Decolonizing STEM & the TMT Controversy.


What do astronomers owe the communities in which they place their towering stargazers? And what if — as is the case for many of the native Hawaiians who value Mauna Kea for reasons immeasurable in earthly currency — the community doesn’t want what the scientists have to give?

~ Azeen Ghorayshi, “Astronomers Clash Over A Giant Telescope On A Sacred Hawaiian Mountain


The Thirty Meter Telescope is expected to cost $1.4 billion, and will be the world’s largest telescope, allowing us to peer deeper into the origins of the universe, and further for life beyond our own.

The TMT is slated to be constructed at the summit of Mauna Kea, one of the most sacred sites of the indigenous people of Hawai’i.


Much of the protest over the TMT received press and attention on social media this past spring, although it continues to today. For us, it sparks a deeper and troubling conversation about colonialism within not just astronomy, but within science. We tend to think of ourselves as focused on the pursuit of knowledge, perhaps even for the preservation or sustainability of our natural world, or the betterment of mankind.

Yet… how much of our research and our science expands into areas that are not ours? That ignores people and rights, for what we believe to be the greater good?


For a brief time doing field research, I lived in Hawai’i, Hilo-side on the Big Island. Every day, when not obscured by rain and clouds, the telescopes already on Mauna Kea were starkly visible. I knew it was sacred, up there at 14,000 feet, remember thinking what it must feel like, as a native Hawaiian, to be reminded every day that your land, your heritage, has been so easily commandeered by someone else.


For our next Diversity Journal club, please read up on the TMT controversy via this past post by Azeen Ghorayshi, check out a Storify on Dr. Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein’s discussion of the TMT, and take a gander at the #DecolonizeSTEM hashtag on the tweets (there’s also a great little intro to Colonialism in Science plus a reading list from Dr. Prescod-Weinstein here). Then, let’s discuss this coming Monday, 5 October at 2pm ET.

A few questions to consider, and please tweet out…

To start, a straightforward one…
Q1: Should the pursuit of knowledge (i.e. the #TMT) override the wishes of indigenous Hawaiians? Why or why not?

Q2: How does the #TMT controversy highlight colonialism in science and the pursuit of knowledge?

Q3: As scientist, should we consider the cultural consequences of our work? Why or why not?

Q4: Do you have specific examples of colonial attitudes in your field? How can we deal w these?

Q5: Does #DecolonizeSTEM encourage us to see science through a social justice lens?



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