Indigenous Science – Other Ways of Knowing?,

by | April 23, 2016

Guest post by Derek Gray

Last week I listened to the CBC Radio program, Unreserved, hosted by Rosanna Dearchild. In her interview with indigenous doctor Marcia Anderson DeCoteau, I was a little shocked to learn that I may be an epistemic racist. I had to transcribe the controversial parts of the interview myself, as they conveniently left out the racism accusations from the website’s summary.

The interview starts out well enough. Dr. Anderson DeCoteau is very well educated and respected. She is a doctor of internal medicine, the Medical Officer of Health for Northern Manitoba, and an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba. She does make good points about how incorporating indigenous practices or allowing traditional rituals in combination with modern medicine can really help indigenous peoples feel more comfortable and open to modern treatments. However, she notes that she herself does not incorporate them. But then there are the problematic parts of the interview from both host and guest.

Dearchild, the host, makes a somewhat smug comment when she points out that there is scientific support for the practice of smudging:

We’re seeing things now like studies coming out saying that smudging literally clears the air of negative energy and these are things that we’ve been saying for generations, right, and so it’s common knowledge to our people. (Emphasis added)

Now, my understanding is that the scientific support is actually for the effect of negative ions in the air, which smudging apparently produces (never mind the established fact that breathing in the smoke of pretty much anything that is burning isn’t good for you.) Negative ions do have a significant body of research showing they can have an effect on depression or seasonal depression in high exposures. I am happy to be educated/corrected on this point, but it seems to me she needs to review her use of the word “literally.” No, there is no scientific evidence for “clearing the air of negative energy.” In fact, by the sounds of it, smudging is adding negative energy isn’t it?

That said, I actually think it’s not a bad idea to at least consider that over hundreds of years of trial and error that there are often natural treatments that do in fact have an effect, or lead researchers to examine, refine, or extract the key component of an herb for example. It would indeed be racist or discriminatory to dismiss indigenous claims out of hand. The point here though is that the confirmation of efficacy is made via modern science. And modern science can just as often discover that a natural or traditional treatment is bad for you. No indigenous knowledge could confirm one way or the other or distinguish between placebo and non placebo effects.

Dr. DeCoteau adds her thoughts about natural/traditional treatments in general:

I think that there are kind of two things. One is that, in the limited evidence that there is, there’s never been evidence of harm. So there’s been different studies in some european nations and asian nations and I’ve never seen one that showed any harm, because that’s the first kind of layer of concern.

If no evidence of harm is the best she can say; then, isn’t she admitting that she doesn’t actually know if the effect of traditional indigenous practices is real? Of course we know this thinking is false, and there is very real harm done by blind faith in some natural treatments. For one, it can lead patients to avoid getting modern treatments at critical times. Also it can have a negative effect when combined with modern medicine, reducing its effectiveness (check out my favourite alternative-medicine researcher Edzard Ernst’s latest article on this topic). But it gets worse. She leaves the rational listener confused and offended in the next bit:

And the second thing that I say, or have discussed, more recently too, is this concept of epistemic racism. And epistemic being from, you know, epistemology, knowledge systems, ways of knowing, and it’s the form of racism that says one knowledge system is superior to another, so, when it comes to this notion of evidence, or knowledge that’s produced by western science, to say that our healing methods have to be supported by western science or western evidence is to say that western knowledge is superior to indigenous knowledge and our knowledge can’t be valid or valuable unless there is western science saying it’s valid. And so we should reject that base assumption that western science is superior to indigenous knowledge and indigenous forms of science and instead look at indigenous knowledge on its own and through its own lens. So when our knowledge keepers and our elders and our healers have held knowledge that’s been passed on through generations, of effectiveness then we can believe that and we can rely on it. We don’t need a scientific study to say that that knowledge is valid. (Emphasis added)

