Author’s Note

At times, unrelated cultures come to understand a similar aspect about the world without learning it from one another. For example, many scholars attribute the numerical term zero with Hindu scholar, Brahmagupta. [1][2] Meanwhile, across the globe, completely unrelated, Mayans developed a numerical term zero around 200 AD. [3]

Sophisticated ideas emerge and exist in parallel, without necessarily being related with one another, without necessarily being greater-or-less than one another. Some sophisticated ideas are considered foundational in STEM science, while other sophisticated ideas exist outside of the knowledge-stew called STEM.

I find that many types of knowledge systems are tremendously important. In this guide I am absolutely not claiming that any one knowledge system is more important than another.

Overall, a variety of factors play a role in determining which sorts of knowledge went into the pot we now call science, and which did not. One extremely large factor relates to forms of control or power.

In the 1800s various european nations held a great deal of global power, largely gained from colonization practices involving slave trade, genocide, and resource extraction. It was within this global climate that an Anglophone, British academic coined the term scientist, in 1834. [4][5] Meanwhile, the word science had already long been in use, although its meaning has continued to change over time. [6][7][8]

Seekers of truth, people who learned and taught about their research, knowledge keepers, community knowledge – these were not new concepts to the world. Nevertheless, the Anglo neologism scientist is directly tied to colonial power of that era. Still today, Anglo-Saxon and other european ethics and methods are regularly central within STEM practice. Some of this is discussed in other sections of this guide.

I often hear people refer to science, STEM, and western science synonymously. While STEM is currently euro-centric, I approach this work with an understanding that many of the foundational elements of STEM are not western, and I understand that what science is will continue to change over time. That is, I anticipate that the ethics and methods practiced within STEM will not necessarily remain euro-centric. For these reasons, in this guide I use the terms science and STEM, rather than western science.

It is my sincere hope that through reading this guide you will gain a hardier understanding of what STEM science is, to be able to better-distinguish this particular pot of knowledge-stew from other knowledge systems.

While there are not always neat-and-tidy boundaries of what counts as STEM science, I believe a robust understanding can help protect us from snake oil salesmen. By learning to distinguish hardy-from-flimsy science practice, one is better protected from those who try to deceive, aggrandize themselves, or otherwise use science-related words to camouflage their lack of rigor.

Meanwhile, rigorous research exists within many different systems of knowing. Many people use the terms science or scientist to refer to such research. For example Indigenous scientists [8] such as North Folk Mono [9] or Yolngu [10][11] fire practitioners are part of intensely rigorous systems of knowing.

I hope this guide helps you to hone your hearing, to help you listen deeply. When someone uses terms such as scientist, researcher, scholar, etc – I hope this guide helps you to ask yourself and to better-understand, what sort of knowledge system are they referring to?

Do they seem to be referring to STEM science? Do they seem to be trying to aggrandize themselves or deceive? Or, are they referring to a system of knowledge other than STEM science – such as someone working in the lineage of the Huangdi neijing, an Indigenous scientist, an Ayurvedic researcher?

Can you listen beyond a specific word? Can you hear into the heart of what a person is saying? Can you listen broadly enough to understand the context of the situation? I hope this guide will help you to do so. As well, I hope this guide fosters a greater understanding and respect for parallel knowledge systems.


Szalay J. Who invented zero? LiveScience. Published September 18, 2017. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Magazine S. The origin of the number zero. Published December 1, 2014. Accessed November 5, 2021.

Batz JM. “NIK” – the Zero in vigesimal maya mathematics · vol. 53, issue 1 (AAS237 abstracts). Bulletin of the AAS. Published January 11, 2021. Accessed November 4, 2021.

NPR. (2010, May 21). How the word ‘scientist’ came to be. NPR. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

Kelly, E. (2018, December 12). Meet Mary Somerville, the scholar for whom the word “scientist” was invented. All That’s Interesting. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

John Butler-Adam Editor-in-Chief of the South African Journal of Science and Consultant. (2020, March 24). The weighty history and meaning behind the word ‘science’. The Conversation. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

Rcwebber. (2018, November 26). Who came up with the word “science”?: Ask dr. Universe: Washington State University. Ask Dr. Universe. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

Science (n.). Etymology. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

8. CtrGlobalHumanities. (2020, February 26). Gregory Cajete – Native science: The indigenous mind rising. YouTube. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

[North Folk Mono] What aboriginal Australians can teach us about managing wildfires. The World from PRX. Accessed October 30, 2021.

[Yolngu] What aboriginal Australians can teach us about managing wildfires. The World from PRX. Accessed October 30, 2021.

[Yolngu] Yolngu culture. Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation. Accessed October 30, 2021.

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