Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Introduction to this Website:

The introduction of Maori superstition into New Zealand scholarship, together with false claims of colonial wrong-doing continuing to the present day, spreads grievance among Maori and builds racial animosity.  Two talks at the Wellington campus of the University of Otago have brought this sharply into focus, and three documents presented here consider this worrying trend.  
First is a copy of an article for the Otago Daily Times published on of Thursday, 5 June 2014.  Second is a comment on the impact of a policy that demands inclusion of superstition in university scholarship and a review of some aspects of pre-contact and colonial New Zealand.  Third is a comment on the paper claiming racism in health care, published in the journal BMC Public Health.  

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This appeared in the Otago Daily Times of Thursday, 5 June 2014.

Racism claims not supported by facts

Claims of serious racism in the New Zealand health system are disputed by John Robinson, of Wellington.
AT the University of Otago Wellington campus I recently listened to a claim of serious racism in the New Zealand health system, suggesting Maori report experiencing significant racial discrimination and poorer health care.  This is heady stuff, not to be taken lightly.  If true, we should all be concerned.
However, a careful study of the research shows the claim was not established by the facts presented.
The study considered perceptions of treatment and well-being with questions such as “Have you ever been treated unfairly (for example, kept waiting or treated differently) by a health professional (that is, a doctor, nurse, dentist etc) because of your ethnicity in New Zealand?”
The researchers were unaware of the uncertainty of what had been measured, which could be either the attitudes of different groups of Maori or the attitudes of health workers.
The two groups whose experiences and views were compared are those who considered themselves to be Maori and those who thought they had been recognised as Maori by others.  The two groups are similar to the self-reported measures of sole Maori and mixed Maori in the Census, and the reported differences (racism perceived by 3.4% of those seen as European and 5.6% seen as Maori) tell a familiar story of a well-established pattern of increased differences with greater Maori identity. 
An attempt was made to estimate the relative importance of a limited selection of social factors using a standard mathematical process.  Many contributing factors were not included and the basic requirements of the mathematical procedure (I have a doctorate in mathematics), that the relationships are linear and that the causal variables are independent, were not satisfied.  The pretence of scientific objectivity was meaningless.
Despite the study's limitations, it leapt to the conclusion of racism among health
professionals.  “Results suggest that, in a race conscious society, the way people's ethnicities are viewed by others is associated with tangible health risk or advantage, and this is consistent with an understanding of racism as a health determinant.”
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, and claims of colonial wrongdoing are now all too readily accepted, steadily building a picture that supports calls for separate and unequal treatment together with a return to traditional Maori culture.
A further talk continued the theme of damage to Maori health, suggesting the importance of Te Reo Maori as fundamental to health and well-being.  This was akin to a pleasant Sunday School revivalist meeting, as we introduced to the womb
of the universe and told of the importance of tapu as a guiding principle of life, of matauranga with a list of gods of the universe and rongo, the principle of peace and harmony.  Traditional Maori culture was presented as having all the good attributes of the best of Christianity.
Facts are not required for such myth-making.  The reality is that Maori life before the Treaty was dominated by vengeful utu, when intertribal war reduced the population by about one-third in just 40 years.
Colonisation put an end to the killing and freed the many slaves.  The rapid population decline resulting from decades of war and social disruption, with a lack
of young people and of women, steadily reduced until numbers were growing by the end of the century, when Maori leaders were educating their people in modern hygiene and medicine. 
All Maori Members of Parliament voted for the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, to curb the ``baneful effect'' of tohunga such as Rua Kenana, whose activities were causing concern among so many chiefs.
It is important to make a careful choice of what is best in traditional Maori culture.
The Maori Members of Parliament made a choice in 1907 when they supported much of Maori culture and acted against those harmful aspects that threatened the well-being of their people.
A choice must be made now whether to turn a blind eye on the revisionism that writes new and inventive stories and demands race-based separatism supported by false research.
Claims of ethnic discrimination produce a harmful social impact.  The atmosphere at the talk on racism as a health determinant was antagonistic towards critical comment. 
After several efforts for discussion with the researchers were rebuffed, I prepared a commentary (falseracism.blogspot.co.nz).

