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Turing Archive Director Questions Alan Turing Suicide Report 121

That Alan Turing committed suicide is widely accepted as fact. Now, an anonymous reader writes, "According to Professor Jack Copeland, director of the The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, 'The coroner [in Turing's case] didn't really investigate the evidence at all, he just jumped to the conclusion that he committed suicide. He seems to have been very biased from the statements in newspapers at the time.' Copeland further said that medical evidence suggested Turing died from inhaling cyanide rather than drinking or ingesting it."
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Turing Archive Director Questions Alan Turing Suicide Report

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  • All right! (Score:5, Funny)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @02:28PM (#40430855)

    Slashdot's finally gotten to the point where its stories are driven by the Google Doodle!

  • Perfect timing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rgbrenner ( 317308 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @02:30PM (#40430863)

    It's only been a mere 58 years. Now is the time to look into this.

    • by dragisha ( 788 )

      It's only been a mere 58 years. Now is the time to look into this.

      No brainer for Dr. Brennan. She solved JFK case, kind of warming up for Turing.

      • by flyneye ( 84093 )

        So, there is a Kennedy/Turing connection? I knew it! Those Kennedys would put it in anything that couldn't run faster than them.

    • by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Sunday June 24, 2012 @03:54PM (#40431397)

      Please note that most seem to be construing this news as a cue to believe that Turing may have been murdered (by the British government, naturally), when in reality, Prof Jack Copeland, the foremost Turing scholar, and Turing's own mother thought it to be a careless accident rather than a suicide, with Copeland saying "the evidence should be taken at face value - that an accidental death is certainly consistent with all the currently known circumstances." [bbc.co.uk] The truth is that the initial inquest was so sloppy we will never know for certain, so those who are apt to believe in government conspiracies will no doubt believe he was assassinated (after he was already subject to humiliating chemical castration), even as the premier Turing expert believes it was more likely an accident.

      • Be aware: There are likely to be some heavy politics attached to this one. There's a little LGBT politi-blurb making the rounds in Facebook now that claims Turing committed suicide because he was discovered to be gay. Leaving the politics aside, he died a couple of years after the (grossly wrong) conviction/oestrogen injections, but it hasn't stopped certain political groups from using his history to further their own agenda.

        • by Eric S. Smith ( 162 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @04:27PM (#40431609) Homepage

          "...he died a couple of years after the (grossly wrong) conviction..."

          Because if he didn't kill himself that very day, it isn't a plausible cause?

          • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @11:33PM (#40434899) Journal

            That's the thing - no one knows for certain (no diary entries, notes, conversations with friends, etc) that would indicate either way, and yet it's being pushed as direct causation.

            Plausible? Maybe. Possible? Certainly. Probable? Unknown.

            OTOH, I don't like how quickly and easily correlation instantly becomes causation and gets pressed into an ideological cause... no matter who does it, or why they do it.

            • That his personal and professional life was destroyed by bigotry due to his homosexuality is well established and uncontroversial. If he did commit suicide, then the existence of a causal link is nearly inevitable. The part that hasn't been well established is whether he did, in fact, commit suicide.

              (Correlation can imply causation if there is no other viable cause and the absence of a cause is unlikely. He could have suffered a devastating mental illness that made him suicidal, but there is no evidence of this, whereas the discrimination is well documented.)

        • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

          He died a couple of years after the (grossly wrong) conviction/oestrogen injections,

          I think I should clarify, "grossly wrong" applies to morality not to a miscarriage of justice. The law of the time was applied and there is no indication that there were any legal errors or that procedures were not followed.

      • murder is so much more interesting!
      • by exa ( 27197 )

        Isn't Copeland one of those hypercomputation idiots? I wonder how he got his tenure.

      • Why by the British government? They forced Turing to try a somewhat experimental treatment for a condition that wasn't really any of their business, and the worst case assumption is this caused a suicidal depression. They still were apparently thinking the treatment was for Turing's own good. Yes, people can do a lot of harm that way, but it doesn't mean they will necessarily come to hate or even murder the person. Every case where somebody misguidedly forces a person to do something for his own good is no

    • by idji ( 984038 )
      it's because it's precisely 100 years from his birth that Turing has a lot of attention this week
  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @02:38PM (#40430909)

    His suicide was widely reported as fact. I have serious doubts that anyone who looked into the life of Turing actually believed that his suicide was a fact. (Opinions seemed to vary from conspiracy theories focussed on a government assassination, to it was probably suicide but the investigation was so botched up that we'll never know.)

