Civil War in the Royal Society

Jerry Coyne reports that 70 Fellows of the Royal Society have filed an effective motion of no confidence in the Academy Executive and Council of the (NZ) Royal Society. They state:

The Fellows, listed below as cosignatories, wish to express their deep concern about what has been happening within the Royal Society of New Zealand over the last year, by moving and seconding the motions below for discussion at the at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship on 28th April.

Many of us have lost confidence in the current Academy Executive and Council, whose actions seemingly have brought the society into disrepute, shutting down useful debate and bringing international opprobrium from leading scientists. We are further concerned about the lack of agency that Fellows have following the many restructures of the Society over the last several years, and the spending of fellowship fees to cover lawyers’ costs and, presumably, public relations consultants to defend the Society’s very poor processes and actions.

In particular:

1. We believe that the content of the initial statement posted by the RSTA on its website in August 2021 about the controversy generated following the Listener letter on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and Science was ill-conceived, hasty and inaccurate in large part.

2. We are appalled at the mishandling of the formation of the initial committee set up by RSTA to investigate the complaint, the length of the process, and the handling of the publication of the outcome, which suggests both that the RSTA cannot decide whether mātauranga Māori is or is not Science, and impugned the integrity of two eminent Fellows.

No less than 70 Fellows have signed the letter. Incredibly brave of them. Also many others support the motions, but are (understandably) too scared to say so publicly:

Sadly several other Fellows have also indicated they will vote in favour,  but because of the potential harassment and bullying they believe they would receive (from some current and former members of the Academy and the RSNZ Council, and from colleagues in senior and other positions within their University), they do not wish to disclose their names in this document, especially if it becomes public.  Many younger Fellows and others have said (again in writing) that their jobs would be at risk signing this letter.  Two Fellows (major RSNZ Medalists) said this: “Better not (sign) at this stage – … I agree with all the statements – but you can’t imagine the pressure being put on us. I will vote for the motion though.”, and “In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at UoA if I do so”.  This is a startling indictment of the situation in the research community in NZ at the moment, and of the way in which the RSNZ handled and exacerbated the controversy over the letter to the Listener.

It is good to see this push back against cancel culture where top scientists faced disciplinary expulsion from the Royal Society because they dared to defend science.

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