Listening to this the first time in the car, my hackles were raised, and visions of William Lane Craig danced in my head. Did DeCoteau just accuse me of racism for thinking that the best way of trusting a treatment is the scientific method? Did she just call evidence a mere “notion”? After listening to this many times to transcribe it, my interpretation softened a little, but there are still problems: mainly this conflating of the concept of “knowledge” and “ways of obtaining knowledge.” If she is saying that western doctors should not immediately discount things (knowledge) that indigenous people have learned and refuse to study them, then yes I tend to agree with her on that count. There is undoubtedly a record of racism towards indigenous peoples in western hospitals. But I vigorously disagree with the idea that we should look at indigenous knowledge “on its own and through its own lens.” There are justifiable reasons to look at ancient practices for ideas but through the lens of modern scientific inquiry. Nothing will be gained by building a wall of separation and blindly trusting any “knowledge” merely because it has been passed down for hundreds of years. Asking for evidence is categorically not a racist discounting of indigenous knowledge – it’s just the only credible way of confirming its positive or negative effects. As a professor of health sciences, DeCoteau should know better.

The rest of the interview touches on whether or not there should be funding for supporting the inclusion of indigenous healing methods. I don’t have a fully formed opinion on that – as I mentioned earlier, I think there is room for the real calming and comfort effects that familiar ritual can have on a nervous patient.

I’ll end here to say that it is disturbing to hear from a university professor and someone directly responsible for the health of a large portion of Manitobans that the scientific method is somehow exclusively a “western” tradition and that by depending on it exclusively as a confirmation of knowledge is a form of racism.

20 thoughts on “Indigenous Science – Other Ways of Knowing?,

  1. fredt

    Many of the native practices have the same effect as a full strength placebo. It is real if they believe it is real. (Just like religion) For many conditions, the placebo has as large of effect as the scientifically tested drugs, so it is sold.

  2. Diana MacPherson

    Oh good grief. There is no “western science” there is just science. Science is the best way of knowing the truth. Everything else is faith.

  3. Lloyd

    There is an element of racism here, but it is not on your part. The racism is in the statement “Science is a western white way of knowing.” In fact, science is a way of knowing open to all of mankind. It starts from the premise that there is an objective reality and that we can deduce that reality through experimentation and careful observation. It is often thought that science began in Europe in the 17th century, but the classical Greeks and Chinese practiced forms of science much earlier. It is racist to suggest that objective inquiry is not superior to someone’s subjective opinion because of that person’s race.

    Are there other ways of knowing? Certainly. If I take rat root (a traditional remedy where I am from) while suffering from condition X and the condition is alleviated, then I may think the rat root caused a cure. But I do not really know that. It may be something else in my environment that effected the change, or maybe the condition cleared up on its own. Only a scientific approach can tell us if rat root is efficacious for condition X. I can tell you from repeated experience that rat root can relieve tooth aches but it tastes awful,so now I use aspirin. Aspirin, of course, was originally derived from white willow bark. Almost all of the 35 aboriginal herbal remedies that have been adapted for use as pharmaceuticals, were used for pain relief in their original form. I think that is because pain relief is more easily verified through personal experience.

    I am aware of at least one study that suggested sweat lodge ceremonies were a treatment for psoriasis, but it did not differentiate between the heat, wood smoke, tobacco, sweat grass or prayers that commonly make up the ceremony. I go to seats for the effect in building community. My personal experience is it is good for stress reduction. I am concerned that native spirituality is evolving into a religion. For an article on that go to:

    The notion that there is a parallel way of knowing that trumps science sounds suspiciously like a religious claim to me. Where science fails to validate a claim the believer can simply say “the science is a whiteman’s way of knowing, but I have a better way.”

    You also noted that there was an appeal for funding for indigenous healers. Follow the money. If there are parallel ways of knowing with one way being aboriginal specific, then there have to be parallel institutions for child welfare, law, environmental protection and health. Who is making the money? Who is paying for it? Could this be a reason why science is being devalued?

  4. Randy

    The way aboriginals (and now even related non-aboriginals) are treated in Canada is highly racist and fetishistic. You see the way we trot them out to entertain visitors every time we have an international event, and how we defer to the “noble Indian” on ecological matters. And now, on at least, Canadians are forbidden from dissenting (or even agreeing) on any subject which even remotely touches on aboriginals. It’s outrageous.

    The problem is serious enough that I think it justifies not only amending, but completely rewriting Canada’s contradictory constitution so that we can put some truth behind the words “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” whether they are aboriginal or born here or immigrant (and also whether they are male or female or otherwise, whether they are from Quebec or the territories or the rest of Canada, and whether they like to promote Islam, FSM, or Christianity). Level the playing field.

