This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← [UPDATE] Campaign to win official apology for Alan Turing

[UPDATE] Campaign to win official apology for Alan Turing - Comments

shemp333's Avatar Comment 1 by shemp333

A very sad story of bigotry. Apologizing now won't really change very much though will it? Well at least it will point a moral compass in the right direction for the future, and that's a good enough reason to want an apology issued. I hope they give one.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 11:41:00 UTC | #389301

Tintern's Avatar Comment 2 by Tintern

What a wonderful thanks from your country for wartime services. Break Hitler's codes, then be forced to try an experimental drug to alter what's nobody else's concern. Although the biggest demonstration of stupidity is arguably to end the career of such a valuable contributor. There were plenty of cover-ups then and since but somehow, not being a politician or church official or journalist (just a brilliant scientist), they weren't able to see their way even to expediency for this guy£

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 11:42:00 UTC | #389302

Ygern's Avatar Comment 3 by Ygern

It's too late for Alan Turing, but perhaps as a consciousness-raising campaign this is worth supporting.

He was a genius and a pioneer, and the persecution and vilification of this hero was nothing other than a tragic mockery of justice.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 11:43:00 UTC | #389303

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 4 by God fearing Atheist

WTF!

Doesn't it rely on theist belief in an after-life to apologise to someone who is dead?

Anyone involved in these prosecutions might want to say they were wrong. But again - 1952 - how many are still alive?

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 11:45:00 UTC | #389304

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 5 by bendigeidfran

'A conviction for homosexuality' - how silly does that sound today? Two counts of 'possessing a leg' were also taken into consideration.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 11:52:00 UTC | #389307

javb222's Avatar Comment 6 by javb222

The government today wasn't responsible for Turing's death and you can't apologise for something which you weren't responsible for. (A bit like original sin.)

Instead of apologising, how about just condemning.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:06:00 UTC | #389315

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 7 by Richard Dawkins

I am one of the presenters (along with Stephen Hawking, James Dyson, David Attenborough and others) of the forthcoming Channel Four documentary, provisionally called 'Genius of British Science'. It fell to me to present the section on Alan Turing, so I learned quite a lot about him. I had previously read the biography by Andrew Hodges, and seen the play, with Derek Jacobi playing Turing, and had been scandalised enough by the way his country treated him to write the following, in The God Delusion, the section on religious bigotry towards homosexuality:

My own country has no right to be smug. Private homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain up until – astonishingly – 1967. In 1954 the British mathematician Alan Turing, a candidate along with John von Neumann for the title of father of the computer, committed suicide after being convicted of the criminal offence of homosexual behaviour in private. Admittedly Turing was not buried alive under a wall pushed over by a tank [the Taliban punishment for homosexuality]. He was offered a choice between two years in prison (you can imagine how the other prisoners would have treated him) and a course of hormone injections which could be said to amount to chemical castration, and which would cause him to grow breasts. His final, private choice was an apple which he had injected with cyanide.

As the pivotal intellect in the breaking of the German Enigma codes, Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them. After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top secret, he should have been knighted and feted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody. Once again, the unmistakeable trademark of the faith-based absolutist is to care passionately about what other people do (or even think) in private.

Richard

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:16:00 UTC | #389319

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 8 by bendigeidfran

1967 - how embarrassing.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:26:00 UTC | #389323

lordpasternack's Avatar Comment 10 by lordpasternack

I'm afraid that I am not familiar with Turing's plight. I knew the name, but not his achievements or how he died. I now know at least enough to see this as a horribly tragic, pointless death of an incredibly talented individual.

Although, with a glance over the details of his predicament, I can't help feel the slight twinge of irony in thinking that all of 55 years later, in this 'clear-thinking oasis', where we sit waxing quixotic about how rotten it is that the religious mindset so permeates societal mores - it would have been technically against our rules for Turing to have raised his predicament on our forum.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:39:00 UTC | #389331

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 9 by SaintStephen

I wish I had a brain like Alan Turing's. This man was freaky smart. Breaking the Enigma code was a monumental achievement. He is a total hero, way beyond Churchill or any mere politician, IMHO.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:39:00 UTC | #389329

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 11 by Richard Dawkins

I might add that cracking the German Enigma codes demanded not just formidable cleverness but equally formidable courage just to believe it was possible. The Germans early decided that to crack the British equivalent coding system was so difficult that they would not even try. In the enigma coding of a German message, the code itself (i.e. the mapping from input letter to output letter) changed, seemingly at random, after literally every single key-press. It was equivalent to a combination lock in which the number of possible combinations was 150 million million million. Like the Germans faced with the reciprocal problem with the British coding system, if I had been Turing I would simply have given up before even starting. Turing was clever enough to succeed, but he was also brave enough to try.

I have signed the petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/turing/

Richard

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:45:00 UTC | #389335

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 12 by SaintStephen

10. Comment #406912 by lordpasternack on August 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Although, with a glance over the details of his predicament, I can't help feel the slight twinge of irony in thinking that all of 55 years later, in this 'clear-thinking oasis', where we sit waxing quixotic about how rotten it is that the religious mindset so permeates societal mores - it would have been technically against our rules for Turing to have raised his predicament on our forum.

Very interesting comment. Are you saying that if someone on this site began posting a personal story of persecution due to his sexual preference, others would discourage him?

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:49:00 UTC | #389338

lordpasternack's Avatar Comment 13 by lordpasternack

Signed.

Very interesting comment. Are you saying that if someone on this site began posting a personal story of persecution due to his sexual preference, others would discourage him?


No - I am saying that it is against the official forum rules, which you can peruse HERE.

I refer to the section Sex and Nudity in particular.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:51:00 UTC | #389341

Adrian Bartholomew's Avatar Comment 14 by Adrian Bartholomew

I’m not sure bravery is the word. You give a mathematician a problem and tell them it’s really hard and you just get a happy and excited mathematician :-)

EDIT: Signed. Who doesn't love the wonderful Turing!?

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:52:00 UTC | #389342

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 15 by bendigeidfran

Yes What do you mean lordpasternack?

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:53:00 UTC | #389343

lordpasternack's Avatar Comment 17 by lordpasternack

I edited my point into my last post for clarity.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:56:00 UTC | #389347

mmurray's Avatar Comment 16 by mmurray

What is the problem? The present government can apologize for mistakes made by previous governments. We did it in Australia to the indigenous Australians. I recommend reading Andrew Hodges biography and Simon Singh's code book. The code breakers are the great unrecognized heroes of WWII.

Michael

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:56:00 UTC | #389346

epeeist's Avatar Comment 18 by epeeist

Signed - I used to live in the same small town as him. Sadly few knew of him or the work that he did.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 12:57:00 UTC | #389349

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 19 by SaintStephen

11. Comment #406916 by Richard Dawkins on August 18, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Like the Germans faced with the reciprocal problem with the British coding system, if I had been Turing I would simply have given up before even starting.

Now that's high praise coming from our own resident genius. I'm thinking Richard would be a pretty good horse to run in a codebreaking race, given his demonstrated talents.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:00:00 UTC | #389350

Anvil's Avatar Comment 20 by Anvil

Signed.

I often sit next to him whenever I'm in Manchester. It's one memorial that really inspires me. The bronze plaque at his feet reads:

Father of Computer Science
Mathematician, Logician
Wartime Codebreaker
Victim of Prejudice


'IEKYF RQMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ'

