UK: Treatment of (gay) genius mathematician Alan Turing "appalling"

At long last:
The Prime Minister has released a statement on the Second World War code-breaker, Alan Turing, recognising the 'appalling' way he was treated for being gay. Alan Turing, a mathematician most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes, was convicted of 'gross indecency' in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration.

Treatment of Alan Turing was "appalling" - PM (



  1. I am glad to know that this statement was made. It is important even so many years after the fact to have an official statement. Let his humiliation be a reminder to the insanity that unexamined prejudices can lead to.

  2. It’s a good apology, but telling and disappointing that Turing is framed purely as a war-hero.

    Turing is truly a landmark mathematician, of a stature that will endure for centuries – and made fundamental, foundational and important discoveries in the field of computer science. “The father of computing” is not hyperbole.

    So yes, while some may owe some freedom to Turing’s wartime efforts, it is astonishing that there is no mention that the very modern world – the miracles of computation and the benefits it bestows on us all – would not be were it not for his contributions.

    It is revealing that in the act of synopsis, and the necessity to condense this brilliant man’s output into a few paragraphs, it is the nationalistic angle that wins, rather than the important contributions to fundamental progress.

    That said – a well deserved apology.

  3. Actually, for many years he was most famous for his work in the foundations of computer science (the universal Turing machine, the Turing Test, the halting problem, etc) and if I recall correctly, at the time of his death his work on breaking the Enigma was still classified so the public didn’t know about it.

  4. The last sentence of the Prime Minister’s statement is well said…

    “So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”

  5. @colmmacc: to be fair, I knew about Turing mostly for his work in computer science, but that’s because I first learned about him in my computer science class.

  6. perhaps this is to soften the blow (for the government) when the full facts of his death emerge.

    Nice link there, Fox, all this time I thought it was a PC when it was really a HDM.

  7. I’m sure Gordon Brown must have approved what he signed his name to, but I can’t help wondering whether Peter Mandelson was the driving force behind, and perhaps the author of, the apology.

  8. While the long-overdue apology to Turing is fine and all, the man is dead, and there are millions of British of citizens dealing with the social ills still plaguing the United Kingdoms – not to mention wrestling with the pall ghost cast upon them all by the BNP’s rise in power.

    Rather than an empty apology, devoid of even any real sincerity, and meant solely as a means of buffering their position with the LGBT community… it’d be far more meaningful if the UK government used Turing’s legacy as the rallying call for a resurgent struggle against discrimination.

  9. Takuan, you mean how he was killed by the British government to cover what the fact that he had discovered a proof that P=NP which could also be used to summon Cthulhu?

    In case anyone is wondering, that’s the central premise of “The Atrocity Archives” which is an amazing, insane book by Charles Stross.

  10. And while we’re at it, a hearty BRAVO to all the hearty (and hot) britfags who’ve contributed so much to the cultural and intellectual life of the Western hemisphere! Toodley-pips!

  11. I find it disappointing. They should have apologized to everybody who was persecuted under these laws, or not at all. Apologizing to just one person — as I’ve said before — sounds like they’re saying “Hey, he was a pretty good guy, even though he was gay.” Or, “Yes, he was gay, but he helped us win a war, so that makes up for it.” What it doesn’t sound like is that they’re serious about equality and atoning for past oppression.

  12. Depressing to think that something like this took place so recently. Bet even today obama couldn’t get away with a statement so un-condemning of the gays without backlash.

  13. Nothing could be more appalling than how obscenely long it takes to get justice for those like Turing… if you can call a too-little-too-late apology ‘justice’ that is.

  14. #18 Adamta: The apology was not-so-implicitly extended to all gays persecuted under the law:

    “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

  15. @21

    I’m sorry, I don’t follow you. would you rather there was never any official acknowledgement of just how plain wrong this whole sad chapter of british history was?

  16. Its good to see, after so many years, the apology from British Government for Turing.

    However, I do not see as moraly sufficient.
    First, the importance of Turing is far more reaching than breaking the Enigma. His concept of universal computer, later called “Turing machine” is the foundation for all computers we have and for all we can imagine.

    No one invented anything in computer science that could transcend “Turing machine”.
    It is strange that this aspect of Turing’s achievements is not stressed.

    While his solution of Enigma was universal and much better than previous attempts, and very important for the history of WWII – I think his fundamental work and most important legacy is “Turing Machine”.