    In the specific case of aboriginals, we should use that term. They are not nations. Like religions, they cosplay nations that existed long ago. They are certainly not Indians. And such land as we are willing to part with should be returned to them as foreign land, and the people should be treated as foreign people. If they want to live in the past, in nations, they can do it, but not in Canada, not as Canada. Maybe they’re really onto something. But I doubt it.

    Of course, those who are willing to accept and obey Canadian law like everyone else, without race-based exemptions, preferences, quotas, and so forth should be welcomed in just like any other immigrant from anywhere on the globe who recognizes that Canada is, and can be, a great place for anyone to live.

    1. Tim Underwood

      The Russians found that the best way to dominate an indigenous society, within the Soviet boundaries, was by a scheme they called (translated into English) ‘The Archaic Revival’. This is precisely what we do when we put old traditions and crafts on display as a special sort of honouring.

      As a step towards ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Justin should tell the Native Canadians that he wants to come clean and admit that all that stuff about the archaic revival is just pretend: much like the ‘heaven and hell’ stories that old world priests were paid to indoctrinate them with.

  5. Indi

    > I’ll end here to say that it is disturbing to hear from a university professor and someone directly responsible for the health of a large portion of Manitobans that the scientific method is somehow exclusively a “western” tradition and that by depending on it exclusively as a confirmation of knowledge is a form of racism.

    And yet, if that’s what she was saying, then correcting for your hyperbole (specifically, your repeated use of “exclusively”), she would be right.

    I haven’t listened to the interview, and in any case I doubt that it would give me a clear understanding of what DeCoteau was trying to say. This topic broadly is a very difficult and challenging one, and when it’s broken down into soundbites fit for today’s pop media “discussion” programs, it’s all too easy for it to come out sounding like garbled nonsense. And it is only to be expected that pioneer attempts to tackle a complex topic will fumble in various ways – either because of lack of understanding or the absence of terminology to help clarify difficult concepts, or simply because they went off course chasing red herrings or non-solutions. It also doesn’t help when you don’t try to suppress your emotional need to defend science against woo, and listen *carefully*, and with an open mind, to what’s really being said.

    There is a very real concern that modern science and medicine *ARE* “white European male traditions”. And let me spell this out clearly to stymie those who I know would just love to jump on that and rage: I’m not saying that science is *intrinsically* a “white European male tradition”… I’m not saying that science *has to be* a “white European male tradition”… I’m saying that that’s just how it happens to be in the world we live in, simply because of historical and cultural realities.

    In other words, science *should* be culturally neutral. Science *should* be the same no matter if it’s done by white European males or anyone else. But it really isn’t. And the evidence for that is manifold.

    Every week in my news feeds I’m getting stories about how scientists are just now beginning to realize how biased scientific research has been for *DECADES*. For example, there’s a movement now to basically restart basic clinical research over again from scratch, because essentially all the research they’ve done has been on… white European males (or their analogues); they’re only now beginning to plug the huge holes in clinical research by actually doing testing on women and people from other “racial” and cultural groups. There was a story not long ago about how archaeologists were doing a massive collective facepalm and rewriting all their theories on Neolithic culture, because they’d all just *assumed* the people who did cave drawings were men, but are now realizing they were more likely done by women. Hell, I just the other day got an update on a story about US scientific authorities demanding that researchers start using more female rats in their experiments, because there was a massive bias toward male biochemistry in the literature.

    There *IS* a strong white European male bias in science, and if you don’t see it, you’re living in a fantasy world. Granted, it’s a nice fantasy world, where science is actually done properly, without being affected by the cultural biases of the scientists actually doing the work… but it ain’t *this* world. In *this* world, all of the data collected, all of the theories put forward, and all of the work being done is *HEAVILY* affected by the biases of those doing it. Which, traditionally, has been… you guessed it… white European males. And you know what the term for this is? Epistemic racism. Yes, DeCoteau didn’t make the term up.

