When Science is Exclusive

Physics class at Carlisle School, 1915

I did a quick double-take while researching a chapter for my book on science and culture.

It’s like those visual double-take games in magazines, when they put two pictures side by side and you’re supposed to find the discrepancies from one picture to the other.

Here’s what happened: I was re-reading Vine Deloria Jr. and Daniel Wildcat’s take on Native science:

An American Indian metaphysics has the advantage of designating science and religion as not mutually exclusive realms of experience or areas of human interest but as fundamental questions of knowledge and understanding found on a continuum of experience.

Science and religion are braided together: what shifts are our vantage points. For example, we can protest the values interlocked with science, but we cannot deny their existence. In my reality, how we perceive science is value-laden, whether informed by religion, culture, language or experience.

That is not to say that science and religion are the same. That they co-occur on “a continuum of experience” makes sense, but it’s vague.

Rather, I think of science—what we do with it; how we apply science—as being largely political. For example, there is an undeniably scientific (biological) aspect of human fertility but the ways in which we discuss fertility become political. And religious.

My recent double-take came when I was researching the platforms of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The Academy was established in 1863 to “provide independent advice to the government on matters related to science and technology,” according to its website.

The Academy adopted a policy in 1981 that turns Deloria and Wildcat’s statement on its ear. While the Native American scholars say that science and religion are not mutually exclusive, the NAS statement notes that:

Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief.

My job is to unpack these distinctions and discover how we can acknowledge and honor Native and Western perspectives.

Photo of a physics class at Carlisle Indian School, 1915, from


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, health, Indian, journalism, Native Science, science, science communication and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When Science is Exclusive

  1. conrad says:



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