Since we live in an age in which scientists such as Richard Dawkins routinely perform lab experiments on priests running around in rat cages, it may surprise many of you that there was once a time in which some of the most brilliant men of science faced persecution and ridicule. Yes, these men probably couldn’t go to that deli ‘round the block with getting picked on by the neighborhood kids.
Over the centuries however — the general perception has changed to due many reasons. Many people got pissed at Jesus & Gang for drinking tea and being away from work while the holocaust went on and all that. Also, science was coming up with all types of inventions — like that microwave so you didn’t have to go to the cinema and watch a Woody Allen movie just so you could eat popcorn. So it was no surprise that more people moved towards rationalism and scientific enquiry and left the Gods to fight out amongst them. A moment of silence, here, for the people in Iraq, who must be wondering that this article was written in the future.
We will now look at six groundbreaking scientists, or groups of scientists that have been treated like hobos and pretty much treated like a post-acquittal George Zimmerman for one reason or the other.
Anyone that has ever opened a science textbook knows Galileo better than an Eminem song. The man was instrumental in inventing the first really effective telescope. That telescope he invented aided him in making some of the most astounding discoveries in observational astronomy. It also helped him confirm his belief in the heliocentric theory, or literally put, that the Sun is the center of the solar system. He has been called the father of science, the father of observational astronomy and even the real father of North Galileo-West.
Not surprisingly, Galileo got in all sorts of trouble with the Church, which was like the NSA of it’s time, sorting through Big Data and layin’ the smackdown on anyone acting smart. His writings reached the Inquisition, which pretty much thought that the heliocentric theory had to be bullshit cause the guys who wrote and rewrote the New Testament after Jesus’s death couldn’t be wrong.
Galileo was found ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’ and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.
On orders of the Pope Paul V, Cardinal Bellarmine calls Galileo to his residence and administers a warning not to hold or defend the Copernican theory. An unsigned transcript in the Inquisition file, discovered in 1633, states that Galileo is also forbidden to discuss the theory orally or in writing.
With a formal threat of torture, Galileo is examined by the Inquisition. The next day he is sentenced to prison at the pleasure of the Inqusition and to religious penances. The sentence is signed by only seven of the ten cardinal-inquisitors.
Now it would be just wrong to talk about the heliocentric model without crediting the man who bought it up in the first place. Copernicus was the man behind such hits as the heliocentric theory. Although Copernicus didn’t really face persecution within his lifetime, he did spend many of his days wondering whether to go ahead with publishing his ideas.
Copernicus’s book was not released until after his death, possibly so they couldn’t kill him before he could release the book, but most probably because he was afraid of the criticism and ridicule. However, as expected, a rave of criticism gradually came flowing in from all circles. From Martin Luther to his own collaborator, everyone was a bit pissed off at the overall claims of the book.
It is true that Copernicus hesitated to publish, but probably less from fear of heresy than from fear of ridicule by his peers. Aristotle’s world view was so entrenched in the sixteenth century that to question it was asking for trouble.
Darwin’s game-changing theory of evolution actually goes like this: all species have descended over time through common ancestors, driven by the process of natural selection. Add to that a little rhetoric such as the ‘survival of the fittest’ and you have a scientific theory that gives the Bible’s Adam and Eve a serious existential crisis.
Unsurprisingly, On the Origins of the Species did take a fair share of flak from the general public. The only reason Darwin probably came through it was the sincere effort of many scientists and thinkers of the age in using Darwin’s theory as an imperfect proof of God’s grand design.
The clerics were also not too impressed. They failed to see much in an explanation of man’s origins that had no room for love and compassion or the use the use of these things to subjugate people. Karl Marx felt that the book was ‘a bitter satire’ and local publications were full of loathsome attacks on Darwin’s person and theory.
Darwin’s theory of evolution offended the priests of the Church as it challenged their literal interpretations of the scriptures. They declared him a heretic and persecuted him. Darwin, himself, was a peaceful man who did not enjoy engaging in heated religious and controversial political debates, but some of his friends, colleagues and disciples defended him publicly and got into angry debates with the clergy. Those debates made Darwin both famous and infamous.
Perhaps the most frequently cited passages suggesting fear and anticipation of criticisms are these from the transmutation notebooks:
I fear great evil from vast opposition in opinion on all subjects of classification, I must work out hypothesis, & compare it with resuts. if I acted otherwise, my premises would be disputed.