    I know it rankles those who put their faith in science to hear that it’s not the pure, high-handed pursuit they’d like to believe it is. Hell, I’ve tried to explain this very idea her before – in fact, coincidentally on the same topic relating to aboriginal health care in Canada – and I damn near got my head bitten off for speaking so blasphemously. Those who worship at the altar of science guard their dogmas every bit as jealously as the religious.

    As always, the people who have the easiest time spotting bias and discrimination are those being victimized by it, so it’s hardly surprising that aboriginal Canadians can see the latent racism in modern science and medicine more clearly than most. I’d imagine that’s probably what DeCoteau was trying to express: that we need to start including aboriginals in science and medicine. We need to start including aboriginal populations in clinical research. We need to start studying aboriginal sociology and applying it to health care practices. We even need to look at traditional aboriginal medicinal practices to learn what effects – if any – they have. Maybe it’s all harmless, in which case maybe we should consider the placebo value. Maybe there’s actually something real there. Or maybe it’s actually detrimental. Whatever the case, we’re not making aboriginal Canadians any *less* certain that modern science and medicine is racist and/or looks down on them by simply outright ignoring them except to mock them and their traditions. And not only should we take their claims seriously, and study them; we should *include* aboriginal Canadians in the venture itself. It simply won’t do to storm into their cultures in a haughty huff, get a list of stuff to test, debunk it all, then dictate to them what parts of their culture and heritage they should keep, and which parts they should drop.

    You wanna know why woo and alt-med quackery is rife among aboriginal Canadians? You wanna know why science is being “devalued” among aboriginal Canadians? There’s your freaking answer, right there, staring you in the face. Aboriginal Canadians spent over a century being victimized by the thing that identified itself as “science” or “medicine”, and while the more blatant forms of racism in those fields have been gradually and quietly phased out, there has never been an honest and open reckoning for any of it, never any *hint* of an apology, and they’re *still* treated with disdain by those fields even today (when they’re not simply being ignored). How the fuck can anyone seriously expect them to embrace science cheerfully, given all that? If we, who *do* embrace science, want aboriginals at large to see it the same way we do, *WE HAVE TO MAKE THE FIRST MOVE*. We can’t sit here sneering at them for being wary of it. We have to get in there and start an open dialogue – listening *seriously* to their concerns with science, learning from them and applying that knowledge to suss out some of the latent, systemic biases and racism still stewing in science, and making them equal partners in both the creation of new scientific knowledge, and as beneficiaries of scientific advance.

    Happily, the wheels are turning in the right direction… *very* slowly, and not without lots of griping and moaning, but they’re turning. All over there are voices speaking up against the epistemic racism in science and medicine. And all over there is work underway to fill in the culturally-motivated blind spots in our scientific knowledge.

    Unfortunately Canadian humanists have already miserably fumbled a golden opportunity to connect with aboriginal societies, and I see no evidence that they’re doing any better. I see far better effort from the churches that only a few decades ago were kidnapping, raping, and psychologically torturing aboriginals. I’m embarrassed by how badly Canadian humanists, atheists, and freethinkers have handled the issue. We have… or had… an incredible opportunity to reach people who have been victims of religious abuse for well over a century, and victims of general racism and discrimination for much longer. All we need to do is swallow our pride, check our privilege, and listen to what people like DeCoteau are trying to tell us.

    Yes, science has a strong “western” bias. Yes, medicine has always had racism against aboriginals built-in right down to the fundamentals. Neither of those facts should shock. Neither of them cannot be fixed. But the first step, as always, is being humble and honest enough to admit there is a problem.

    1. Tim Underwood

      Keeping in mind that there are many practitioners, at all levels, from nurse to PhD researcher in the medical arts, who have aboriginal ancestry.

    2. Derek Gray

      Hi Indi – I really appreciate your feedback, it’s a good addition to the conversation. (and yes, prior to your comment I had cringed a little myself about the double ‘exclusively’ when I re-read it last night; it wasn’t intentional.)

      I pretty much agree with everything you are saying here by the way – about the white/euro bias, problems and errors in the evolution of our body of modern/western science that have come about by ignoring much of the world. And you’re dead-on about who to blame and the problems with our relationship with Aboriginal societies. (There are some amazing gene expression findings that ought to be taken into account to help explain how traumatic abuse can effect families for multiple generations…) I *do* see the bias, no fantasy – but in *scientists*, not in scientific inquiry.

