Posted by: Kash Farooq | December 9, 2012

Sir Patrick Moore: yes, it is OK to admire the work but not the worker

Today Sir Patrick Moore died. And also today, I heard about his controversial views.

Sir Patrick Moore recording the 650th edition of The Sky at Night for the BBC at his home in Selsey, West Sussex in 2006. Photograph: Roger Bamber/Rex Features

Sir Patrick Moore at his home in Selsey, West Sussex in 2006. Photograph: Roger Bamber/Rex Features

I have only recently become interested in astronomy, and so have only recently started regularly watching the Sky at Night. Of course I knew who Patrick Moore was for many years before this, but I’ve never heard anyone mention his controversial views. Until today. Perhaps I’ve just managed to avoid them. I do tend to try to avoid things that induce rage… Or perhaps people don’t like to mention them.

Since his death was announced earlier today, I’ve started reading both praise and criticism, and various quotes and articles started being tweeted around.

In 2007, on reading about Moore’s misogynistic comments, Phil Plait blogged:

A couple of years ago I was invited to go on the show as a guest of Sir Patrick’s — he is a Moon hoax debunker as well — but we couldn’t work out the details. Now I won’t go on even if they ask me again. It’s a shame, really, but since he’s made his views public, I don’t see much of a need to endorse him, tacitly or otherwise.

His views on women are bizarre. He blames women for lowering the quality of programmes on the BBC and states that he stopped watching Star Trek when they started having female commanders. Read some of his quotes in this old BBC article.

And then there are also the xenophobic (bordering on racist) comments.

I highly recommend the Activism and Political Beliefs section of this Wikipedia page. Sir Patrick Moore was…complicated should we say?

Today Phil Plait blogged about Moore again and said this:

I don’t think we necessarily need to forgive the recently deceased their failings, but neither should we let that keep us from praising their accomplishments.

I Tweeted this in agreement and received a “playing devil’s advocate” reply from a friend that made me stop and think.

So, can you appreciate someone’s work and accomplishments even if some of their views are opposite to your own?

Yes, I think you can.

On one of the few times I have gotten myself into a “discussion” with a creationist, this is one of her killer arguments:

How can you of all people believe in evolution? Darwin was a racist.

This clearly nonsense argument was something I’d now recognise as a logical fallacy (this conversation was a few years ago, much before I’d heard of skepticism and logical fallacies). I now know that this is the Poisoning The Well logical fallacy. Of course, regardless of whether Darwin was a racist or not, this does not invalidate Darwin’s theories. [By the way, I recommend the RationalWiki Foundation page about Darwin and racism.]. That’ll teach me for trying to have discussions with creationists.

So that’s where I am. Sir Patrick Moore inspired many kids to become astronomers, Sky at Night is fantastic, and as an amateur astronomer he practically became the world expert on the Moon. He was a fantastic communicator and populariser of astronomy – I love what he did to promote astronomy and get people excited about it.

I just don’t have to agree with his non-astronomy related views.

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  1. Great blog post 🙂

  2. Great piece, I considered writing something similar, but could not have done as good a job. We should laud his work, not his politics and not feel afraid to criticise the man.

    Those who won’t listen to criticism are guilty of over-simplifying their lives into simple binary pigeon holes of “good” and “bad”. But, just like the night sky, on close inspection, people are never black and white.

  3. You forgot to mention his homophobia.

  4. I agree with this post. There’s no doubt Patrick Moore has done some good science communication work.

    I think the reason that I’m forced to mention this side of him are things like this BBC Science Club tweet: “Everyone has great memories of Sir Patrick Moore who has died aged 89. What’s your favourite memory of the astronomer?” Well, no, actually I’m sure that many people have a lot of unpleasant memories of him, and I think it’s a little tactless to ignore that there was a side of him that was really quite nasty.

  5. Phil Plait bugs me too for specific reasons!

    • Not sure what the word “too” was for in your comment! I was agreeing with Phil Plait’s point of view.

  6. Nicely put, Kash.

    Unpleasant as his political views clearly were, he had a right to express them, and to use what fame he had to further the causes he believed in. I am extremely grateful therefore that (to my knowledge) he was professional enough not to let his politics get in the way of his astronomy work.

    That said, it occurs to me now that The Sky At Night seems still to be a male-dominated affair. Is that due to Patrick’s misogynist influence, or a reflection of astronomy / science communication in general?

  7. Reblogged this on History Space.

  8. The first 2 books I read in 1966 (age11) after a trip to the old Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco were Patrick Moore’s “Guide to the Moon” and “Guide to the Planets”. My parents gave me a requested copy of Wilkins & Moore’s “The Moon” for Christmas in 1970. Patrick Moore heavily influenced my thinking about Astronomy for at least the first 10 years I was obsessed with it.

    Having said said this, i have to say after reading Martin Mobberley’s, (a friend and admirer’s) biography of Patrick Moore, the veracity of which I’ve seen no one challenge, Phil Platt doesn’t go far enough. Patrick Moore was not just Racist and Sexist, he was a Poser and Psychopathic Liar.

    One of the things that offended me the most were Moore’s numerous attempts as related by Mobberley and Moore’s autobiography “80 Not Out” to portray himself as a “war hero”. I actually thought after reading that book he might he might have been a commando with the early SAS, certainly led you to believe that. But no, Mobberley could only authenticate Moore joined the RAF in 1943 (at 20) not 1939, (at 16) as Moore claimed. He flew crew as a navigator for less then the last year of war off the coast looking for U-boats, not the dangerous early raids into Germany as he claimed. If Moore had stated the truth that he served served his country and went where he was ordered that would have been fine and honorable. But he tried to make himself look like Audie Murphy or JFK in PT109 which he absolutely was not.
    I don’t know what they call people like this on the other side of the “pond” , but on this side we call them “Bullshitters”!

    I won’t even comment on the imaginary girl friend “Lorna” Mobberley could find no trace of. Such delusions are the realm of Psychopathic.

    As Mobberley relates many of the older members of the BAA did not like Moore. I think I would have been one of them.


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