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.