      That said, I was trying to keep to roughly 1000 words and I think I would have gotten off-message to include your level of background.

      Dr. DeCoteau is an impressive person and I think she needs to continue all the great work she has done thus far. I called out specifically that my gut reaction was softened by listening to the interview repeatedly. I did say that if she mainly was talking about the kinds of biases and racism that you describe, then I agree with her. If by epistemic racism she means the outright rejection to any ideas originating outside of the established white body of science then she is right! I think I gave her more benefit of the doubt than you afforded to me yourself.

      However, she is a Medical Officer of Health which means one of her main jobs is communicating with the public. So if she says something then I have to at least partly take it at face value. 90% of what she says could be great, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be wrong about something. She can be 100% correct that incorporating traditional healing practices helps her patients. At the same time she can be wrong to state that there is an Aboriginal science equal in validity for confirming the safety or efficacy of a treatment, or to finding new treatments for that matter. I have a problem when someone questions the need for evidence. Maybe she meant evidence-as-obtained-through-tainted-euro-scientific results. Perhaps. But she didn’t say just that. She said it needs it’s own lens. She seems to say essentially that *because* it’s coming from elders that it shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny and shouldn’t require evidence to be trusted. I was really only trying to focus on addressing the fallacy in that bit of her logic. I think the host could have done a better job in pressing her on that statement, which may have led to better clarity into her thinking.

    3. Indi

          > Keeping in mind that there are many practitioners, at all levels, from nurse to PhD researcher in the medical arts, who have aboriginal ancestry.

      The hell does that have to do with anything? Are you implying that because aboriginal people can be doctors that means there’s no real systemic racism in the health care system?

          > I *do* see the bias, no fantasy – but in *scientists*, not in scientific inquiry.

      I don’t think that’s good enough. The bias is not just “in the scientists”; it’s in the data and it’s in the theories. The scientists put it there by how they selected what questions to investigate, and how to go about investigating them, and by the conclusions they drew from what they observed. You simply can’t have biased scientists and not have biased science.

      Yes, sure, the theoretical procedure called “the scientific method” doesn’t have any bias built into it intrinsically. But when that procedure gets applied, bias *does* creep in, and taint both the practice and the results. The scientific method relies on judgement and intuition at just about every level… and *THOSE* things are easily fouled by biases. We can’t “do science” without human judgement – we can’t automate scientific enquiry robotically or mathematically – and whenever human judgement is involved, biases creep in. While the scientific method itself is theoretically unbiased, in practice there’s no way to “do science” that doesn’t involve the human biases of the researchers and the scientific community in general.

      It’s not good enough to just blame the scientists, because that implies if we just replaced all existing scientists with non-racist, non-biased scientists the problem goes away. But that won’t work. Even if we replaced all biased scientists with unbiased scientists today, we’d still be stuck with an entire body of knowledge that has the bias of the old scientists baked in.

      The only way to eliminate the bias completely would be to both replace the biased scientists *AND* throw out all the old data and theories, and start again from scratch. But of course, that’s ridiculous – we can’t do that. We can’t throw out everything and start over, because biased as it may be, there’s still a lot of good shit in there.

      What we have to do is acknowledge the extant bias in scientific data, scientific theories, and scientific practice, and start work on plugging up the blind spots. And that *is* happening (however slowly and painfully), and that’s great. It’s a happy feature of the scientific method that even if all our data and theories are horrifically biased, they can be fixed simply be adding *more* data and theories that are either not biased, or biased in the other direction. We’ll either discover the old data and theories are still valid, or we’ll discover conflicts… which the scientific method is already tooled to resolve.

      But we are still a long way from fully accepting the issue in our collective unconscious. We can’t expect to reach out to groups like aboriginal Canadians, who have a perfectly legitimate and justified reason to be mistrustful of science and medicine, until we get our own house in order. We have to drill it into our minds, and in the way we talk about the issues, that science is *NOT* unbiased. When someone says something like “there is no Western science, there is only science”, we have to correct them: there may be no such thing as “Western science” in that theoretical world where the scientific method gets applied without bias… but we don’t live in that world. In *our* world, science is done by biased people in biased ways and produces biased results, and to minimize the problems this causes, the first step is to acknowledge it.