    If he lived longer, he would probably work longer on this fundamental concept, and we would have much better computers, we would understand better what is beyond “Turing Machine”.

    The act of chemical castration performed on him, which caused his suicide is a crime that should be punished.

    While I’m happy to read British Government statemant, I expect and investigation to open.
    People who commited the crime should be brought to justice …

  17. @24- Perhaps reviewing the concept of Sovereign Immunity before getting your hopes up too far would be beneficial on that…

  18. @24

    things were a bit different back then, it was the british people who were responsible, that’s like, democracy.

    they’re better now.

  19. Well, if we were to apply Sovereign Immunity, we would not be able to go after nazis, communists and other regimes crimes…

    I know a bit about these things, and I wonder if the Crown Proceeding Act (as far as I remember – 1947 – before Turing was forcibly castrated) could not allow for such an investigation…

  20. Forgive the crassness but F***ing finally.

    and I think in the end Turings would have had the last laugh. Nothing of the modern age increases sexual freedom more than the internet, the connections of computers that without him would not be possible.

    Now if you excuse me I think I’m going to use the tubes to do just that.

  21. I’m still hearing a (small?) chorus of voices – mostly black, all christian – saying gay rights aren’t civil rights.

    This sort of public apology is important on heaps of levels, just one of which is restoring the dignity of the awesome man, however late it may be.

  22. For a second a thought that women was protesting teh evil gayz, and it was immensely funnyscaryfunny.

    Still funny, and thank christ it’s pro not anti. Great sign.

  23. @27- And if you don’t apply sovereign immunity, no member of government will do anything for fear that a later change in social conditions will make him subject to arrest, etc.

    “Thank goodness that in 2050 we’re finally able to bring to justice those who unjustly punished those who castrated Turing…”

  24. I stayed up past my bedtime to read the statement when released, after getting hints that something was coming. It’s far too long coming. Maybe I’m just a silly optimist, but this seems like a first step toward a larger acknowledgment of the wrongs against so many.

    I agree that Turing was much more than ‘just’ the man who broke Enigma, but that’s a giant moment in history that one can point to and say ‘This is where it all started’. Turing was already well into the work that lead to his ‘father of modern computing’ status, but the work done during the war had a great impact on that.

    Now if only we could see Bletchley Park given the support and protection it needs. What a fantastic place for a memorial to the war effort, to Turing and his work, the dawn of modern technology, and the idea that minds and creativity can overcome war and evil, not just bombs and guns.

  25. No, I am pretty sure the intention of the post was that we shouldn’t have to wait until 50 years after the death of someone who was unjustly persecuted under bigoted laws for some form of justice to take place. The terrible irony is that we are so often apologizing for the ills of previous people in our nation’s governments while not realizing that the same will probably be done as per our own bigotries 50 years down the road. We need to make that connection and fight for justice NOW instead of relying upon the fact that our candle will soon too burn out without us having to repent for our sins because a half-hearted apology will be given by our ancestors in a few decades so all is well.

  26. FINALLY.

    To the people who are downing this, get over it.

    Without Turing and his efforts we’d all be speaking German, and certainly not having this discussion or looking at this site. I really hope now that they’ve addressed this issue they can finally give Bletchley Park the attention it deserves, since they don’t have to worry about drawing attention to this huge mistake any longer. Sure the appology doesn’t fix it, or change anything, or help to starving or poor or whatever… but it’s the least they can do for someone who did so much for so many and was treated so poorly. Long time coming. Sleep well, Mr Turing.

  27. the most amazing thing; today, when I arose, the sun caught a single bead on the continuous curtain, as seen through a crack in the blinds.

  28. This is remarkable, given how the early negotiations with the PM’s office (conducted entirely via IM) went:

    TuringFans: We’d like you to issue an apology to Alan Turing.


    TuringFans: Well, he was treated rather shabbily by the British government.


    TuringFans: He was harassed, verbally abused, sacked, and denied credit for his work, even though it was crucial to winning the war.


    TuringFans: That’s what we’re trying to do!


  29. “Homo Devil Machine”

    Well, I certainly know what my next case-mod is going to be :)

    I wonder how long I could get away with that on the back of my laptop before I got lynched…

  30. I can barely imagine what must have been going through Turning’s head as the Judge passed his sentence and the government kicked fire him from GCHQ. This was precisley the kind of oppressive nonsense that the war was supposed to end, that he gave his talent to. The phrase ‘sick irony’ does not even begin to describe this, but it will have to do.

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