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In remembrance of Sir Patrick Moore – the good and the daft

Sir Patrick Moore, who Queen guitarist Brian May once described as the “father of astronomy”, died over the weekend, as many will have no doubt already heard. As I wrote something by way of a tribute to his work on Twitter and Facebook I was speedily reminded that he also had very hairy political views. I want to briefly explain why I think we can distinguish the two things.

People who deal, professionally, with sets of objectively analysed data – economists or scientists, say – play two often inharmonious roles: analysts and people with opinions, good and daft, just like everybody else.

A couple of years ago I had been reading something on worms from the University of Utah (don’t we all?) where a scientist was able to modify the sexual orientation of worms in his study. Throughout the study, the quantitative analysis tended in favour of showing that sexual orientation is genetically hard-wired in the brains of worms.

However the scientist involved took off his analyst hat for a moment when he was interviewed by the press, and while adjusting his person with opinions, daft and good hat said that, regarding his study, we ought to remember that “humans, unlike worms, have free will and therefore sexuality is not genetically linked.”

It is interesting that the scientist is unscientifically extrapolating from his own scientific study, but to be sure it doesn’t seem likely – and I’m sure many geneticists would say the same – that humans are the sexualities that they are because of free will. Free will may play a part in whether we choose to act upon our sexual orientation or not, but there is less to support the statement that free will determines our sexuality.

So, since this showed me once again that scientists could be two things – analysts and people with opinions, good and daft, just like everybody else – this only adds to the reason why we can celebrate the work of Sir Patrick Moore and dislike his daft opinions. Seems obvious.

I’ll make this easy for everyone now:

Things we can and must celebrate

  • He was the author of over 70 books on astronomy.
  • His research was used by the US and Russia in their space programmes.
  • He wore a monocle.
  • He preferred evidence rather than wishful thinking on UFOs and “sightings” of them.
  • The Sky at Night, which he did for over 700 episodes, was aimed at the casual viewer, rather than professionals (he only missed one episode in 2004 because he ate a contaminated goose egg that gave him food poisoning).
  • He cared about the public understanding of astronomy so much that he replied to all letters he received, even if they came from conspiracy theorists (a particular bug bear for Moore), and he left his phone number and address listed so people interested in his work could phone him or visit to see his observatory.
  • He compiled the Caldwell catalogue of astronomical objects and in 1982, asteroid 2602 Moore was named in his honour.

Things which make him daft

  • He felt French and German people could not be trusted.
  • He thought that the Liberal Democrats would join up with the BNP or the SWP to get more votes (there is no evidence that the Lib Dems would do anything so stupid as to join up with right wingers to gain power. None what so ever).
  • He felt that Liechtenstein had the best political system in the world (even though that is based on a constitutional monarchy led by a single prince).
  • He was one of those annoying British weights and measurements types where you kind of wonder whether they’re joking or not.
  • He liked Enoch Powell.
  • He thought that the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act were things designed by the mythical PC Brigade to stop us all from having loads of fun at other people’s expense.
  • He actually wrote the following in his 2003 autobiography: “homosexuals are mainly responsible for the spreading of AIDS (the Garden of Eden is home of Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve)”.
  • Even though he stayed with the BBC throughout his life, citing a gentleman’s agreement with them, and turning down more lucrative deals from other channels, he felt the corporation was being ruined by women with cooking shows and quizzes.

7 Comments

  1. Imran Khan says:

    What not to like about the man? Until the advent of people who shared needles HIV was the preserve of gay men.

    I hate cookery programmes and quizzes .

    The PC brigade do exist, or did until Trevor Phillips was brought in to shut down the CRE, thank God.

    Unlike the French and Germans we have a system of Contract Law based on Common Law and not statute.

    Apart from Asians Enoch Powell was correct.

    There is little if any difference between the BNP and the SWP.

    Oh, he also had a sense of humour!

  2. Mike says:

    Before we get to swept away with the idea that he was a national treasure, he was actually a very active right-winger linked to some quite unpleasant organisations in the 1970s. The glowing obits tell us that he replied to every school student’s inquiring letter. I recall reading once that he sent back one such letter simply with the punctuation and spelling corrected.

  3. Imran Khan says:

    As regards punctuation and spelling he was quite correct. It should be compulsory in schools being taught instead of multicultural studies.

  4. David Walsh says:

    I worked (and still work) in an MP’s office. On one occasion I recall being rung by someone from the British Weights and Measurements Association. I thought they were some kind of pukka trade body, and suggested that if any of their members were having problems with conversion of feet and inches to metric (which at the time was a common drawing office issue) I knew a firm who had developed some good software which was able to scan drawings and translate from one to the other. It was only the howl of outrage that followed this, that told me that the said body was some kind of proto-UKIP of the early 1980’s.

  5. Robert says:

    Well of course Hitler had some great ideas about getting people back to work, sadly he had some bad idea’s about getting unemployment down with the disabled and the sick, although I’m sure both Labour and the Tories would have had a look at them.

    he did have some weird ideas on freedom of sex, and he did not like people from other countries unless they looked at stars.

    On the whole he was what we use to call eccentric and old English gent who was as daft as a brush

  6. Imran Khan says:

    David and Robert.

    The point of your posts please?

  7. David Walsh says:

    The British Weights and Measurement Association were referred to in the original post if you had read it diligently

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