      So long as we’re living under the delusion that science is “pure” and unbiased, the people who can see the bias aren’t going to take us seriously. And that’s not their fault; it’s ours.

          > She seems to say essentially that *because* it’s coming from elders that it shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny and shouldn’t require evidence to be trusted.

      Fair enough, but from what I’m sitting, that’s just a symptom of the larger problem.

      The larger problem is that we are not talking about the issue of bias in science seriously. We haven’t developed the terminology to speak clearly, intelligently, and concisely about why science is biased, and how we deal with that. This is why you can’t fully express the situation in 1000 words, why I have to write such long comments just to *begin* to frame the problem, and why I don’t trust a pop-media interview to correctly represent DeCoteau’s position on it.

      And of course, when we can’t coherently talk about challenging issues… that’s when the woo-mongers, pseudoscience peddlers, and religious nutters thrive. They live in the cracks in our understanding, and breed like fungi in the fuzziness created by the lack of precision in how we talk about complex issues.

      The “ways of knowing” bullshit is a perfect example of this situation. Because we don’t have a clear way to express the problem of bias in scientific knowledge – or because we’re not ready to talk about it honestly and clearly – the woo-peddlers are creating the terminology instead. And of course, they’re doing it in deliberately self-serving ways, that allow them to take advantage of the fact that we can’t talk about these hard problems in simple terms. They create their own “simple terms” that allow them to surreptitiously undermine the validity of reality-based thinking.

      In this case, they correctly identify the epistemic biases in modern science or medicine… but then they make the sneaky leap to imply that means science is no more or less valid than any other method of enquiry that has bias in it. And we can’t put up a solid argument against that unless and until we’re ready to admit the bias in science, yet still show it’s better than anything else despite that. We don’t know how to do that yet. We don’t have the language or the ready supply of stock arguments and catchphrases to make this kind of rebuttal easy and effective.

      I can’t condemn DeCoteau, precisely because we don’t have yet the language or terminology to talk coherently in this area. For all I know, she could be a staunch defender of reality-based thinking, but in her attempts to talk about the problem she cobbled together terminology from wherever she could find it… which might have included borrowing phrases or ideas from dishonest woo-peddlers. She might be using their terminology simply because it’s the only terminology on the subject there is, and it’s obscuring her real message.

      Once we have good, clear, coherent ways to talk about the problem, *THEN* we can begin to cast judgement on people who don’t use it, or misuse it, in an attempt at sneaking justification for bullshit in, or some other skullduggery. If we had clear language and DeCoteau didn’t use it, then fine, I could condemn her. In lieu of clear language, I can do no more than just sigh with exasperation that her possibly honest attempt wasn’t as good as I would have liked.

          > Can anyone give me an example of where science has been racist against aboriginal people?

      Are you fucking kidding me?

      I should probably ignore you, because it’s quite clear you’re just JAQing off, and no matter what evidence I bring up, you’ll find some technicality to dismiss it. But because it only took a 5 second google to turn up a pair of links – one for medicine and one for science in general:

      Of course, the *real* problem of racism in science is less about what happened and more about what *hasn’t* happened, such as that aboriginal populations have been effectively ignored in health studies, so we have no way of knowing if – for example – something in their genetics or biochemistry might have unexpected, dangerous interactions with medicines or treatments that pose no problem for people of European descent.

          > The alternative in aboriginal country is that a Creator placed aboriginal people in the Americas to be its custodian.

      Pointing out that aboriginal people can also be racist doesn’t have any bearing on the systemic racism that exists in science and medicine. That’s just a “tu quoque” fallacy.

  6. Lloyd

    Can anyone give me an example of where science has been racist against aboriginal people?

    I’ll give you what is sometimes considered to be an example in aboriginal country – the Bering Strait Theory. Do you really think the idea that we all originated in Africa is racist? I would call it anti-racist. Do you think the idea that humans entered the America’s through the Bering Strait is racist? What is the alternative?

