Alan Turing and the Necessity of Gay Scientists

If you are reading this, you can thank a gay scientist. An idiosyncratic man by the name of Alan Turing – one of the most brilliant minds this world has ever seen – also happened to be gay.  If you know anything about his history, or have watched The Imitation Game, you’ll know that his sexual orientation proved to be the root ofhis untimely and tragic downfall.  The UK still criminalized homosexuality, and when given the choice between jail and chemical castration, Turing (an unsung national hero) was forced to choose the latter. Chemical castration is one of the more inhumane practices that society has inflicted upon individuals, and it drove him to suicide. Now, today actually, Turing’s family walked in the largest Gay Pride parade London has ever seen.

This is a benchmark for how far along we have come as a society, but think about what was lost.  Turing’s machine paved the way for modern computers.  A whole science – computer science –  was invented by him.  Yet he died much too soon, 16 days before his 42nd birthday.  We will never know what genius marvels he would have thought up had society not been too backward to let him lead the life he wished.

And this is exactly my point.  Science is genderless, unbiased, and secular.  No matter who you are, if your ideas can stand the rigor of the scientific method, you can do science.  But, as we recently saw when Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt made off-hand sexist comments, science is by no means free of bias. The problem is science is done by scientists who are, believe it or not, people.  And people can be sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic , etc etc. Not to mention the micropolitics of individual research institutions and competing labs.  All of this adds up to social mores impeding the progress of science.

So here’s my point: don’t let your biases and preconceptions let you stop scientists from doing science.  Treat every man, woman, and transperson with the same respect, intellectual criticism, and encouragement regardless of race, sex, gender, or sexual orientation.  Let scientists do science, and let the next Alan Turing usher us into a new age of technological wonder we have yet to even imagine.


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