Linked by David Adams on Mon 25th Jun 2012 19:32 UTC, submitted by Adurbe
In the News The BBC reports on a Turing scholar's recent claims that by today's standard of evidence, there's reason to doubt the commonly-held belief that the famed computing pioneer committed suicide in response to government persecution over his homosexuality. To be clear, he does not claim to have disproved the suicide theory -- only that the cyanide poisoning that killed Turing could well have been an accident caused by his careless at-home experimentation with dangerous chemicals.
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Comment by M.Onty
by M.Onty on Mon 25th Jun 2012 19:48 UTC
M.Onty
Member since:
2009-10-23

I agree entirely with your take on it. Given that we can't know for sure one way or the other, would personally prefer to suppose he took his lot with fortitude and good humour, as witness accounts from the time seem to suggest, rather than despair.

A small note of correction though:

"... the government was empowered to force chemical castration on any human being because of their sexual orientation."

As I understand it he actually opted to take the oestrogen treatment rather than the conventional punishment. Still scandalous, of course.

What is particularly unpleasant is that these laws had been largely unused for hundreds of years, with society and the law turning a blind eye to homosexuality as long as you weren't shouting about it from atop a pillar in Trafalgar Square. It wasn't until the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries that they started to actually enforce it. Hardly progress.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Comment by M.Onty
by Alleister on Wed 27th Jun 2012 20:06 UTC in reply to "Comment by M.Onty"
Alleister Member since:
2006-05-29

Well he had the choice to do the treatment or go to prison and prison at that time was supposedly even a lot worse than it is nowadays. Also, he likely didn't foresee how the treatment would affect him psychologically and physically.

Reply Score: 2

Or was he killed?
by Andre on Mon 25th Jun 2012 20:24 UTC
Andre
Member since:
2005-07-06

The Dutch Wikipedia article about Alan Turing suggest there is a possibility he was killed by the Secret Service because he knew too much.

Yet another possibility... what really happened... we will never know...

Growing up in the Netherlands, where gay marriage was legalised back in 2001.... it was only when I got an internet connection, and got international contacts, a few years after that, when I realised there are still many places where homosexuality is still regarded as a disease or worse.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Or was he killed?
by shotsman on Tue 26th Jun 2012 09:50 UTC in reply to "Or was he killed?"
shotsman Member since:
2005-07-22

There are still many places where being Gay is a death sentence. The rise of Religous Fundamentalism (of all types) in many parts of the world will ensure that remains the case.
There are places where there is an even worse crime in the eyes of many locals. That is to be transgendered.

Back on Topic.

I wonder what would have happened to alan Turing if he'd been in the US around the same time. It is my opinion that the McCarthy Hearings were a far worse blot on US History than the treatment of Alan by British society. For the US to consider Charlie Chaplin a threat to US National Security is just as bad a scandal as this. Then multiply that 10 or even 100 times.

At the time, the work Alan Turin and others has done during the war was regarded as being ultra top secret.
Remember that Churchill feared the secrets getting into the wrong hands so he ordered the destruction of many of the computers at Bletchly.
Even nearly 70 years on people who worked at Bletchley Park don't want to talk about it. I know this from personal experience as my Mother worked there from 1941-43. I took here back on a visit last year and even then she was reluctant to talk about her time there.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Or was he killed?
by David on Tue 26th Jun 2012 16:14 UTC in reply to "RE: Or was he killed?"
David Member since:
1997-10-01

That's a good point about McCarthy. The truth is, the 1950s were a time of great cultural upheaval, and though we look back with sepia-toned nostalgia, it was a time of great barbarism at the hands of supposedly civilized peoples.

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: Or was he killed?
by th3rmite on Fri 29th Jun 2012 20:26 UTC in reply to "RE: Or was he killed?"
th3rmite Member since:
2006-01-08

For real, McCarthy was way worse because McCarthy had Charlie Chaplin chemically castrated too... Yeah, American sucks! Everyone else not so much no mater what horrible stuff they do!

Reply Score: 1

RE[3]: Or was he killed?
by zima on Mon 2nd Jul 2012 23:58 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Or was he killed?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Hardly anybody else displays "we're better than anybody else" delusions to a degree similar of the US...
(plus, in defending just that I guess, you jumped to answer too quickly, the point with the mention of McCarthyism was how it did more harm with its witch-hunt)

Edited 2012-07-03 00:10 UTC

Reply Score: 2

um... rule of law?
by _score on Tue 26th Jun 2012 03:28 UTC
_score
Member since:
2012-06-26

Have to disagree with the interpretations of some of the article: the UK government would not have had the capacity to shield Turing from prosecution. That's confusing the relationship between the different functions of government, and the basic principle of the common law that everyone domestically (except for, in limited circumstances, the Queen) has to be equally vulnerable to the law.