    The alternative in aboriginal country is that a Creator placed aboriginal people in the Americas to be its custodian. Does that not sound like a religious belief to you? Is it not similar to the fundamentalist Christian belief that the world is only 6,000 years old? Frankly, I am glad that the humanists and other atheists challenge this kind of supernaturalist thinking. I’ll give you an example of the racism embedded in this religious belief. Some years ago a group of us were discussing this very issue and an exasperated Cree woman said “I wish all the whites would go back to where they came from,” and then she turned to my friend and I and said “and you Metis should go half way back.” We laughed. But people often attack science when their religiously held beliefs are threatened.

  7. Lloyd

    Indi gave the links to two stories which he claimed illustrated a scientific bias against aboriginal people. The first one was a study of racial profiling in a hospital. Hold on! Racial stereotyping by hospital workers is not an example of bias in science. In fact, a scientific method was used in uncovering it!

    The second example involved a 1940s study of the effects of vitamin supplements on aboriginal children going to residential schools. The study was unethical because it used controls who were malnourished. The study was not published in any reputable scientific journal and scientific associations, when they found out about the study, widely condemned it for both being unethical and poor science. This hardly constitutes a basis to condemn science.

    If you want to condemn science as being racist, you have to come up with an accepting scientific theory that fits the bill. I suggested one possibility that is put forward in the aboriginal community is the Bering Strait Theory. I demonstrated that not only is the Bering Strait theory not racist, the alternative that is put forward within aboriginal communities is.

    Since we have no examples of how science is racist against aboriginal people, we must conclude the term “epistemic racist” means something like “We have no evidence of racism but we think you are because you are white.” If you wish to flagellate yourselves because you are white and apparently competent at what you do, go ahead. Some of us find it amusing. But don’t think you are helping aboriginal people.

    1. Indi

      > I should probably ignore you, because it’s quite clear you’re just JAQing off, and no matter what evidence I bring up, you’ll find some technicality to dismiss it.

      Called it.

      > The study was not published in any reputable scientific journal and scientific associations, when they found out about the study, widely condemned it for both being unethical and poor science.

      Oh you are such a fucking liar. It took me less than two and a half minutes of googling to find out the results *were* published in *both* “Canadian Medical Association Journal” and “Canadian Public Health Journal”… several times between at least 1944 and 1948. And also that the experiments were *not* condemned until at least the mid-1960s (and even then, those particular experiments were not called out specifically, but the general practice was).

      You’re trying to play it down by implying that “the study” was done be some kind of rogue research group. Fuck you, you dishonest piece of shit. First of all, the studIES – plural – were done by different groups, scattered across Canada, over a decade. And all of them had the explicit blessing of the federal government. These weren’t rogue researchers doing studies that the scientific community dissociated themselves from.

      And they were not “widely condemned”. They weren’t condemned at all. Even in his 90s, one of the researchers was still insisting what he did was ethical. Apparently, back in those days it was up to the researchers themselves to monitor their experiments, and decide when they were crossing an ethical line. They never did. I’m going to turn your own game right back at you: You claim they were “widely condemned”? Fine then, show the fucking proof. I’ve been doing all the googling and providing all the evidence here; your turn. Show me an article or some other evidence of widespread condemnation at the time.

  8. Lloyd

    Touch angry aren’t we?

    I read the Toronto Star article you cited and it included the following:

    The details come from Ian Mosby, a post-doctorate at the University of Guelph, whose research focused on one of the most horrific aspects of government policy toward aboriginals during a time when rules for research on humans were just being adopted by the scientific community.

    Researching the development of health policy for a different research project, Mosby uncovered “vague references to studies conducted on ‘Indians’ ” and began to investigate.

    Government documents eventually revealed a long-standing, government-run experiment that came to span the entire country and involved at least 1,300 aboriginals, most of them children.

    It this study was so widely published then when why did the person who spilled the story have to rely on “vague references?’

    As you know, this story broke in 2013, and I did not hear one defense of the study on the media. Given Mosby’s statements, I did not believe the study had been published in a peer reviewed journal. So I went to the Canadian Public Health Journal but their published archives only go back to 2005. Since that time, however, they have published over 400 articles on aboriginal peoples. I read many of the abstracts. Some dealt with the effects of colonialism on health. I saw articles about traditional medicines, HIV, smoking, obesity, community development – I saw none that disparaged aboriginal people. To make your case that science is racist, you would need to go through the journals dealing with aboriginal health and do a detailed study. You have to show a pattern. Until that work is done my comment about epistemic racism being a canard stands.

