Wednesday, August 25, 2010

whales respected

Are the science and māori worldview compatible? I think they can be, notwithstanding definitions of what science actually is, compared to what people think it is, and defining a/the māori worldview. I'll just stick to massive generalisations - the major difference is the inclusion of a spiritual element in māori knowledge systems, including science.

Decisions about what to do with the whales that died in a recent stranding offers an example of the different worldviews. Scientists want to dissect the dead whales to help determine why they stranded and try to stop it happening and this is laudable. But how many whales have already been dissected and are we actually any closer to understanding these strandings? If pollution was found to be the direct cause does that mean that will stop people polluting? Or if something else, like a virus is found, will pollution reduce then?

I am not saying that there is no value in knowing causes but there is likely to be multiple causes from systemic breakdowns across and within the whole ecosystem. Thinking of the whales as a part of an ecosystem is holistic, and it can offer insights because you come from an angle of connection rather than difference.

The māori worldview is holistic and places importance on not violating the whale by dissection. Under many circumstances the māori view would be discarded out of hand and the dissection proceeded with. But we are making progress, because that didn't happen here...

From NZH
"Kaumatua Alan Hetaraka said scientists could take DNA samples, "but we don't want [the whales] to be chopped up. It doesn't fit with our culture".
The former marine biologist said his scientist head told him to let the experts take their samples, but his cultural heart told him to bury them intact."
Good on you Alan, it is good to have someone who understands both worlds considering these issues. Although the dissections won't be available, the DNA is, and understanding why these mammals strand can still be worked on. I think this was a good decision and it shows the value of the legislation that requires the intent of the treaty, and thus the māori worldview, to be considered.

Footnote - further information on the maori worldview and this situation.

From NZH
"Ngati Kahu kaumatua Alan Hetaraka said last week's mass stranding on the Karikari Peninsula was just a few hundred metres from a subdivision which the iwi was due to fight in the High Court in less than two weeks' time.
"It's ironic that these things turn up at that spot. You could say it's nature doing what nature does. But to us it's a sign ... It's a sign that they've come to support us."
The court battle centres on a former campground behind the dunes, where an American millionaire is creating eight sections. The 7km-long beach is so far untouched by development.
Mr Hetaraka said the developer wanted to build houses on a slight rise where burial caves were. The caves were used for the children of Ngati Kahu ancestor Kahukura; ordinary people were buried in the dunes.
The firm behind the subdivision is Auckland-based MBR Developments, while Carrington Farms is owned by American Paul Kelly, who owns the adjacent golf course, hotel and vineyard"
I tautoko the fight to stop this development. And it puts the decision around the dissection into perspective. Utu - reciprocity - the whales have supported the iwi, the iwi return the favour.


Mike said...

Hi Marty.

I don't want to imply that the māori worldview should be ignored. It shouldn't, but I'm not sure that all science always can be compatible with it. If scientists are being told they can't do scientific analysis that they think would be useful, then to me it means they're incompatible.

The way I read the Herald article, Alan isn't doing science that's compatible with the māori world view, it's more that he's avoiding doing science that isn't because that's where his ethical standards sit. Nearly all scientists have an ethical code and it's similar in most places internationally. I think the difference here is that the ethical codes are different. Maybe in that respect, science and the māori worldview are compatible as long as the ethical code is that of the māori worldview, but there's still an issue that the more strict the ethics, the less possible it is to learn new things.

By their nature, whales are very difficult beings to study, unless you're a Japanese scientist I guess. Regardless of what was reported in the Herald, you can bet they would have been studying far more about whales than simply why they beach themselves. I can see why biologists would have loved to get a close-up look.

What's happening now is that the community of scientists which has a massive international entanglement and is generally very comfortable about what its ethics are is clashing with some very localised ethics that it's not used to working through. Hence you'll get lots of scientists getting fed up and just moving overseas where they can work as they want to, and maybe that's just something New Zealand will just need to accept. Others will stay and adapt. I think that's likely to keep coming up over and over again, though, as long as scientists work in an international community as much as they do, and especially when there aren't lots of other incentives (like good and flexible science funding) to keep scientists here.


Marty Mars said...

Kia ora Mike - great points

I took the situation as Alan being aware of both worldviews and choosing the best way forward. As you say the ethics of science often clash with other value systems, and some groups want their values asserted, such as maori.

If science is building knowledge under defined parameters, and dissection is a method for knowledge attainment, amongst a number of different methods, then not being able to dissect doesn't impede science itself - just the particular method.

The decisions made here are localised and next time a different decision may be made.

I enjoy science and appreciate what it is and what it does but it is not lily-white and it is not necessarily the only way of looking at things.

IMO The more different worldviews are considered, the better we will be able to utilize those different worldviews to increase knowledge.