A controversial letter by a group of prominent academics has been rubbished as "scientific racism" in a rebuttal by leading Covid expert Professor Shaun Hendy and New Zealander of the Year Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles which has been signed by more than 1100 people.
The letter which prompted today's reply claimed Māori knowledge was "not science" and was published in the Listener magazine on July 23 with the names of seven prominent Auckland University professors attached.
It was in response to proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum which would put mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) on a par with other types of knowledge, particularly Western knowledge.
But the academics - drawn from biological sciences, psychology, philosophy and education - claimed that while indigenous knowledge contributes to our understanding of the world, "it falls far short of what we can define as science".
The response from Hendy and company said the signatories, mostly academics, "categorically" disagreed with the views expressed in the original letter - which has since prompted the resignation of co-author Professor of Psychology Douglas Elliffe as acting dean of science.
"Indigenous knowledges - in this case, mātauranga - are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with 'Western' understandings of the scientific method.
"However, mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to 'Western' science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems."
The letter goes on to state the diminshing role of indigenous knowledege in science was "simply another tool for exclusion and explotation".
"We believe that mistrust in science stems from science's ongoing role in perpetuating 'scientific' racism, justifying colonisation, and continuing support of systems that create injustice," the letter says.
The letter at the centre of the controversy claimed science was helping "battle worldwide crises" including Covid, global warming and carbon pollution but today's response argues that assertion failed to acknowledge the ways in which science "contributed to the creation of these challenges".
But in his resignation Elliffe defended the letter saying society needed "robust debate".
"I now think that my leadership of the faculty has the potential to increase division and divert attention from the real issues that face us," he said.
"The future of the faculty is more important to me than my own ambitions, although I will greatly miss the opportunity to make more faculty-level contributions."
He also thanked those who had supported him and urged him not to step down.
"I think there is a journey that society, and the university as its critic and conscience, needs to take towards robust discussion and debate within a culture that doesn't assume disagreement must imply disrespect," he said.
"I don't think we're there yet, but I profoundly hope we're on the way and that our university will be helping to light the path."
Earlier the New Zealand Association of Scientists said it was "dismayed" to see mātauranga's value to science being questioned so publicly by prominent academics, and the letter was "utterly rejected" by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.
And University of Auckland vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater told staff the letter did not represent the university's views.
It had caused "considerable hurt and dismay" among staff and students, she wrote in an email on Monday.
"While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland," Freshwater said.
"The University has deep respect for mātauranga Māori as a distinctive and valuable knowledge system. We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other."
Dr Daniel Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui), a geologist and senior lecturer in Māori studies at Auckland University, said science was "a method for generating knowledge, and all knowledge generated using that method".
Some indigenous knowledge - though not all - had been generated using the scientific method so it was clearly science, Hikuroa said.
He pointed to the Maramataka - the Māori lunar calendar - and how it is applied as science.
"It predicts that things will happen and they continue to happen. That knowledge is accurate and precise. It's been arrived at through the empirical approach. Make an observation, then you make a prediction, and that prediction comes true - so cool, then you embed that knowledge."
Ecologist Dr Tara McAllister (Te Aitanga ā Māhaki, Ngāti Porou) rejected the "inaccurate assertion that my tīpuna did not do science".
"As Rangi Mātāmua says, we did not navigate to Aotearoa on myths and legends. We did not live successfully in balance with the environment without science. Māori were the first scientists in Aotearoa."
Mātāmua is a preeminent astronomer and expert on maramataka.
The Listener letter took issue with proposals that would show students "the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of Eurocentric views", including how it's been used to colonise Māori and suppress mātauranga Māori.
The course would also discuss "the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Māori and other indigenous peoples".
The authors claimed that would spread "disturbing understandings of science" and lead to mistrust in science.