauranga Maori made an important contribution to science”. The vice-chancellor did not say that matauranga Maori was/is in fact science. The vice-chancellor is hedging her bets and to a degree may even support the letter writers. She has chosen her words very carefully where the operative word is contribution.

A close reading of the Auckland professors’ opening two sentences informs me that their concern is not only with the proposed curriculum’s lack of scientific insight, but also with the curriculum’s, not understated, pursuit of critical race theory. The curriculum’s hidden agenda is probably just that, critical race theory.

I won't comment on McConnell’s Porirua references. Those are irrelevant to the main argument.

Unknown said...

Maori Party MP Debie Ngarewa-Packer as reaction on Judith Collins' call for debate wants to debate racism and white privilege starting her reply with #Hey Colonist. Maybe it's an occasion to confront her with some facts about achievements of colonialism, first 500 years of the Polynesian colonialism compared with what we have all together achieved for 181 years.
Alexandra Corbett Dekanova.

Trev1 said...

I think it's clear N.-Packer is wrestling with her demons, in particular the fact that her own DNA contains "coloniser" chromosomes. The self loathing this results in is the basis of much extremism the world today. Therapy might help.

Unknown said...

I’ve been recommending to people two books as really great antidotes to the whole notion of “white privilege”. They are : The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell, and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel - both eye-witness accounts of the crushing poverty and degradation endured by the working classes of Britain in the early part of the 20th century. I had to have a week off after the first chapter of Wigan Pier: I was traumatised by what I read! - truly unbelievable. For anyone wanting to go further, the recently published book of some of John Ruskin’s lectures - Unto This Last - from Victorian times; also a window into the world of abject poverty endured by “white” people back then, as well as the scathing reproaches against the British Capitalists delivered by Ruskin, calling out their greed and selfishness and lack of Christian piety ......