Tonga? Where’s that and why should we care?

Obviously the Daily Telegraph is of the opinion (expressed in the editorial as well as this lame article yesterday) that research dollars should not be spent on understanding this Pacific neighbour’s fascinating past.

MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars destined for vital research have been handed to arty academics for social engineering projects ranging from Tibetan philosophy to office gossip and warfare in ancient Tonga.

In a series of government grants branded “absurd and obscure” by critics yesterday, researchers at Monash ­University have been awarded $105,000 to study “a new philosophical vision of what it means to be human”, through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Australian National University (ANU) academics got $467,997 to “investigate warfare in the ancient Tongan state through a study of earthwork fortifications’’.

“The project would benefit Australia by showing how changes to political systems are associated with phases of conflict and peace,’’ they told the ARC. Another ANU team will get $414,000 to explore “truth, realism and epistemic justification” in Tibetan ­philosophy….

I mean, who cares about any of this pointy-headed egghead crap eh? Now if they could tell me how to crack Keno there might be some sense to it. Who gives a stuff what this might be?


Captain Cook was interested, it seems. I assume the Tele might consider research into his career worth a cent or two of taxpayer dosh… Or would they?

The Lapita people, the ancestors of today’s Polynesians, brought a relatively egalitarian society with them when they colonised Tonga three thousand years ago. Based as it was on fishing and small-scale farming, the Lapita economy was incapable of generating the sort of surplus that could support a privileged and idle class.

Over millennia, though, Tongatapu’s inhabitants developed a sophisticated and highly productive system of agriculture to support their growing population. A chiefly class rose to appropriate the surplus produced by this economy; priests and poets were deployed to justify and beautify the privileges of this new class. When Cook arrived on Tongatapu in 1773 he found a fantastically stratified society. Chiefs regarded the serfs who worked their estates as members of a different race, and denied that they had souls.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, though, the feudal order was destabilised. New-fangled muskets and cannons upset the balance of power between chiefs and emboldened raiders from northern islands; Christianity undermined old religious apologies for the powerful. The need for firearms and other European goods led chiefs to sell or barter much of their harvests to traders, rather than offer it to the priests, poets, and sacred king who lived in Mu’a. Young serfs could dream of escaping their lot by leaping aboard a passing European ship or enlisting in the army of some enemy of their chief.

In 1839, after taking advice from some missionaries, Tupou had created the ‘Vava’u Code’, Tonga’s first set of written laws….

Seems archaeologists from Canada’s Simon Fraser University are interested too.

The researchers pinpointed the date of first landfall at Tonga to within eight years of 826 B.C.

Because the Lapita scattered such coral files at many sites, the new technique could be used to retrace the steps of the ancient seafarers throughout Oceania with astonishing accuracy, Burley said.

“We can look at this progression across the Pacific in ways we couldn’t before,” he said.


Yeah well who gives a stuff? Not the Tele obviously….

A researcher from the UNSW has responded, not to the Tonga aspect specifically but to the general drift of yesterday’s knee-jerkery in the Tele.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is suffering one of their frequent relapses into frothy-mouthed panic about government wastage on research grants. Poking at layabout academics for ‘wasting’ tax dollars on seemingly frivolous projects reminds me of nothing more than the schoolyard bully who secretly knows he peaked in year 9. Today, the Tele flattered me by holding up one of my own projects for ridicule, ironically illustrating their point that rusted-on ideology, and patronage provide the most direct route possible to mediocrity.

In an ‘Exclusive’ Natasha Bita goes beyond the tried-and-true formula of simply spouting big school words culled from the titles and summaries of grant proposals, and giggling “what does that even mean?”. She pits a handful of phrases from grant summaries against more urgent priorities, quoting Michael Potter of the Centre for Independent Studies:

Would it not be a better investment to fund research into cures for disease, major social problems, and ways to boost the Australian economy?

Quite. Presumably we can leave it to the Tele and the CIS to decide on which research is most beneficial? Without the need for all that grant-writing and peer review?…

Curiosity, it seems, is a limited commodity at Telegraph HQ. As is the capacity to do even the most cursory research. Shonkily researched assertions are okay if you enjoy the safe patronage of a major news organisation. You would never get away with such abject laziness, or such contempt for professional disinterest in a grant proposal to a federal funding body.

Ray Hadley picked up the Telegraph’s baton in an interview with the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, demanding that the ARC justify its funding decision in the front bar of a Western Sydney or North Brisbane pub.

Yes, after the forlorn cries for better funding of research rang out through Science Week last week, and as the ARC sits to decide the outcomes of this year’s biggest schemes in Canberra, the pro-ignorance side of the culture wars has decided to play their favourite game. Their attempts to paint researchers as out-of-touch layabouts draining the public purse are, if you read the comments on Blair’s blog, playing well with the patrons of those very pubs….

Meanwhile, more stuff on Tonga that no Telegraph reader could possibly care about:

Beginning about 800 years ago, a powerful chiefdom arose in Tonga, unique in Oceania — that is, the islands of the South Pacific — in how it successfully united an entire archipelago of islands. However, much remained unknown about how far Tonga’s influence actually reached.

“Beginning about 800 years ago, a powerful chiefdom arose in Tonga, unique in Oceania — that is, the islands of the South Pacific — in how it successfully united an entire archipelago of islands. However, much remained unknown about how far Tonga’s influence actually reached.

To learn more about the extent of Tonga’s empire, scientists chemically analyzed nearly 200 stone tools excavated from the centers of its leaders, especially artifacts from the royal tombs on Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga. They also chemically analyzed more than 300 stone artifacts and rock samples taken from other Pacific islands, such as Samoa.

“All of the work has been done with a large Tongan workforce from the community who are now being funded to conserve many of the monumental tombs,” Clark said….

Wot? ANU? THAT ANU? All good Tele readers and the Treasurer Ray Hadley – sorry, Scott Morrison – sincerely hope no Aussie Tax Payer Dollars were injured in pursuit of this irrelevant crap….

See also Australian Research Council and Australian Research Council Funding.