It's like - if he had been a murderer, no-one would have sought to protect him. Homosexual acts (not homosexuality per se - another error) were equally illegal at the time, we just think of them in a different way now. It's a bit much to expect politics to interfere with judicial decisions, and at that point you're reaching an American rather than Commonwealth system of justice.

Talking of which - Von Braun never committed crimes within US jurisdiction: his protection was from publicity, rumour, and innuendo, not the legal system. That's a fundamental difference between the cases.

Reply Score: 5

RE: um... rule of law?
by JAlexoid on Tue 26th Jun 2012 10:27 UTC in reply to "um... rule of law?"
JAlexoid Member since:
2009-05-19

Bull****, they could easily have shielded him from almost anything. The prosecutor's office could have "lost" the proof, because the prosecution is is under the power of the executive branch.

Von Braun never committed crimes within US jurisdiction

Those crimes were post-factum classified as war crimes, thus he could have been easily prosecuted in US.

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: um... rule of law?
by zima on Tue 26th Jun 2012 10:39 UTC in reply to "RE: um... rule of law?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Plus the US hurriedly shipped Von Braun from the area where he could be more readily, I imagine, apprehended and tried. If that's not protection...

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: um... rule of law?
by _score on Tue 26th Jun 2012 17:06 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: um... rule of law?"
_score Member since:
2012-06-26

There's no proof he was any more a war criminal then, say, Gunter Grass. Or, to put it another way, he was no more a war criminal than the 185,067 other men who joined the SS before him, often under as much co-ercion as he was. Or, if more evidence is required, he was actually arrested at one point by the Gestapo.

I really don't think that the Americans were shifting him away from Soviet control because they thought that the Soviets were going to try him as a war criminal. It could be more due to the fact that he'd invented military rocketry, and they wanted it and didn't want the Reds to have it.

Or, yes, they were all pro-Nazi scum trying to help the war criminals they'd been fighting escape any way they could...

Reply Score: 1

RE[4]: um... rule of law?
by zima on Tue 26th Jun 2012 19:06 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: um... rule of law?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Curious how much you read into it... (but now that you sort of mention it, there was a bit historically "funny" situation with Gehlen Organization and the CIA, or Hans Globke...)

I didn't say that other parties would treat him, by themselves, any different than the US did. But it's perfectly conceivable that, if von Braun were to fall under "shared" custody, all parties involved would push for a more strict treatment - at the least to prevent everybody else from getting their hands on him.

Oh, and a closer analogy than Grass would be Arthur Rudolph, an associate of von Braun - and in the 80s he was forced to leave the US and lose his citizenship, or else face war crimes trial.
Yes, of course von Braun denied involvement and "I didn't really know" and he had no choice, who wouldn't? Of course he wasn't all bad, who is? But a) at least on some occasions he selected slaves b) we have ex-prisoner testimonies of how he ordered - in person - corporal punishments, witnessed killings c) Nuremberg defence was declared void.

Edited 2012-06-26 19:07 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: um... rule of law?
by _score on Tue 26th Jun 2012 16:57 UTC in reply to "RE: um... rule of law?"
_score Member since:
2012-06-26

That's ridiculous. They could have lost the proof? The army could also have shot the judge, because they're under the control of the executive branch!

That something could notionally and illegally have happened does not mean it was a viable option. What you are proposing is that governmental officials should have committed a crime to protect a guilty individual on the basis of his war service, while also ignoring one of the most fundamental principles of English law.

Whether we believe that what was a crime then should never have been a crime is irrelevant: reduced to principles, that is what you are saying should have happened. The law must be equal in its application, and there is a reason why Justice is blindfolded.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: um... rule of law?
by JAlexoid on Tue 26th Jun 2012 21:41 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: um... rule of law?"
JAlexoid Member since:
2009-05-19

That something could notionally and illegally have happened does not mean it was a viable option.


Deciding not to prosecute is a legal and a viable option. Just like no one is going to prioritise pranksters over murderers. Or will you call it a injustice and illegal action that the prosecutors are not going after your local praknskters?

Deciding what evidence to present is also a legal and viable option that is used every day in every justice system. That is why I put the word lost in quotes.