Anvil.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:14:00 UTC | #389356

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 21 by Richard Dawkins

I have signed the petition, although in general I am not impressed with apologies being issued for the sins of past generations. I think that attempts to make all modern white people feel guilty for the slave trade are ridiculous, and apologies to all modern black people are even more ridiculous. But Alan Turing lived pretty recently. Many of his colleagues at Bletchley Park are still alive, and Turing himself might still be alive if he hadn't committed suicide. He was of roughly the same generation as my parents, both of whom are still very much alive. Moreover, although the law on homosexuality in Britain was changed in 1967, the bigotry that gave rise to it is still alive and kicking, and it still has the force of law in much of the Islamic world. An official government apology to Turing would send a signal to the world, which needs to be sent. An official apology for slavery would not send a useful signal, because nobody, not even the most bigoted Christian, is nowadays in favour of slavery. I agree that in, say, another 50 years, an official apology would no longer be appropriate. But it is still appropriate today.

Richard

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:17:00 UTC | #389359

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 22 by God fearing Atheist

14. Comment #406923 by Adrian Bartholomew

I’m not sure bravery is the word. You give a mathematician a problem and tell them it’s really hard and you just get a happy and excited mathematician :-)


I agree you and not Richard. My mathemetician mate loves "impossible" tasks! The "brave" people are the managers, who in a war, with scarce resources, and the dire consequences of wasting them, thought it a good investment to try to crack the codes. Lucky they had Turing.

I suppose I should sign the petition. Hoewever, it think the very concept of apologising to the dead for something the current government is not responsible for is supporting woo. Can't we just have a petition supporting equality across sexual preference, sex, race etc, citing the terrible "reward" given to Turing for his invaluable contribution to winning the WW II as to why we must stop this kind of injustice NOW?

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:25:00 UTC | #389366

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 23 by Steve Zara

I have a problem with the idea of an apology to Alan Turing. It isn't enough, and sends the wrong signal.

It seems to me to say that you get an apology for a conviction for homosexuality if you happen to be a war hero. But what about those who weren't so famous?

If there is any statement, it should be one of regret for the effect of past prejudice on millions.

But what would be better than an apology, or such a statement, would be a change in law. The full recognition of gay marriage, not just as some parallel civil partnerships, in the UK.

Name Alan Turing in the text of the legislation. That would be a worthy and truly positive tribute to a great man. It would send a clear message that we won't tolerate prejudice from those who won't accept same-sex relationships as equal, which includes many in the established and supposedly benign Church of England as well as in the Islamic world and Catholicism.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:31:00 UTC | #389372

Adrian Bartholomew's Avatar Comment 24 by Adrian Bartholomew

I want the apology AND what Steve has just said. Normally I hate "me too" posts but the above would be WONDERFUL.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:41:00 UTC | #389377

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 25 by Dr. Strangegod

Alan Turing was a great man. Anybody here read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson? Very nice fictional account of Turing's life.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:43:00 UTC | #389379

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 26 by Mark Jones

Signed; Turing has always been a bit of a hero of mine.

Obviously this does nothing for Turing himself, but I think these retrospective apologies have a symbolic value when they are for *individuals* who have been wronged.

In addition, I agree with Steve's call for full recognition of gay *marriage*. Such a 'Turing Act' would be an excellent monument.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:47:00 UTC | #389385

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 27 by hungarianelephant

Richard has convinced me, though like Steve I'd like to see an apology to everyone else as well, and completion of the removal of institutionalised prejudice against people because of their sexuality.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 13:50:00 UTC | #389387

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 28 by Steven Mading

I think that hanging the name "Alan Turing Act" on a piece of legislation to legalize fully equivalent gay marriage would be a very good PR move.

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 14:27:00 UTC | #389409

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 29 by Richard Dawkins

I've been invited to talk about this issue on Channel Four news. Not sure when the interview will be broadcast, but the recording is tomorrow morning.

Richard

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 14:58:00 UTC | #389425

jgrahamc's Avatar Comment 30 by jgrahamc

I'm the person who created the petition. Thank you to Richard and all the others from this site who have signed it.

You might be interested in my proposal for how best to honour Alan Turing: http://www.jgc.org/blog/2009/08/alan-m-turing-endowment.html

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 15:00:00 UTC | #389427