There is no evidence whatsoever of racism in New Zealand health care.  The claims of harm due to colonisation and continuing racism imparts a distorted education on the next generation and, if taken seriously, will lead to a choice of health care based on false premises. 
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From tribal society to modern civilisation

 

A Maori world view to guide scholarship

The University of Otago has set down a framework to present a more cohesive approach to Maori strategy across all campuses of the University.   The intention is to “Integrate into existing programmes and develop new quality programmes in Te Ao Maori, te reo Maori and other robust kaupapa Maori options.” [1]  This is a sweeping requirement as Te Ao Maori means ‘a Maori world view’.
The consequences of such policies are evident.  A presentation at the Wellington campus of Otago University supported that superstition and calls to return to ancient gods. [2]  A previous unsupported claim of racism in health care had received uncritical acceptance (other than my own comment). [3]
This is part of a national movement to make matauranga Maori an essential factor in qualifications and programmes, including Matauranga Maori Evaluative Quality Assurance processes for the Education Qualifications Authority.  Matauranga Maori is a term for a body of knowledge that was first brought to Aotearoa by Polynesian ancestors of present day Maori and can be defined as ‘the knowledge, comprehension, or understanding of everything visible and invisible existing in the universe’.  Landcare Research  explains that matauranga Maori can be defined as ‘the knowledge, comprehension, or understanding of everything visible and invisible existing in the universe’, and is often used synonymously with wisdom. In the contemporary world, the definition is usually extended to include present–day, historic, local, and traditional knowledge; systems of knowledge transfer and storage; and the goals, aspirations and issues from an indigenous perspective.  “Maori practice collective decision–making at all levels of their society.  A consensus (kotahitanga) is reached following robust discussion among individuals, families and communities, with the debate often including social, cultural, spiritual, economic and political dimensions to the environmental issue under discussion.”
This introduces a spiritual dimension mysticism as a basic element of New Zealand scholarship, including science.  The benefits of modern knowledge as a replacement for primitive superstition were once recognised.  “The greatest factor which retards the progress of the Maori in health matters, is the influence of the past”, where “disease was supernatural visitation” and tohungas “a medium between people and gods”, a form of witchcraft. [4]

Pre-European tribal culture

Claims of a healthy and peaceful Maori culture before the arrival of Europeans (as in [2]) are contradicted by the evidence ([5], [6] chapter ‘Maori at the time of meeting’).  There was a population explosion during the first few centuries after the arrival of Polynesians, in a land of plenty.  Once the moa were eaten and extinct, and seal numbers much reduced, the diet was poor. 
When skeletal and comparative evidence of mortality is combined with fertility estimates for the precontact Maori population of New Zealand, the rate of population growth is found to be too low to populate New Zealand within the time constraints of its prehistoric sequence, the probable founding population size, and the probable population size at contact. ([7], I quote this reference because my study of the data led me to the same conclusion)  The estimated completed fertility rate derived for prehistoric Maori is near the lowest recorded for living anthropological populations, and a fit with the evidence of fertility and life expectancy suggests a population decrease of 0.4% a year, a decline by about one-third in a century in the centuries before 1800. 
It may be that the population was in fact steady rather than declining, but the evidence certainly provides no support for the picture of a healthy people.

Mass intertribal warfare

Traditional Maori intertribal warfare was evident in the many fortifications protecting against rival tribes.  The introduction of muskets resulted in a blow-out of fighting and killing.  “Of an estimated 100,000 – 150,000 Maori living in New Zealand at or around 1810, by 1840 probably somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 had been killed, enslaved or forced to migrate as a result of the wars (working from estimates generated by Ian Pool and others).  In the main that occurred in the short space of twenty-five years from 1815 to 1840.” ([8] page 17)
Demographer Pool made the absurd and exaggerated claim that mortality resulting from the intertribal wars is “a minor factor” since those killed would have died eventually anyway. “The ethnographer Percy Smith was responsible for the claim that there were 80,000 deaths over the first third of the nineteenth century, from both direct and indirect mortality caused by warfare.  Yet over 100,000 persons could have been expected to have died over this 30-year period in the ‘normal’ course of events, with or without wars.” ([9] page 44, [6] page 68)
In a thorough exploration of casualties in the early 19th century intertribal wars, historian Rutherford introduced a more reasonable estimate.  “The old style, pre-musket-era tribal wars appear to have destroyed not less than 2,000 people in each five-year period, or say 400 a year, a rate of loss (about 2.5 per 1,000) which presumably the Maoris could stand without appreciable diminution of their total population.”  ([10], [6] page 64)
This has been taken into account in my own calculations where the loss of life in battle (43,600, from Ruthford [10]) was discounted by 0.25% a year (11,365) in order to account for an assumed ability of the population to sustain some losses during a period of war.  The estimate is then of a population decline of 32,325 attributed directly to war losses.  An additional decline of 15,000 was due to the disruption of the society and the resultant negative demographic distribution. ([6] page 66)
The disruption referred to includes a shortage of young and women, and poorer living conditions (often moving from dry to damp areas nearer crops with poorer sanitation, hiding from attack [4]), which together provided the conditions for a long-term demographic collapse.
Disease is accounted for by basing calculations on the observed population decline as measured in the census counts after 1857, which include any such losses.  I have been unable to find any satisfactory collation of deaths due to disease, and (as noted above) a reasonably healthy population would be able to sustain the loss of 2,000 people in a five-year period