Edited 2012-06-26 21:43 UTC

Reply Score: 2

Peacefully in his sleep?
by fredbooth on Tue 26th Jun 2012 06:35 UTC
fredbooth
Member since:
2008-01-07

I can't imagine that he would have managed to get to bed to die peacefully, in his sleep. Cyanide poisoning is pretty quick and nasty from all accounts

Reply Score: 2

RE: Peacefully in his sleep?
by Kochise on Tue 26th Jun 2012 09:38 UTC in reply to "Peacefully in his sleep?"
Kochise Member since:
2006-03-03

And I bet the one who cracked enigma was a naive child with chemicals ?

Kochise

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: Peacefully in his sleep?
by zima on Tue 26th Jun 2012 10:35 UTC in reply to "RE: Peacefully in his sleep?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Well, the linked BCC article does describe his seemingly bit careless handling of cyanide...
(overall, high proficiency in one field does not mean the same thing or even common sense in all other)

Edited 2012-06-26 10:40 UTC

Reply Score: 4

RE: Peacefully in his sleep?
by zima on Tue 26th Jun 2012 10:30 UTC in reply to "Peacefully in his sleep?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

I can't imagine that he would have managed to get to bed to die peacefully, in his sleep. Cyanide poisoning is pretty quick and nasty from all accounts

Apparently only at high doses. At low you can feel dizzy and weak at first ...which might entice you to lie down on a bed, I guess; then you lose conciousness and die.

(not that I'm strictly convinced it was an accident)

Reply Score: 2

Typo
by drstorm on Tue 26th Jun 2012 08:42 UTC
drstorm
Member since:
2009-04-24

It's Nikola Tesla.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Typo
by David on Tue 26th Jun 2012 16:17 UTC in reply to "Typo"
David Member since:
1997-10-01

Thanks for the catch!

Reply Score: 1

Time scale
by acobar on Tue 26th Jun 2012 13:26 UTC
acobar
Member since:
2005-11-15

First, lets recap that most brilliant scientists do not get widespread recognition of their hard work on their life. The first one to get catapulted by press was Albert Einstein and, of lately, I remember only Sabin and some others from health science. From outside of our tech/scientific inner world, there is little acknowledge of most scientists while they are still working.

I do not see much tribute paid also for Faraday, Maxwell, Kepler, Mendel, Dalton and others, and the more advanced their contribution is in time and complexity the more likely is that it will be appreciated by less souls.

Fact is that in may be, 50 years, very very few will learn about MacArthur, Montgomery and other recent heroes but every student that carry on will read about those that advanced the human knowledge sometime, and on few it will spark a light of curiosity in his/her mind that will push them to read more about the creators of laws, equations and methods.

More than anything, Einstein, Newton and Darwin are exceptions.

Of course, it does not helps that the life of most of them would be a boring movie for the brainwashed mass.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Time scale
by Alfman on Tue 26th Jun 2012 14:31 UTC in reply to "Time scale"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

acobar,


"First, lets recap that most brilliant scientists do not get widespread recognition of their hard work on their life."

I agree, but I don't think the phenomenon is in any way restricted to science. This exact same recognition distribution bias occurs in art, acting, literature, news-reporting, politics, business, etc. It's just that we don't have the capacity to follow all the people who merit recognition, so we tend to over-credit a very small subset.


Who here recognises Michael Collins? Who else is he associated with? Take a pause to figure it out...


Ok, he was a co-pilot with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. The only guy I personally remembered by heart was Neil Armstrong. NASA had a backup team who were fully qualified, and eventually went in subsequent missions...hardly a peep in history - I don't recognise any. The NASA engineers who actually made the missions possible, nada.

Now this was a big public operation, but the same thing happens on a smaller scale in our everyday lives too, where a boss or leader may get both the recognition and reward for accomplishments technically achieved by others. That's just part of life, I guess.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Time scale
by acobar on Tue 26th Jun 2012 15:41 UTC in reply to "RE: Time scale"
acobar Member since:
2005-11-15

Indeed, it does happens on all humans activities like painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, engineering, medicine and so on, but I was talking specifically about very, very special beings that helped transform our world and got recognized as heroes by some of us. Turing already achieved that, even more because he as able flex his talent when the need was there.

We are like 7 billion now, and the number of people that lived is astonishing. There is no other way to pay the deserved respect and tribute to the memory of ours very best other than learning and teaching how human knowledge advances and foster the quality of our life.

Unluckily, there is no infinity memory.

