In Defense of Ethnoscience

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack Newsletter:

“Ethnoscience” and “Indigenous science”, along with more fine-grained designations like “ethnomathematics”, “ethnoastronomy”, etc., are common terms used to describe both Indigenous systems of knowledge, as well as the scholarly study of these systems. These terms are contested among specialists, for reasons I will not address here. More recently they have also been swallowed up by the voracious beast that is our neverending culture war, and are now hotly contested by people who know nothing about them as well.

Thus in his New York Times column of May 13 entitled “This Is How Wokeness Ends”, David Brooks singles out ethnomathematics as one of the “fringe absurdities” produced by the new “soft totalitarian” ideology currently taking America by storm. Two days before that, Brian Leiter declared on his widely read philosophy blog that Indigenous science is “bad science” — this in response to another philosophy blog, Figs in Winter, that had recently deemed Indigenous science “pseudoscience” (Leiter thinks this latter category is unuseful, in view of the well-known demarcation problem in the philosophy of science). Now, Brooks has made a career out of modeling ignorance for intellectually soft and complacent Americans, while Leiter is a representative of an academic discipline that, at least in principle, encourages its members to pursue broad learning and to cultivate an interest in the world around them. So, though perhaps I should be inured to this sort of thing by now, I admit I found it astonishing to come across something so aggressively ignorant and incurious as his dismissal of Indigenous science.

More here.