Colonial and national government

The assumption of considerable wrong done to Maori people implicit in discussions of the impact of colonisation in health is incorrect.  A comprehensive study of Maori health and government policy made the point that “more extensive health provision was made for Maori between 1840 and 1940 then has been generally recognised.” ([11] page 15)
Much of health funding came from rates, which were not paid by Maori, and this created very real difficulties for many regions.  However hospitals were “open to Maori equally”.
It is worth thinking of this treatment of rates payments.  In many societies rates have been charged to all land owners as a means of both pressuring people to get work and join the cash economy, and taking land away when rates were not paid.  Despite the considerable recent rhetoric claiming land-hungry settlers, that was NOT done in New Zealand.  Meanwhile the same health care was provided to Maori as to others, always at no charge for those who could not pay[11].  That unequal treatment in favour of Maori was recognised by Apirana Ngata. 
In times past, rates were not levied on Maori lands. This was not be­cause of the Treaty of Waitangi.  Likewise in days gone by Maori lands were not affected by taxation and again it was not because of any provisions in the Treaty. The Treaty had provided for “all rights and privileges of British subjects”.  If the law had adhered to the spirit of the Treaty, Maori land would have borne the burden of rates and taxation long ago.  It was in the year 1894 that Maori lands were subjected to rates and then it was half of the rate and it was not until 1910 that full rates as for European lands, were levied.
It was only in the year 1893 that Maori lands were taxed, it was a light tax, half of the tax payable by the Pakeha.  However, only leasehold Maori lands were taxable. It was in the year 1917 that a heavier tax was levied on leased Maori land equivalent to half the rate of taxation on European lands. …
The Pakeha authorities could see the Maori back could not carry the burden because of inexperience and general confusion in his own affairs and for this reason the impact of this part of Pakeha law was to be made gradual.  
‘A bird cannot fly without feathers’. …
We cannot grasp the Treaty as a shield to use against rating and taxa­tion. It is the leniency of the law which has spared us.” [12]

References

[1] University of Otago, Maori Strategic Framework 2007-2012.
[2] Te Huirangi Waikerepuru, Te Reo Maori: pivotal for health & well-being, University of Otago, Wellington, May 2014.  A talk about the impact of colonisation in health and the pivotal importance of Te Reo Maori in physical, cultural and spiritual restoration of Maori that is fundamental to health and well-being.
[3] Ricci Harris and Donna Cormack, Racism as a health determinant: implications for Maori health and inequalities, Eru Pomare Maori Health Research Centre, University of Otago, Wellington, talk December 2013.
[4] Peter Buck, Medicine among the Maoris, thesis.  This is available in many libraries, including the Wellington City Library.
[5] Philip Houghton 1980, The first New Zealanders, Hodder and Stoughton
[6] John Robinson 2012, When two cultures meet, the New Zealand experience (Tross Publishing)
 [7] Alexandra Brewis, Maureen Molloy, and Douglas Su’e’on 1990, Modeling the Prehistoric Maori Population, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 81:343-356
[8] Crosby R D 1999, The Musket Wars - A History of Inter-Iwi Conflict 1806-45. Reed, Auckland 
[9] Ian Pool 1991, Te iwi Maori, Auckland University Press
[10] Rutherford J D, Note on Maori casualties in their tribal wars 1801-1840James Rutherford papers, 1926-1963.  MSS & Archives A-42, Box 16, Folder 6, Special Collections The University of Auckland Library
[11] Derek Dow 1999,  Maori health and government policy 1840-1940, Victoria University. 362
[12] Ngata A 1922.  The Treaty of Waitangi, an explanation, by The Hon. Sir Apirana Ngata MA, LLB, LitD.  First published in 1922, with a translation into English by M R Jones.  Published again by the Maori Purposes Fund Board with footnotes added.

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The following note was published as a comment for the journal of the London-based open access publisher, BioMed Central, BMC Public Health, where the paper on Racism as a health determinant: implications for Maori health and inequalities had been published.  It is a shorter version than a first draft that was rejected “as not being suitable for publication”.  There was no reason for this, as it satisfies the journal policy, being not indecent, offensive, or contain negative content of a personal, racial, ethnic mature.  The two sections included here with a yellow background were removed at the request of the journal.

Their article in the journal, BMC Public Health  is at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/844 and my comment at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/844/comments.


Claimed racial discrimination in the New Zealand health system; a rebuttal
Dr John Robinson

This paper ascribes ethnic differences in perceptions of health as due to racial discrimination against Maori.
“Within New Zealand and internationally, there is recognition of the important role of racism as a basic underlying cause of ethnic inequalities in health”
“In New Zealand, Māori report experiencing disproportionately higher racial discrimination at an individual level that has been linked to a range of adverse health outcomes, heightened health risk and poorer health care as well as contributing to ethnic health inequalities between Māori and Pākehā (European).” 
Results of this study suggest that, in a race conscious society, the way people’s ethnicities are viewed by others appears to have tangible health risk or advantage, and this is consistent with an understanding of racism as a health determinant. Dismantling the structures of racism is complex yet vital in our efforts to achieve a fair society that facilitates equitable outcomes in health and other social indicators and also enables self-determination of priorities and solutions for Māori.” [1]
It would be highly worrying if this assertion of different treatment based on racial prejudice in the health system were to hold.  It is a serious charge against health professionals.  However, the analysis is faulty and this is not so. 
The study considered perceptions of treatment and well-being as in answers to questions such as:
 “Have you ever been treated unfairly (for example, kept waiting or treated differently) by a health professional (that is, a doctor, nurse, dentist etc) because of your ethnicity in New Zealand?” ([2] Question 5.10)
There is considerable uncertainty here of what is measured.  While it is assumed here that the attitudes of health workers determine the replies, it may well be the attitudes of different groups of Maori that are tested, as some will be more ready to perceive poorer treatment based on ethnicity than others.  Given the current debate in New Zealand, with a considerable emphasis on claims of past wrongs and suggestions of a constitution involving separation by race in a partnership model of governance, this is highly likely.
Such moves towards ethnic separation are evident in this research, which was carried out in the Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare Maori Health Research Centre, as well as the antagonism towards a non-Maori (myself) raising pertinent questions regarding the analysis at a public meeting. An assumption of past harm and continuing unequal treatment is clearly expressed in this paper.
“Internationally, there is substantial evidence of unfair inequalities in health between ethnic groups and, for many countries with histories of colonization, inequalities between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples within the same territory (e.g. New Zealand, Canada, and Australia).  In New Zealand, there are significant and long-standing inequalities in a range of health outcomes, risk factors and healthcare between Māori (indigenous peoples) and Pākehā (European). … Within New Zealand and internationally, there is recognition of the important role of racism as a basic underlying cause of ethnic inequalities in health.” [1]
The claim of “unfair inequalities in health between ethnic groups”, either now or in the past, with “racism as a basic underlying cause of ethnic inequalities in health” is incorrect.  In fact “more extensive health provision was made for Maori between 1840 and 1940 then has been generally recognised.”  Although much of health funding came from rates, which were not paid by Maori (and this created very real difficulties for many regions), hospitals were open to Maori equally, then as today. [3]
The two groups whose experiences and views were compared are those who considered themselves to be Maori (“how you classify your own ethnicity”, self-identified ethnicity) and those who thought that they had been recognised as Maori by others (“how other people usually classify your ethnicity in New Zealand”, socially-assigned ethnicity).  Since the socially-assigned ethnicity is based largely on appearance, that group will consist of those with the greater degree of inherited characteristics (most who report themselves as Maori are of mixed ethnicity).  The two groups are similar to the self-reported measures of sole Maori and mixed Maori in the Census, and the reported differences tell a familiar story of a well-established pattern of increased differences with greater Maori identity.  It may be noted that the percentage of those who perceive racism in health treatment (3.4% of those seen as European and 5.6% seen as Maori) are small, with a considerable majority reporting no such perception.  There is no comparison with perceptions of different treatment by other ethnic groups.