    1. Indi

      > Touch angry aren’t we?

      It’s only natural to be frustrated when dealing with dishonest people.

      > It this study was so widely published then when why did the person who spilled the story have to rely on “vague references?’

      Your reading comprehension is lacking.

      Mosby did not “rely” on vague references. He *STUMBLED* on vague references while researching something else… and then investigated them. That’s exactly what it says in the friggin article.

      Anyway, that’s enough JAQing off from you. You made several false statements that you tried to pass off as truth, hoping that I’d just trust your authoritative sounding assertions… yet it turns out you apparently just read (badly) the article I linked to and then used your own ideological biases to guess at the implications while making them sound like you know them as facts. And the only reason you got caught was because *I* took the initiative to fact check you. But even after you were caught, you still won’t acknowledge that you lied. Instead you’re trying to deflect attention away from your dishonesty by doubling down on your opinionated assertions while doggedly ignoring or haphazardly dismissing all evidence that contradicts them.

      You: “We have no examples of how science is racist against aboriginal people!”
      Me: *shows a clear example of undeniable racism against aboriginals in science that went unnoticed for over half a century*
      You: “That doesn’t count! And anyway, now you need to go find a whole *bunch* of examples, and show a pattern!”

      Yeah, right, let me guess what’s next: I actually manage to put together a collection of examples that clearly illustrates a pattern, and then you dismiss that and demand a metastudy.

      I make a general claim about racism so you demand specific examples… I provide specific examples and now you don’t care about them and instead want evidence of the general claim. Fuck you and your moving goalposts; you have no intention of discussing these issues honestly.

  9. Lloyd

    The attack on science is based in postmodernist relativism. This is the notion that there is no such thing as objective reality. Thus science can be described as a “western male way of knowing” with the implication that there exists an “aboriginal male way of knowing” and an “aboriginal female way of knowing” with equal validity. I contend this is, in the end a racist view.

    Science is based on the notion that there is an objective reality, and we have the means to explore it. The postmodernist Gadamar said we are limited by our event horizon, but we can extend that horizon. What this means is that we can transcend our knowledge but we still are limited by bias. But bias is not the same thing as racism and it does not constitute a way of knowing. It does mean we could be biased in interpreting our results. For that reason, in academia, we are required to hold our raw data for seven years so that others can view it and offer their own interpretations. A second safeguard is science’s inherent conservationism. An experiment must be replicated many times to establish a “truth” and that truth is always tentative to the prospect of further data.

    Why is the different ways of knowing thesis dangerous? Because it eliminates the notion of objectivity. If all our beliefs are equally subjective, then truth is established by whoever shouts the loudest. Postmodernists have to resort to name-calling, personal aspersions, censorship and intimidating to give advantage to their ideas. It is no coincidence, IMHO, that the leading postmodernist of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, was a Nazi.

    1. Joe

      ‘The attack on science is based in postmodernist relativism”

      Well no.
      I am a postmodernist. And about as relativist as they get.
      I also like science, in the biblical way.
      Science is the pursuit of the objective, by subjective beings.

      Objective is an ideal, which is why science spends so much time using different ways of knowing to error check. Math says one thing, observation says another… Observe more, find better equations.

      In this case, the issue is between empiricism and traditionalism. Not relativism. Observation vs argument from authority, And both are used in science.

      As to Nazism: Ad hominem. Godwin. Bite me.

  10. Bubba Kincaid

    And then there are the questions of what knowledge the north american natives imparted to the early settlers that influenced the development of the scientific method.

    1. Bubba Kincaid

      Hmmmm…..from the cursory digging i’ve just done it seems native american culture, contrary to popular mischaracterization (impetus for these mischaracterizations being a whole nother ball of wax) was actually extraordinarily “scientifically” inclined and displayed a sophistication of skepticism likely more developed than their contemporary european counterparts, pre-contact.

      We should probably be careful about apotheosizing what likely amounts to nothing more than the relatively slightest of head starts in technological development enjoyed by “the West”, no matter what advantages the derived capabilities for wholesale slaughter therefrom may afford.


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