Edited 2012-06-26 15:44 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Time scale
by zima on Tue 26th Jun 2012 23:01 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Time scale"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

We are like 7 billion now, and the number of people that lived is astonishing. There is no other way to pay the deserved respect and tribute to the memory

Sometimes it seems like we don't really care that much about the dead... we just like to think we do
(quick, tell me something about your great-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandmother! The one from the side of your father, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-g-grandfather, 3g-grandfather, 4g-grandmother, 5g-grandmother, 6g-grandfather - something basic, like in which century did she live, on which continent, what language did she speak, how long did she live to the nearest decade; and that's a very recent ancestor)

The best / saddest is the popular myth "more of us live now than have ever lived" ...who cares about the likely 100+ billion dead homo sapiens.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Time scale
by acobar on Wed 27th Jun 2012 00:42 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Time scale"
acobar Member since:
2005-11-15

I was talking about our very best on humanity advancements.

It is not reasonably to expect any of us to remember most of our grand grand parents, even though their decisions had a direct impact on our very own existence. To honor them is enough to be the best world citizen you can and to help improve those around us, specially the ones we love at most and that are more affected by our choices. If we all could achieve that the world would be a way better place.

Answering your question (?), I do care about who lived on the extent I explained, and also care about who advanced our society by trying to learn as most as I can about their achievements way more than about their life, even thought is its easier to grasp the extension of their findings under the light of the way they lived.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: Time scale
by zima on Wed 27th Jun 2012 12:04 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: Time scale"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Well it wasn't really a question; or at most a rhetorical one.

Yes, a bit extreme with "grand grand" ...but a) objectively, not really - such time periods are ultimately still a blink of an eye b) it's usually not that much better with just grandparents - it seems that, after a while, we can rarely recollect reliably even two basic things about who they were: where and when they were born and lived at first (assuming the latter is not as easy as "here" - and even then, it's not quite exact enough: city districts made a big difference; we also tend to make a big deal even of a mere year or two age differences, during our two most formative decades)

Anyway, the point was, we barely care even about our ancestors to the extent we like to think we do (of course the other issue is, how much of our ancestors they really are, how much our name is really ours, with the typical levels of human infidelity & only very recent emergence of reliable paternity tests); and we seem to prefer cherishing myths about our importance (not having the decency to remember even about the rough number of the dead; or, in different sphere, Lake Wobegon effect and such) ...so just don't expect too much WRT people remembering some dead strangers.

BTW, not sure if a species doing this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Human_welfare_and_ecological_foot... can be described as really caring about a better world (but we like to say to ourselves that we do, oh yes)

Reply Score: 2

RE: Time scale
by zima on Tue 26th Jun 2012 22:48 UTC in reply to "Time scale"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Fact is that in may be, 50 years, very very few will learn about MacArthur, Montgomery and other recent heroes but every student that carry on will read about those that advanced the human knowledge

Ecologist Robert MacArthur, and particle accelerator physicist Hugh E. Montgomery?


But seriously - in 50 years expect more the still fresh effects of 2040s popcultural hysteria, about the events that happened exactly a century earlier...

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Time scale
by acobar on Wed 27th Jun 2012 01:23 UTC in reply to "RE: Time scale"
acobar Member since:
2005-11-15

Hum, sarcasm I presume, but as there is always a shadow of doubt on this cases: General Douglas MacArthur and Marshal Bernard Montgomery. When I was a young boy there were lots of books, documentaries and movies about or citing them. What we have now? Most kids will never hear about them, even more likely if they are not from USA or England.

That is why I used "Time scale" for title. Those of US that like to learn, and are in the very special position to afford that, will learn about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle even though they lived 2500 years ago. Will learn about Euclid and the impact of math development. Will identify the struggle to understand ourselves and the world we live in, sometimes even receding and rediscovering. This is what I tried to emphasize. Those characters on our history that gave a boost to ourselves despite living way before us. And learning and commenting about them is a way to render tribute to them. It has nothing to do with pop cultural hysteria or five minutes fame, for what matters.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Time scale
by zima on Wed 27th Jun 2012 07:53 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Time scale"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

The opening of second sentence didn't make it clear enough? (but "sarcasm" is too strong, too negatively loaded)

But, really, you overlook how there will likely be ~"lots of books, documentaries and movies about or citing them" around 2040s, so close to the moment you pointed at.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Time scale
by zima on Thu 28th Jun 2012 23:05 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Time scale"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

PS. Overall, I guess Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Euclid aren't remembered as well and don't inflame the imagination of people to the degree of Xerxes the Great, Leonidas, Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Spartacus, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Sun Tzu, Moses, Muhammad (let's be honest here, the last two were primarily conquerors), Vlad III the Impaler (you know, possibly a major inspiration for Dracula), Saladin, Cort├ęs...

Reply Score: 2