The authors recognise that others have observed differences between differently defined groups of Maori.
“Other studies have also examined health and social differentials within the Māori population and shown that health and socioeconomic differences exist for different Māori populations based on their self-identified ethnicity.  For example, people who identify solely as Māori have been shown to have more disadvantaged socioeconomic status and worse health than people who identify as Māori and European”
They do not, however, consider the many possible reasons for differing health outcomes.  Statistics New Zealand, in comments on differentials in life expectancy, points out that the Māori/non-Māori differential partly reflects different rates of diabetes and smoking, as well as socio-economic differences. [4]  Although there were a number of questions concerning smoking in the survey ([2], Questions 3.19-3.27), smoking was not considered as a possible factor here.
Contributing factors may lie outside the scope of the questionnaire and the full picture is complex.  Most analysts are cautious in reaching a conclusion, as shown by economist Brian Easton in an overview of ethnic differences, where he suggests social contacts (a feature of Maori society, not defined by the actions of others) as a contributing factor. 
“Econometric work suggests that only one third of the difference between Maori and non-Maori employment participation can be explained by the personal characteristics measured in the population census.”  There may be other personal characteristics not measured, which also have an influence.  “However it seems likely that the most important determinants of the differences are social variables, summarized in the concept of ‘maoriness’. A possible practical example is that it is known that the most important source of job recruitment involves family and friends.  The Maori is handicapped in doing this because of their lower employment rates, but also possibly because the Maori network is not as geared as the non- Maori family to carry out this task.” [5]
Easton finds that his chosen variables provide a fit for just part of the difference.  He then labels the remainder ‘maoriness’ and seeks a reason for that part of the difference.  The authors here carry out a similar analysis and assume that it is a consequence of racial discrimination.  One problem here is with the understanding of just what is being measured and of the full range of possible contributory factors.  Another is with the validity of the analysis on which they rely.
The data was analysed to consider whether differences could be due to a limited selection of socioeconomic experiences using “Survey analysis based procedures” and concluded that “In multivariable analysis, Maori who were socially assigned as European-only had a significant health advantage.”
There are serious limitations to the application of logistic regression.  The choice of independent variables to provide a best fit for a dependent variable may be incomplete, leaving out key causal factors.  The methodology assumes linear relationships across the whole range, which is often far from the case.   And the set of independent variables must not be highly related.  The process can handle a degree of covariance, with some relationships among the independent variables, but when those variables are highly interrelated the process can be unstable and a small change in measures may result in a significant change in the output.  Given the complex and non-linear relationships among socioeconomic experiences (the various social variables such as health, education, income, employment and demographics are clearly interrelated), neither requirement is satisfied.
Here the whole remainder, left after a questionable analysis for a limited range of socio-economic variables, is labeled racism, ignoring the lack of supporting evidence and the many possible alternatives. 
The history of New Zealand is of considerable cultural shifts, and many remaining differences are the consequence of past cultural practices.  Maori are descended from a Polynesian people who lost contact with the mass of humanity when they moved away from islands off the coast of Asia to Remote Oceania some 3,200 years ago.  Since the coming of Europeans and others from all parts of the earth they have moved from a Stone Age tribal culture to share the opportunities and life experiences of a modern developed nation. [6]  Those gaps can best be understood by a thorough, robust and comprehensive study of past experiences, social statistics and associated analyses, and not by jumping to a simplistic assumption of racism, in the past and continuing in the twenty-first century.
This comment is made following the refusal of the research team to meet and consider the limitations of this study, despite my many efforts, which included an interview with the Dean of the Wellington Campus of Otago University. 
This paper makes an unproven claim of racism among health professionals, that “the way people’s ethnicities are viewed by others appears to have tangible health risk or advantage”.  The claim of racism on the part of health professionals is a serious charge that is in no way justified, and not to be countenanced in the absence of definitive proof. 

