STEM, Other Systems of Research + Language of Ownership

It is not hard to find public discourse which pits science in opposition to other systems of knowledge. What I wish to do here is to to call attention to some common ground between science and other systems of knowledge. Take, for example, the deceptively simple act of rigorous observation. Few cultures or knowledge modalities could do without rigorous observation. Curiosity, rigor, research, observation and more – these attributes of study can be found within many knowledge systems.

There are countless situations wherein various knowledge systems intersect in informal ways. For example, many herbalists base their practice in traditional knowledge libraries while fluidly utilizing scientific knowledge. [1] While some scientists practice some form of spirituality or religion, finding a variety of ways to integrate these systems of knowledge. [2][3]

Formal intersections between science and other systems of knowledge exist as well. Here are a few concrete examples:

  • Chemist Tu Youyou began her research for malaria medicine by looking in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) manuals. By screening symptoms and other recorded information in these sources, she and her team were able to narrow in on a selection of plants to test scientifically. Extracted in the 1970s, the chemical compound artemisinin has saved countless lives. Tu Youyou was awarded the nobel prize for this in 2015. [4][5]
  • Ngandi elder Cherry Wulumirr Daniels and ecologist Dr Emilie Ens created the group Ngukurr Wi Stadi bla Kantri (We Study the Country), supported by Macquarie University in Australia. [6] This research team is devoted to “blending [scientific] ecological methods with traditional knowledge and ways of seeing country.” [7]
  • Tibetan Buddhist leader the 14th Dalai Lama and neuroscientist Francisco Varela helped found the organization Mind & Life in 1987. The project emerged to investigate the question, “what greater impact could science have if it were combined with the transformative power of contemplative wisdom?” They understood that “science was the dominant framework… and the modern source of knowledge that could help improve life for people and the planet” and, by establishing a setting for mutually egalitarian dialogue, hoped to “make science itself more humane”. [8]
  • Canada’s Faculty of Science at Ryerson University has begun to formally expand their department’s “scientific thinking to include traditional teachings.” Amber Sandy, a member of Neyaashiinigmiing, the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, is head of indigenous outreach and communication. Ryerson began implementing this work “in the wake of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, which shared specific ways in which post-secondary institutions could play a key role in reconciliation [with indigenous nations].” [9]

I highlight these moments of common ground and intentional integration for a few reasons. One reason is to foster mutual enrichment between science and other knowledge systems. For example, in the fields of contemplative and/or somatic practices, science information has the possibility to enrich the sorts of knowledge seeking enacted. And vice versa – the knowledge held by healers, meditators, dancers, breathworkers, or many other varieties of practitioners could greatly enrich scientific research.

A second reason I highlight common ground is because there is often a tendency for language to be used in a way which claims ownership or superiority. A recent situation on social media comes to my mind as an example.

One group of people were drawing attention to casual usage of the word research. [10] The outcry seemed to suggest that the term research should be limited. That is, one should not claim they have “researched” after watching one documentary, TED talk, or reading an article or two. Instead, various forms of academic peer review processes were suggested.

I understand that this sort of common popular critique of lack-of-rigor shares common ground with my desire to become attentive of ‘snake oil salesmen’. While I share and hope to promote an idea that research should be rigorous, I bring up this example to highlight a different point. Namely, the term research is not something that is owned by academic, STEM science or any other one system of knowledge. Such terms should not be held captive behind ivory towers of universities.

Rather, there are many ways to research rigorously. Consider terms: serious, rigor, methodical, creative, observation. These terms, these ways of being, are shared by many systems of knowledge.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that people use language which takes on a tone of ownership or superiority [11] – not only within science, academic and popular cultures, but practiced in many places, throughout the world. In this guide I am making an effort to clarify science from other systems of knowledge. Yet, I do not want to promote science at superior.

My hope is to foster awareness and contextual consideration for how terms such as scientist, researcher, and so forth are being used, in any given situation. As you come across such terms, my hope is that after reading this guide, you will be able to discern between

a). when people are referring to scientists working within the structure of science described in this guide,
b). when people are using the term to speak about researchers and knowledge seekers who are working within different-than-science sorts of knowledge structures, and
c). when people seem to be using the terms science or scientist to cover up for a lack of rigor.

I hope this guide fosters excitement for research collaborations between various systems of knowledge, in ethical and non-extractive ways. Especially, I hope to inspire a bit of reflection about your own use of language. Whichever science information you integrate into your work, the language that you use as you share this research can have a strong impact. Does the language that you use support integration, promote ownership, or otherwise?

My hope is that you will practice awareness, openness, and creativity with your language.


  1. A film about the healing power of plants. Numen. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2021, from
  2. Salleh, A. (2018, May 23). How can a scientist believe in god? ABC News. Retrieved December 26, 2020, from
  3. Scientist. (n.d.). Home. Famous Scientists. Retrieved December 26, 2021, from
  4. The nobel prize in physiology or medicine 2015. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2020, from
  5. Annie Bligh Professor of Medicinal Plant Science. (2020, November 14). How traditional chinese medicine drove the discovery of a Nobel-winning anti-malarial drug. The Conversation. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from
  6. Author(s) Kate Smith. (n.d.). Prized connections – combining indigenous knowledge with western science. The Australian Museum. Retrieved December 2, 2020, from
  7. Indigenous and western science caring for country in Arnhem land. Science In Public. (2018, April 23). Retrieved June 26, 2020, from
  8. About mind & life. Mind & Life Institute. (2021, November 8). Retrieved December 26, 2021, from
  9. Grady, B. M. (2020, January 24). Expanding scientific thinking to include traditional teachings. Ryerson University. Retrieved December 26, 2021, from
  10. Saya Olivia hayashi April please stop saying you … (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2020, from
  11. Graz. Graz – COVID-19 (Corona) topic. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2020, from
%d bloggers like this: