Royal Society’s Maori Obligations

Professor Emeritus Richard Bedford, president of the NZ Royal Society

After John Robinson’s broadside against  the Royal Society’s Maori policy, Editor Alan Tristram looks at what’s actually proposed.

John Robinson’s open letter to Dick Bedford, President of the NZ Royal Society says: ‘The code of ethics proposed by the Royal Society of New Zealand is an abomination.’ (see the story, June 2 )

So, in the interests of fairness, here is what the code actually says, in part:

‘Responsibilities to partners, participating and affected communities

1. Members must, in undertaking their activities, both endeavour to partner with those communities
and mana whenua for whom there are reasonably foreseeable direct impacts, and meet their

Matauranga Maori is nonsense, claims John Robinson

obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

2. Consistent with clause 3.4(1), Members must –
a. Identify potentially affected communities, hapu or iwi and, prior to commencement, seek to
engage them in the activity; and

b. ensure that affected communities, hapū and iwi are informed partners in the activity and that
their wishes are respected; and

c. involve the community in the development of the aims and design of the activity and the
means for its execution where that is reasonably achievable; and

d. recognise and respect any community, hapu or iwi rights and interests in intellectual property,
mātauranga9, or of materials, samples, data or information gathered during or developed
during the research including obtaining necessary permissions to use existing mātauranga and
giving effect to any right to community, hapu or iwi ownership of new knowledge created
during the activity; and

e. share those results and findings that are specific to the affected community, hapu or iwi with
them in advance of publishing or otherwise communicating the results and findings to others;

f. additionally meet the requirements of section 3.5 should individual members of the
community, hapu or iwi be direct participants in the research.3.4 Responsibilities to partners, participating and affected communities


This is what the founding group in London states in its guidelines. “The Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.”

There is more to the proposed code of professional standards than noted here. For example:
“The code gives effect to the Treaty of Waitangi through a foundation of bi-cultural ethical principles of partnership…”
“It is in the public interest that scientists … do no cultural harm”
These can be interpreted in a variety of ways. This “cultural harm” may be to write that Maori were cannibals who carried out many massacres to the extent that the Maori population was fast declining. Some have said that – to relate such facts is unwelcome. I, like many others, refuse, and write of what is written – many times – in our history.
The most important part of what I said is the example of the harm that forced self-censorship has been doing to scholarship and our understanding of the history of New Zealand for decades now.
Does the writer of this piece want me to shut up? Should ignorance be preserved? The Royal Society asks just that.


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