References
  1. Harris R, Cormack D, Stanley J. 2013:The relationship between socially-assigned ethnicity, health and experience of racial discrimination for Maori: analysis of the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey. BMC Public Health 13:84
  2. Ministry of Health: 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey Adult Questionnaire. 
  3. Dow D 1999:  Maori health and government policy 1840-1940. Victoria University.
  4. Statistics New Zealand 2009: New Zealand Life Tables: 200507
  5. Easton B: The Maori in The Labour Force.  In, Labour, Employment and Work in New Zealand 1994 (pages 206-213).  Edited by Morrison P S. Victoria University of Wellington.
  6. Robinson J L 2013: A plague of people.  Tross Publishing



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This is my first draft, which was refused by the Journal.

Claimed racial discrimination in the New Zealand health system; a rebuttal


Dr John Robinson


A recent paper ascribes ethnic differences in perceptions of health as due to racial discrimination for Maori. [1]

“Within New Zealand and internationally, there is recognition of the important role of racism as a basic underlying cause of ethnic inequalities in health”

“In New Zealand, Māori report experiencing disproportionately higher racial discrimination at an individual level that has been linked to a range of adverse health outcomes, heightened health risk and poorer health care as well as contributing to ethnic health inequalities between Māori and Pākehā (European).” 

Results of this study suggest that, in a race conscious society, the way people’s ethnicities are viewed by others appears to have tangible health risk or advantage, and this is consistent with an understanding of racism as a health determinant. Dismantling the structures of racism is complex yet vital in our efforts to achieve a fair society that facilitates equitable outcomes in health and other social indicators and also enables self-determination of priorities and solutions for Māori.”

That study forms part of the considerable research into the different social experiences of Maori.  The particular feature of note is the conclusion reached, that social measures may provide evidence of racism, with reference to a definition of racism as, “a system consisting of structures, policies, practices, and norms) that structures opportunity and assigns value based on …the way people look [racially]”.

It would be highly worrying if the assertion of different treatment based on racial prejudice in the health system were to hold.  However, since the analysis is faulty, this is not so, and the impression of racism – a serious complaint made against the health profession – must be countered.


The survey population


The two groups whose experiences and views were compared are those who considered themselves to be Maori (“how you classify your own ethnicity”, self-identified ethnicity) and those who thought that they had been recognised as Maori by others (“how other people usually classify your ethnicity in New Zealand”, socially-assigned ethnicity).  Since the socially-assigned ethnicity is based largely on appearance, that group will consist of those with the greater degree of inherited characteristics.  These measures may be related to the self-reported measures of sole Maori and mixed Maori in the Census.

“Other studies have also examined health and social differentials within the Māori population and shown that health and socioeconomic differences exist for different Māori populations based on their self-identified ethnicity.  For example, people who identify solely as Māori have been shown to have more disadvantaged socioeconomic status and worse health than people who identify as Māori and European”

The reported differences tell a familiar story, of a well-established pattern of increased gaps with greater Maori identity.  This is as expected since many mixed Maori have considerable non-Maori identity and associated links to other cultures.  There may be a number of social, historical and economic reasons for that pattern, quite apart from the assumed racism.


Data analysis


The data was analysed to consider whether differences could be due to a selection of socioeconomic experiences using “Survey analysis based procedures” and concluded that “In multivariable analysis, Maori who were socially assigned as European-only had a significant health advantage.”

There are serious limitations to the application of mathematical techniques such as logistic regression.  The methodology may be used to examine the dependence of one dependent variable on a set of other independent variables, and assumes linear relationships across the whole range.  Given the complex and non-linear relationships among socioeconomic experiences (the various social variables such as health, education, income, employment and demographics are clearly interrelated), neither requirement is satisfied.

There is considerable uncertainty due to the unproven assumption of linearity.  In addition, with covariance, when dependent variables are interrelated, the resultant output will be unstable and untrustworthy.

When makings use of approximation techniques, it is essential to understand the limitations and whether any inexact methodology may be inappropriate, providing only a misleading appearance of quantitative accuracy.  The multivariable linear algebra that is a part of the methodology involves matrix inversion.  This is possible so long as the determinant of a matrix is non-zero.  The process can handle a degree of covariance, with some relationships among the independent variables, but when those variables are highly interrelated the process can be unstable and a small change in measures may result in a significant change in the output.

Applications of linear regression to social measures have proved to be unstable, with in some cases the addition of a variable giving a poorer fit.  Despite the failure of the data sets to conform to the mathematical requirements, linear regression is frequently used by economists and sociologists.  Colleagues at the Applied Mathematics Division (DSIR) told me that their efforts to point out that this was an inappropriate use of methodology, by government departments including Treasury, were ignored.

Economist Brian Easton provides a useful overview of ethnic differences.  He places some reliance on the methodology but is cautious in reaching a conclusion.

“Econometric work suggests that only one third of the difference between Maori and non-Maori employment participation can be explained by the personal characteristics measured in the population census.

The report acknowledges there may be other personal characteristics not measured, which also have an influence.

However it seems likely that the most important determinants of the differences are social variables, summarized in the concept of ‘maoriness’. A possible practical example is that it is known that the most important source of job recruitment involves family and friends.  The Maori is handicapped in doing this because of their lower employment rates, but also possibly because the Maori network is not as geared as the non- Maori family to carry out this task.” [2]

There can be many reasons for ethnic differences in social variables and many are outside the range considered in the paper under consideration.  Easton suggests network connections and Statistics New Zealand, in comments on differentials in life expectancy, points out that the Māori/non-Māori differential partly reflects different rates of diabetes and smoking, as well as socio-economic differences. [3]  There were a number of questions smoking in the survey ([4], Questions 3.19-3.27) but smoking was not considered as a possible factor here.


Snapshot or time series


In the social sciences a measurement taken at one point in time can be misleading; it is important to determine whether any ethnic difference is new, is persistent, or is a part of a convergent trend.  The history of New Zealand is of considerable cultural shifts, and many gap are the consequence of past cultural practices. 

This is a remarkable story.  Maori are descended from a Polynesian people who lost contact with the mass of humanity when they moved away from islands off the coast of Asia to Remote Oceania some 3,200 years ago. [5]  Since the coming of Europeans and others from all parts of the earth they have moved from a Stone Age tribal culture to share the opportunities and life experiences of a modern developed nation.  Despite a couple of centuries of living together, and much intermarriage, significant differences remain in social measures between their descendents (mostly of mixed ethnicity) and others.  Those gaps can best be understood by a thorough a robust and comprehensive study of past experiences, social statistics and associated analyses.

The post-war move to the cities, with the greater integration of Maori into all aspects of New Zealand society, coincided with a considerable improvement in many social measures. For example, Maori post neonatal mortality reduced from 78 deaths per 1,000 births in 1943 to around 10 after 1975; life expectancy at birth improved from 44 years in 1924 (65 for non-Maori) to 69 years in 1982 (75 for non-Maori).  A one-year consideration of ethnic imbalance fails to recognize that improvement.  Measurements taken at one point provide a snap-shot only in a developing story and such incomplete information may produce a misleading narrative. 

Given the considerable range of explanatory factors it is important to make a careful choice of what to consider or emphasise when reaching conclusions on an analysis such as this.


Persistent gaps


The limitations of linear regression is just one issue in the search for explanatory factors of gaps (differences in many socioeconomic experiences) continuing today in a complex situation that is changing over time.  Many researchers have studied information from many sectors in search of understanding (as Easton noted above).

My own wide-ranging consultancy research into Maori experiences and expectations for many organizations has been based principally on the collation and analysis of social statistics, in a period from 1986 (for Professor Ngatata Love, Dean, Faculty of Business Studies, Massey University) to 2002 (for Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit, Stout Centre, Victoria University, a project for the Forestry Rental Trust), and has included work for the Department of Maori Affairs and Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development).

It is important to consider whether the persistent gaps between Maori and others in social experiences may be in part due to racial attitudes and behavior, to racism (prejudice based on a belief in the superiority of a particular race or antagonism towards other races) against Maori.   In sixteen years of research and work with a number of organizations dealing with Maori affairs I had found no evidence of this; rather there are many projects providing additional resources to Maori.

I was then interested in a suggestion of significant racism as a determinant and attended a presentation on “Racism as a health determinant: implications for Maori health and inequalities” at the Wellington campus of the University of Otago.  The evidence was far from convincing.

I was concerned with the claim that racism had been suggested since (1) the research did not in fact identify racism and (2) unsupported claims of ethnic discrimination have a harmful social impact.  Indeed the atmosphere at that talk was such that a comment was met with considerable antagonism, and I felt uncomfortable raising a genuine question concerning the methodology.

I then approached the Dean.  Since the reply was inadequate my response was forthright.

“I have made a peer review of this research and found that the paper does not meet acceptable academic standards.  You have said that ‘as a University, we welcome discussion and debate’.  I do too, and I repeat my request for such discussion and debate.  I request an appointment to discuss this issue with you.” [6]

That brought an offer to meet and we had a most useful discussion following which I asked the Director of the Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare Maori
Health Research Centre for a meeting with her and the researchers.  The invitation to meet as responsible researchers (to ‘welcome discussion and debate’) was declined.  The copy of the published paper provided confirmed my understanding of the research, gained at the seminar.  It failed to recognise the limitations of the methodology and the weakness of the inferred conclusions. 


Perceptions of racism


The data is from responses to questions in the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey concerning self-reported experiences and impressions, with a focus on Maori ethnicity.

The study is of the association between socially-assigned ethnicity (compared with self-assigned ethnicity), individual experience of racial discrimination and health (self-rated health and psychological distress).  The interpretation of racism as an important factor determining ethnic difference is based on replies to questions concerning a perception of unfair treatment.  For health, this is:

“Have you ever been treated unfairly (for example, kept waiting or treated differently) by a health professional (that is, a doctor, nurse, dentist etc) because of your ethnicity in New Zealand?” ([4] Question 5.10)

Of self-identified Maori, some 3.4% of those who socially identified as European and 5.6% those who socially identified as some Maori reported some individual experience of racial discrimination in health (ever). ([1] Table 3)  A majority of self-identified Maori, 82.4% socially identified as European and 70.1% socially identified as Maori, reported no experience of unfair treatment in any of the categories.

This study is restricted to those people who self identified as Maori.  There is no indication of experience of unfair treatment or racist attitudes towards individuals with any other ethnicity, and no control group.

It is important when considering possible explanatory causes to recognize that the responses will be influenced by, and indicative of, awareness and beliefs relating to race in society.  This is most significant today, as some Maori believe that there is reason for grievance in past historical events and desire a separation by race of governance in New Zealand.

Ethnicity is self-identified, and reports the different perceptions of those who most strongly state a Maori identity.  There was no consideration that such perceptions may be socially engendered.  The current large number of strongly argued Treaty claims, claiming special rights and payments to tribes on the basis of race, are based on a picture of history that asserts widespread colonial wrongs to native peoples.  That process and the resultant distortion of history to support legal claims have built an atmosphere where many Maori have come to believe in a presumption of racism among non-Maori.  This raises the possibility of a readiness to assume racism rather than actual racist attitudes among health professionals. 

Those feelings are often evident, as in the antagonism towards any differing opinion shown at the meeting when this paper was presented, as well as at a series of “constitutional debates” at Te Papa in 2013.  The responses may provide a measure of racial feelings among the respondents rather than the actual attitudes and treatment by health professionals.

The paper considered here makes an unproven claim of racism among health professionals, that “the way people’s ethnicities are viewed by others appears to have tangible health risk or advantage”.  The result is a stimulation of racial disharmony based on research directed towards an assumed racism on the part of health professionals.  This is a serious charge that is in no way justified, and not to be made lightly, nor to be countenanced unless definitive proof were to be forthcoming. 


References
  1. Harris R, Cormack D, Stanley J. 2013:The relationship between socially-assigned ethnicity, health and experience of racial discrimination for Maori: analysis of the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey. BMC Public Health 13:84
  2. Easton B: The Maori in The Labour Force.  In, Labour, Employment and Work in New Zealand 1994 (pages 206-213).  Edited by Morrison P S. Victoria University of Wellington.
  3. Statistics New Zealand 2009: New Zealand Life Tables: 200507
  4. Ministry of Health: 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey Adult Questionnaire. 
  5. Robinson J L 2013: A plague of people.  Tross Publishing
  6. Email from the author to Dr Sunny Collings, Dean and Head of Campus
    University of Otago, Wellington, 18 February 2014