    • The guy isn't claiming any sort of conspiracy theory:

      He said medical evidence suggested Turing died from inhaling cyanide rather than drinking or ingesting it. He said police reported a strong smell of cyanide coming from Turing's lab, where he used it in amateur experiments.

  • by ggpauly ( 263626 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @02:48PM (#40430981) Homepage

    As a chemist who has worked with cyanide, I question whether he would have chosen this method to end his own life. Cyanide poisoning is extremely unpleasant and chemists who work with it generally are aware of this. Cyanide gas is very easy to produce from cyanide solutions, just a matter of adjusting or failing to adjust the pH. I have given myself low level cyanide poisoning without being aware of it until the symptoms appeared hours later, and many others have been saved by having the antidote at hand when they realized they had been exposed.

    The gas could easily have been produced in his laboratory by his own accident or neglect, or by someone else.

    In my opinion Turing's death by cyanide poisoning was not an intentional suicide.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      well, it just wouldn't sound good if you phrase Turings death as a darwin award. so maybe people just don't want to dig it up.

      • by cfalcon ( 779563 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @03:06PM (#40431113)

        Darwin awards aren't given to people whose exposure to danger is consciously undertaken, and most certainly not those for whom the risk was for the betterment of society- for instance, coal mine workers, soldiers, infectious agent researchers, and of course, scientists.

        http://www.darwinawards.com/rules/rules2.html [darwinawards.com]

        Anyway, I do find myself hoping that Alan Turing's death was accidental instead of deliberate.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I think taking reckless and unnecessary risks might qualify a scientist for a Darwin award. The BBC article says that he was in the habit of identifying chemicals by tasting them. If he died by tasting cyanide, that might qualify for a Darwin award.

      • That's not what a Darwin Award is.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by rubycodez ( 864176 )

          all exclusively gay men get a Darwin award; their genes will never propogate

          • Someone modded this funny?
          • by bky1701 ( 979071 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @04:36PM (#40431671) Homepage
            The Darwin Award is strictly for people whose genes never propagate in cases where that is the preferred outcome. Basically, people too stupid for their own good. I highly doubt one of the first computer scientists falls under that category.
            • so now we're getting serious about my stupid joke? ok, let's have at it. that's your definition, not Darwin's. Behaviour that leads to no offspring is the issue

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Raise your hand if you have an uncle who left you a nice sum of money because he wasn't married and/or doted on you with financial gifts beyond the usual proportions. How does this not enhance the survival of common genes? At the very least, the presence of non-procreating members in a tribe isn't harmful and might have conveyed some advantages over tribes with higher procreation percentages. There's also a grandmother theory that runs along similar lines. Post-menopausal women don't get the "Darwin awa

            • My uncle didn't leave me a damn thing, but went around fucking a lot of women. He's more successful by Darwin's critieria than your nice Uncle BooFoo

          • It's funny, funny that slashdotters are still so ignorant regarding things outside of their own experience. A lot of gay people procreate biologically, fucking is not the only way to introduce sperm into a vagina; for a gay man, that vagina could be a paid surrogate or a friend's, for a gay woman, that sperm could be a sperm donation or a close friend's.
            • that is quite uncommon, and also falls outsinde MY definition of "exclusively gay", that is heterosexual reproduction. When a baby crawls out of a man's ass after 9 months, then give me a call and I'll retract what I said.

              • Then your "definition" of "exclusively gay" is pretty stupid. A syringe of semen squirted up someone's vagina doesn't sound very heterosexual to me. It doesn't sound sexual at all. Yet pretty much every lesbian family is started off in this way. Rich gay couples are using surrogacy (which in no way or form involves anyone having sex, and often the egg is not even from the surrogate) now more than ever. These people certainly aren't sexing anyone of the opposite gender to fulfil their reproductive needs. No
                • post a video of the syringing and I"ll bet someone wanks to it. put it on wikipedia and watch the complaints of porn on the pedia.

                  anyway, what you speak of is still rather rare because it costs money (often requires lawyers because progeny and prosperity have links in our civilization). I know quite a few L & G couples, none have children. On the other hand, there are married men who "get it on the down-low", but now that's into the "not exclusively gay" realm.

