Cotinis mutabilis


Photograph by John Trawick.

Photography Contest, Second Place.

Figeater beetle
Cotinis mutabilis – figeater beetle (green fruit beetle) feeding on the flower stalk of a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). Mr. Trawick writes, "C. mutabilis eats tomatoes and other fruits, so can be kind of a pest, though the brilliant green color is beautiful. Ponytail palms are not true palms, being more closely related to agave and yucca plants."

Vitalism in New Zealand science education (in Science Magazine)

[Screenshots of Science 2024 letters on Mātauranga Māori]
Screenshots of Science 2024 letters on Mātauranga Māori

Panda’s Thumb readers may recall my 2022 post on the controversy in New Zealand about the the NZ Ministry of Education sticking the concept of “mauri” into the high school Chemistry/Biology curriculum.

As I said at the time, this content was a big problem scientifically, as it was inserting vitalism into basic chemistry. I also made a prediction which some were skeptical of, that it would eventually have to be taken out. In October 2022, Paul Kilmartin, the chemistry professor whose talk I quoted, published a detailed analysis of the issue in the journal Chemistry in New Zealand. Richard Dawkins and others eventually commented. In early 2024, Science published a Policy Forum article, by Black and Tyliankankis, “Teach Indigenous knowledge alongside science,” which cited Dawkins’s critique and rebutted it by proclaiming the virtues of the Ministry of Education’s policy of “Mana ōrite: equal status for mātauranga Māori.” However, Black and Tyliankankis left out any discussion of Dawkins’s mention of vitalism, or indeed any discussion of the controversy over the mauri/vitalism issue.

I viewed this as pretty misleading, especially because, in late 2022, the Ministry of Education’s mana ōrite policy began to come crashing down, at least for science education. Mauri and a variety of other material was stripped out, the schedule for the rollout of the NCEA Level 1 science curriculum (15-16 year olds) was pushed back by years (it looks like the whole approach may be being scrapped by the new government, elected in late 2023; NCEA Levels 2 and 3 have been pushed back by several more years), and several other scandals involving the science curriculum reform hit the news in 2023-2024.

To inform Science’s readership about some of the problems, I wrote a response letter which has just been published. Another response was also published by a group of New Zealand scientists and academics (Adhar et al. 2024), along with a reply from Black and Tylianakis.

I paste the final text of my letter below.

(Asides: (1) Unfortunately, some copyediting misadventure occurred after my last look at the proof; I clarify after the main text. (2) I have added the full references for google-ability. (3) If it had been up to me, I would not have italicized “mauri” except for the first non-quoted instance. I follow my preference below.)

Vitalism in New Zealand science education

11 Jul 2024
Vol 385, Issue 6705
p. 152

DOI: 10.1126/science.ado6728

A. Black and J. M. Tylianakis ("Teach Indigenous knowledge alongside science," Policy Forum, 9 February, p. 592) give an overly rosy picture of New Zealand's policy of "mana ōrite," or equal status for mātauranga Māori, in science education, which they say teaches Indigenous knowledge "alongside" science rather than "as" science. They suggest that this policy avoids problems such as teaching creationist myths in science class. However, the New Zealand Ministry of Education placed supernatural content directly into science and math curricula with no clarification that it was nonscientific material.

Ardea herodias herodias


Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography Contest, Winner.

Great Blue Heron
Ardea herodias herodias – great blue heron with red-bellied watersnake Nerodia erythrogaster. Mr. Denelsbeck writes, "Late afternoon on World Migratory Bird Day last year, having little luck all day, my brother spotted this heron and we realized it had a capture. The snake was still writhing as we attempted to get close enough for a clean shot, and managed it just before the heron flew off with its prey. It's challenging enough for a heron to get a large fish in the right position to swallow whole – I imagine it's quite a bit harder with something as wickedly aggressive as a watersnake, though we missed that action. There are now four recognized subspecies of great blue herons, with the possibility of A. h. wardi creeping into the area, but this is much more likely A. h. herodias, as noted. Canon 7D, Tamron SP 150-600 at 600mm, handheld, cropped."

We received only around a dozen submissions this year, and all were very good indeed. In the past, we have polled our readers, but participation in the polls has dropped off. We therefore decided, consistently with Rules 8 and 12, to choose the winners ourselves rather than poll our readers. In this endeavor, we enlisted the assistance of our Wife and Harshest Critic, Deanna, and also our Son the Geek, David. Deanna grew up making dye transfers, and David is a formidable photographer himself. The one thing we three agreed upon was to place Al Denelsbeck’s photograph of what David called “sad snake, happy bird” first. We will announce the runner-up and the bronze medalist, so to speak, in subsequent weeks.

Mr. Denelsbeck, who blogs here, will be offered his choice between Why Intelligent Design Fails, A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, edited by Taner Edis and me (and autographed by me); and What’s Gotten Into You by Dan Levitt, generously contributed by NCSE. The runner-up will be offered the remaining book.

Steatoda sp.


** Reminder to enter the Photography Contest, and thanks to those who already have done so. Entries close on July 5. **

Spider with egg sac
Steatoda sp. – false black widow spider with egg sac, Boulder, Colorado, June, 2024. Bugguide lists several species that are found here in Colorado, sometimes without pictures. If anyone can identify the species, I will gladly modify the post, besides of course giving you credit. I will also keep an eye on the egg sac and notify you if my porch becomes crawling with spiders.

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