Alan Turing was quite possibly the father of computer science but he was also one thing you were not supposed to be in 20th century Europe: he was gay. When he was not busy munching those bananas, he spent his time formulating the Turing machine (possibly the first computational computer model) and came up with techniques to decode German ciphers in World War
In 1952, homosexuality was a criminal activity and if prosecuted, your ass was grass. Which wouldn’t be too bad of a thing if you were a dumb, blonde, lonely gay kid in Montana who wouldn’t mind the sausage party that goes on 365 days a year at the Yellowstone County Dention Center. But, you must understand: the man here was a fucking genius and not your local lemonade selling kid.
Turing was chemically castrated after his trial much like a house cat (with estrogen injections). Two weeks later , he was found dead from cyanide poisoning, officially considered to be a suicide.
It’s 60 years since Alan Turing killed himself. In his lifetime he was almost unknown to the public yet today he’s famous both as a pioneer of computing and as someone lacerated by 1950s attitudes to sexuality. But sisters Barbara Maher and Maria Summerscale can recall him as a family friend.
When Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning in June 1954 his death was not huge news. The story of how he and colleagues at Bletchley Park had cracked the German Enigma codes was still secret and the Turing name was not yet public property.
Women scientists, generally.
Women have made significant contributions in recent scientific history, having gained 16 Nobel prizes, starting with the woman who told us it was a-okay for them to win it in the first place, Marie Curry. Recent Nobel Prize winners include Rita Levi-Montalcini, an Italian neurologist for her work in nerve growth factor (NGF) among others.
Uptill the 1800s (and even later in most scientific circle), it was largely believed that women were sent by God to grill that chicken right. Even in the present century, famous women scientists such Chien-Shiung Wu (research on radiation detection and uranium enrichment), Esther Lederberg (discovery of a virus that infects bacteria) and Rosalind Franklin (usage of x-ray to take picture of DNA) have generally been snubbed due to the prevalent sexism in society.
She was not the first woman to have endured indignities in the male-dominated world of science, but Franklin’s case is especially egregious, said Ruth Lewin Sime, a retired chemistry professor at Sacramento City College who has written on women in science.
Over the centuries, female researchers have had to work as “volunteer” faculty members, seen credit for significant discoveries they’ve made assigned to male colleagues, and been written out of textbooks.
Lederberg also wasn’t treated fairly in terms of her academic standing at Stanford, added Falkow, a colleague of Lederberg’s who spoke at her memorial service in 2006. “She had to fight just to be appointed as a research associate professor, whereas she surely should have been afforded full professorial rank. She was not alone. Women were treated badly in academia in those days.”
Abdus Salam was the Nobel Prize winner (only the second Muslim ever) for contribution to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between the most elementary particles. He has been called one of the most influential theoretical physicists for his work in helping our understanding of the weak force and the theory of quantum mechanics.
Abdus Salam did receive the wide acclaim of the scientific community; in his home country of Pakistan, however, he treated more like a shopkeeper rather than the man who proved the electroweak force. Yes, the Pakistani government did posthumously print stamps and all the random shit they do when they don’t want the print cartridges to dry up by just lying there unused. But, generally, there was very little public grief upon his death.
The reason was simple enough: Abdus Salam was a Ahmedi Muslim, which is like being the descendent of Tutkhamen and going to a holiday trip in Israel. In 1974, the Pakistani government proclaimed that all Ahmedis were non-Muslims, which really ticked Abdus Salam off as he packed his two finest shirts and headed to England forever.
Professor Abdus Salam was one of Pakistan’s finest minds. His work in the field of theoretical physics, on unifying the electromagnetic and weak forces, earned him the country’s first — and only — Nobel prize for physics in 1979. He died in 1996 but his name has resurfaced in recent weeks, a reminder of his work in characterising the then hypothetical Higgs boson in the 1960s.
In any other country his incredible achievements would be celebrated. In Pakistan, however, his memory is shunned. His gravestone has been altered so that he is no longer described as a Muslim and his house, bought by the government, stands unmaintained and forgotten.
The reason is that Professor Salam was a member of the minority Ahmadi sect, a group persecuted by successive governments and condemned as heretics by even mainstream Muslims. In 1974, Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, passed a law declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Later laws prevented Ahmadis from describing their places of worship as “mosques”.