                  Amazing how many feminist columnists tak

                  • This discussion is drifting towards more and more topics, not a bad thing imo, but I'm going to address them as best I can.

                    anyway, what you speak of is still rather rare because it costs money (often requires lawyers because progeny and prosperity have links in our civilization)

                    Well, that's why there's such a push for gay marriage. If the lesbians are married, and they've acquired the sperm from a sperm bank with appropriate paperwork, they won't need a lawyer for anything, just a session with a medical professional who can carry out the "turkey-basting" all official-like. Likewise, married gay couples can adopt if they are not rich enough to afford surrogates

          • It has been established that the sisters of gay men have more kids. The exact mechanism is unknown but presumably the genes that tend to make them gay tend to make their sisters more prolific mothers. They might not have kids themselves but could still have better inclusive fitness.
        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          it can be worded as such.

          he was playing around with cyanide for what can be said as no good reason while he wasn't qualified to handle it.
          WITH FUCKING CYANIDE. yes, it could be easily worded as darwin award.

          if he did it on purpose, it's another matter, but if it was an accident on his behalf, of course that would count as a darwin award.

          (offtopic my ass..)

      • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

        well, it just wouldn't sound good if you phrase Turings death as a darwin award. so maybe people just don't want to dig it up.

        Surely he excluded himself by being homosexual.

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      I vote accident myself, but with lack of true evidence i can see why they might say it was intentional.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If it's true then the romantic notion of him being bullied into poisoned-apple suicide by his government for homosex is false.
      If I had to pick a preferred scenario, I'd go for accidental death.

    • by cffrost ( 885375 )

      I have given myself low level cyanide poisoning without being aware of it until the symptoms appeared hours later [...]

      Will you please describe the effects you experienced? Did you panic when you realized what was occurring? Did you have access to an antidote, and if so, was it required for recovery at the dose you received?

    • Gas filled balloons perhaps? It sounds like a plot for a movie.

      http://archive.org/details/Danger_on_the_Air_movie [archive.org]
      (free view or DL, from 1938)

    • Cyanide poisoning is extremely unpleasant and chemists who work with it generally are aware of this.

      Turing wasn't a chemist.

  • The widely acknowledge factoid is more than suicide. The claims are he poisoned himself with an apple injected with cyanide, after becoming obsessed with Disney's Snow-White movie. Where does this folklore come from ?

    He synthesized cyanide himself, so of course his apartment smelled of it. The idea that a gay man with drug-induced depression could wish to eat the enchanted apple to sleep a hundred years before a prince wakes him up in a more tolerant world seems pretty credible to me.
    • by ggpauly ( 263626 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @03:35PM (#40431293) Homepage

      So you're suggesting that one of the greatest polymaths since Eratosthenes had the the mentality of a 5 year old girl, in part because he was gay?

      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        Not because he was gay, but because he was in a depression caused by the drugs he was forced to take against his gayness (a then criminal offense in UK). He was forces to take hormones to modify his sexual behavior. He was having several medical problems (including growing boobs IIRC) and was forbidden to meet the man he loved.

        And yes, as you point out, he was a polymath and a genius, someone who probably felt he was trapped in a retarded world and who could envision the future.

        So, in a moment of depres
    • by l00sr ( 266426 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @03:58PM (#40431429)

      The beeb has an article [bbc.co.uk] that addresses the apple thing--he often ate an apple before bedtime, so the fact that a half-eaten apple was found on his night stand wasn't unusual at all, and the apple was never tested for cyanide.

      • by gay358 ( 770596 )

        BTW, apple seeds contain cyanide compound which is why they should not be eaten. But I guess, that it you have to eat a lot of seeds and chew them, before it your life is in danger.

  • You might as well do a criminal investigation on Julius Caesar.

    • by bky1701 ( 979071 )
      Yeah, because no one ever undertook that exact effort. Archaeologists the world over just wrung their hands at it.
  • Who knew Alan Turing was a vampire hunter?

  • by koan ( 80826 )

    No one that understands cyanide would choose that as a suicide method.

  • "that medical evidence suggested Turing died from inhaling cyanide rather than drinking or ingesting it."

    And we all know that inhaling cyanide (as opposed to eating or drinking it) actually has therapeutic effects for depressed men who have been arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime of loving someone of their own gender and then subjected to chemical castration. It couldn't have been suicide.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Allen was a known associate of Torchwood from 1951 through 1956. He was reported dead on 8Jun54, but you can't believe everything you read. He began travelling with The Doctor 7May52. Allan lives! end transmission.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger