A Compendium of Anti-TMT Myths

When the Thirty Meter Telescope issue began I would have described myself as quite sympathetic to the cause of Native Hawaiians due to my normal political leanings and my own personal heritage. Over the years I have often become quite bitter about the continued use of lies, smears, and insults used against the telescopes by opponents.

TMT Rendering
An overhead view of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, credit TMT Observatory Corporation

Can we have an honest dialog here?

Apparently not. The issues has become something akin to a religious crusade among people who have devoted their lives to the cause. When this happens little things like truth seem to lose.

I am going to be blunt here, we know much of the anti-TMT argument is either false or gross exaggeration. Project supporters have patiently corrected these arguments time and time again, documented the issues during the hearings, and yet we continue to hear these false arguments repeated.  They are repeated online in social media, in newspaper editorials, even under oath in official proceedings.

Certainly some people repeat this misinformation in an honest belief that it is true, maybe they hear it from a source they trust, perhaps from a leader in the protest movement. We are now well over a decade into the controversy and we have been over and over the issues so many times, those more involved with the controversy should know the difference.

At some point these arguments move beyond mere misunderstandings or misinformation. When you make no effort to check or correct the information you are repeating you bear responsibility for that information.  You then arrive in the territory of lies, and this is what I tend call them personally when particularly annoyed.

Repeating the myths because you did not check, want them to be true, or do not care about the truth, that is the issue here. This is the part I simply cannot allow to go without commenting.

It is true that there are real issues at stake here, the balance of modern and traditional culture being top of that list. But if you base your opposition to TMT on the myths below I suggest you do a little more reading outside of your media bubble before making judgments.

Thus this post is a collection of the more common lies used to discredit the telescopes and astronomy on Mauna Kea in general. This post will be the index, with separate posts to follow on each of the false claims. I have a starting list of the most common and will add as I have time to write. There is plenty of material here, so I suspect I will not run out anytime soon.

There are also any number of web pages around that contain these myths, amplifying them and commonly sited by protesters. A good example is the page 10 Questions About Mauna Kea that Might Surprise You.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

17 thoughts on “A Compendium of Anti-TMT Myths”

  1. A few questions for you, Andrew: are you a native Hawaiian? Do you view the Mauna as a sacred place? All exaggerations, lies, stretches of the truth aside, can you NOT see how this is about so much more than a telescope?

    1. Of course is is about more, it is about many things. Mostly I see it as a question of how we find a balance between rights of a traditional culture and the modern culture that most island residents are part of.

      It is also about the lies. These lies are not just repeated by the fringe of the movement, they are repeated by the leaders of the movement. The lies, smears, and exaggerations whip up the movement, are used to create a false narrative of the evils of the opponents.

      The lies create hate.

      Just read a bit of social media, read below the official posts of the protest leaders. They know the hate these lies foment, and they do little to denounce it even when it is on display on their own social media feeds.

      1. Another mistrue believed by many: The TMT is to be built at the summit. FALSE!
        400 feet below the summit, far from the summit observatories
        Here’s a Fact: The summit of Mauna Kea IS sacred to Hawaii…as the umbilical between the Earth and the Heavens. TMT will be an important part of that timeless Piko.

      2. There is no ‘balancing’ to be done here. You’re right about every one of the points you argue on this site, but still fundamentally wrong about the telescopes. It doesn’t matter why indigenous people want them removed, it should be their land and they should have the say in what does or doesn’t get to be built there. Hawaii was effectively stolen from its own inhabitants. This is about colonialism.

        And I say the above while having no sympathy whatsoever for their supernatural beliefs. ‘Sacred mountain’, yeah okay. It’s a Hawaiian Mount Olympus; home of the gods. Weird how the gods can’t seem to defend it themselves…

        But again that doesn’t matter. This ultimately isn’t about a telescope or a mountain. It’s about stolen land and a lack of sovereignty. The telescope is merely an issue that a larger movement has rallied around. It’s unjust that the indigenous people don’t have the say in what happens with their land, regardless of how silly their reasons may be.

  2. Is Mauna Kea a sacred site or the site of burial grounds? That’s one that keeps being repeated but there doesn’t seem to be any confirmation about this.

    1. That one is tougher, many claims and no evidence, not a clear myth. It is likely the summit was never a significant burial area or we would see more evidence. There may be an iwi or two, but nobody has ever found one. Certainly there is little chance of a burial on the TMT site as the site is the top of a lava flow rather than cinder, bare exposed rock, no place to hide a burial.

      1. This illustrates the main problem here – industry’s failure to listen to the Native Hawaiians who are screaming at the top of their lungs that this IS sacred land. Lies or not, the land is the older brother of indigenous peoples in the creation story. That is all that matters here. Listen to the people. Respect their wishes. Let the land live. Pau.

        1. I have real questions about the true sacredness of the summit, there are so many lies swirling around it is hard to tell. With the controversy few modern sources can be trusted at this point. Reading the older sources you find no reference to Mauna Kea… Malo, Papa Li… Nothing. The Kumulipo… Nothing. Some older kupuna have expressed the same question. It is clear that the mauna has become a modern symbol, but was it really that sacred in the past? Any more sacred than other places in the islands? Even the ancient Hawaiians allowed wholesale mining of the summit plateau for stone. I expect it was always a special place of some degree, but not the “most sacred place in the islands” as is currently portrayed by many.

          Another disagreement with your premise. I have listened to Native Hawaiians, many times, I have made it a point to do so. Some clearly express opposition, other clearly express support for the telescopes who see the telescopes as a continuation of the journey of exploration that first brought them to these shores.

    2. In this Sept 14, 1892 article from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Prof W. D. Alexander describes their trek entitled, “The Ascent of Mauna Kea.” Exploring the areas of the summit, a short paragraph states, “Here, as at other places on the plateau, ancient graves are to be found. In the olden time, it was a common practice of the natives in the surrounding region to carry up the bones of their deceased relatives to the summit plateau for burial.”


      1. I am familiar with the Preston/Alexander 1892 expedition to the summit, the Preston reports are also fun to read, with good photos! Alexander does indeed mention graves on the plateau. The archaeological surveys by McCoy also found graves on the plateau, these are marked in the surveys. The plateau starts about 11,000ft and includes the adze quarry sites, and a large number of other archaeological features. They are still thousands of feet below and several miles away from the telescopes atop the summit cones.

  3. It matters not at all what your views on the matter are, especially your opinion on Hawaiian history. If you had any cultural sensibility you’d know that the vast majority of historical and cultural knowledge was never written down, passed solely through oli and mele. If your great great grandmother told your great grandmother who told your grandmother who told your mother who told you that the land of your ancestors is sacred and revered, would you question her and ask her to prove it in writing? Or would you stand and fight against the destructive forces aimed at killing it? Your arrogance has no place in this discussion. It is for Hawaiians to decide.

  4. It is no longer about cultural significance. It is clear it is about sovereignty and decolonization. Today at my local post office, the flag pole was vandalized. It is just the beginning. There needs to be an end to this. No amount of dialog about correcting misinformation will have influence over the protesters who embrace the anti- American rhetoric.

    1. “It is clear it is about sovereignty and decolonization.”

      You say this like it’s a bad thing. The US was literally founded as a colony rebelling to assert it’s sovereignty.

      “protesters who embrace the anti- American rhetoric.”

      The island was taken from the native people without consent. They’re entirely justified in being ‘anti-American’.

  5. True story, Johanna. I stand with protestors who consider the TMT’s destruction of the ‘aina a crime against the Hawaiian Nation and indigenous peoples. They are fierce in their efforts to protect the land that bears their DNA, and they’ll never back down.

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