At The Optimist Daily, we often feature stories about scientific discoveries that help improve our understanding of the biosphere. We are also big fans of inclusivity, particularly when it shows an appreciation of Indigenous wisdom. That’s why we wanted to feature this delightful account of a couple of iconoclastic scientists and their Maori co-authors of a recent science paper describing a new species.
In 2017, California Academy of Sciences ichthyologist Graham Short and collaborator Tom Trnski of the Auckland Museum identified a new species of pygmy pipehorse (a cousin to the wonderful seahorse) that is endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. The researchers were excited to write about the find in the relevant scientific journals but sought to incorporate local knowledge in the task. The iwi (Maori tribe) Ngatiwai held mana whenau / kaitiaki/ stewardship of the area where the pipehorse was identified, and thus the researchers reached out to the iwi to name the new species of pipehorse and help describe it in the written language te Reo Māori.
In any given bioregion, Indigenous inhabitants are the natural historians with the most knowledge of the area. The Indigenous language is therefore the most authoritative scientific descriptive language that could be used. Thus, the article Short and Trnski authored describing the finding included detailed descriptions in both English and te Reo. However, the editors of the European science journal that was planning to publish the research took it upon themselves to cut out all the Indigenous words. We only use “major” languages in our publications, they explained when the authors complained about the edit.
For Short and Trnski, the nuanced language of the te Reo descriptions was an essential part of the paper, and they withdrew the article. They did so despite the extra work it would take to stand their ground and the time it would take to find a new publisher. Happily, the paper found a new home in Ichthyology & Herpetology, which was delighted to incorporate the te Reo in the manuscript.
Source study: BioOne Complete – A New Genus and Species of Pygmy Pipehorse from Taitokerau Northland, Aotearoa New Zealand
Click on the source link below to read the full account by a friend of The Optimist Daily, Bob Beth, in his lovely “Dispatch from Down Under”.
Image source: Irene Middleton