I love it when a plan comes together. Or, in this case, an online petition accomplishes something.
(Honestly, I don’t want to see statistics on what percentage of online petitions result in action… I bet it’s a low number.)
Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the British Government’s treatment of science hero Alan Turing in the 1950s. From Gordon Brown’s statement:
Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.
This news is exciting not only because a war hero and scientific giant (you’ve probably heard of the “Turing Test,” for example) has finally been exonerated, but also because of the manner in which it was done. The British government maintains an online petition system as part of its website, and 10,000+ British citizens signed this one, moving it up the list quite rapidly. I first found out about it via Facebook last week.
Online activism is still evolving a great deal, but I believe that this is a successful form of it. It used social networking sites in conjunction with an established infrastructure for online petitions that someone somewhere with some amount of authority or influence looked at. It’s great that the UK government has embraced online petitions in this way. Given the overture toward online openness for which the Obama administration is already known, maybe we’ll see something like this soon in the States.
For now, as someone who spent a significant amount of undergraduate classroom time proving that this-or-that algorithm is reducible to a Turing machine, and as someone who wants to see an end to homophobia, I call today a good day.