Professor Nicolli Nattrass and the detrimental holes in her academic research.
By Lehlohonolo Shale
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY News.
University of Cape Town (UCT) Economics Professor Nicolli Nattrass’s research paper that recently appeared in the South African Journal of Sciences premises itself on a question of why some students might not be likely to enter certain academic streams. Unfortunately, Nattrass’s research has been received negatively because of its failures on too many counts.
Firstly, by her thesis statement, it is obvious that her research concerns the “persisting inequalities in the schooling system” and how they inhibit some students that are entering the biological sciences. Personally, the research could have honed in on these aspects with them being key ideas, to unpack about the South African context and its history of inequality.
But not for the writer of this article – these ideas can wait. There must be other reasons that could be proffered: It could be that the students’ “experience with pets and attitudes towards wildlife” contribute to their hating biological sciences. If not, maybe it is the students’ “materialist values and aspirations” that can take the blame. As if the biological sciences exist in some metaphysical and altruistic realm for a select collective to experience.
Secondly, there is also an assumption that there exists a trade-off between “social justice and conservation”. According to Nattrass, Fallist movements of 2015-2016 for example, which engulfed campuses around the country, seemed to side-line the focus and advocacy for conservation. This idea eschews the fact that decolonial movements are, by design, movements to restore the dignity and wellbeing of the dispossessed (the same people that are her ‘subjects’ of study). The cardinal point here is to conserve the natural endowments of the land, animal and plant species included. It is an anti-thesis to colonial encroachment on the land.
The writer then drops her research criteria and whittles it down to a “key outcome” of “whether students had ever considered studying zoology or the biological sciences irrespective of whether or not they met the entrance requirements” at universities. Still, the researcher does not reveal to the curious mind what the entrance criteria in question entail, and the degree of their effect.
When confronted by fellow academics represented by the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) regarding these glaring loopholes about her research, the professor does the unthinkable – she retorts that they (BAC) are advancing an ideological agenda.
However, can she not be accused of the same with the views she develops in her research?
Given the tendency of some researchers to be defensive of the indefensible, where an apology and retraction could have been more apt, I tend to agree with a view that such research as produced by the science journal should be discouraged, to say the least. It does not move scientific social enquiry forward. In fact, it does the total opposite.
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