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- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Gay Math Genius Receives Royal Pardon
24 December 2013 12:00 pm
Alan Turing, the British mathematician whose code-breaking is believed to have shortened World War II, was granted a royal pardon today, more than 60 years after being convicted for homosexual behavior and undergoing chemical castration. "Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science," U.K. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said in a statement issued today. "A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man."
Turing, widely seen as the father of modern computing, was working at the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Bletchley Park when he cracked the Enigma code, used by Germany to encrypt its military communications. Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting to a homosexual relationship and was forced to take female hormones as an alternative to jail. He committed suicide in 1954 by ingesting cyanide.
The U.K. government had apologized for the conviction in 2009, calling Turing's treatment "appalling." But it had previously resisted granting a pardon, despite an e-petition signed by more than 37,000 people, including high-profile scientists like Stephen Hawking. Its policy is based on whether the crime violated existing laws—even if the laws are considered unfair today.
Reactions to the government's change of heart have been mixed, The Guardian reports. S. Barry Cooper, a professor of mathematical logic at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and chair of the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee, is quoted as calling the pardon "fantastic." But Andrew Hodges, a mathematician at the University of Oxford’s Wadham College in the United Kingdom who wrote a biography of Turing, points out that many others convicted of similar crimes will never be pardoned.
"Unfortunately, I cannot feel that such a 'pardon' embodies any good legal principle. If anything, it suggests that a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else," the paper quotes Hodges as saying. "A more substantial action would be the release of files on Turing's secret work for GCHQ in the cold war. Loss of security clearance, state distrust and surveillance may have been crucial factors in the two years leading up to his death in 1954."