Imperial College scientists urge university not to cancel founding father Thomas Huxley


Imperial College scientists urge university not to cancel founding father Thomas Huxley as they say charges of ‘scientific racism’ against him are ‘false’

  • Imperial College London is examining links with founding father Thomas Huxley
  • Critics have claimed the 19th century biologist ‘might now be called racist’
  • A group set up after Black Lives Matter protests called for removal of his bust
  • The group also argued that a building named in his honour should be renamed 
  • But 39 scientists wrote to defend Huxley’s reputation as an ‘ardent abolitionist’ 


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Scientists have urged a university not to cut ties with one of its founding fathers after accusations of ‘scientific racism’ were made by an independent history group.

Imperial College is facing calls to remove a bust of 19th century biologist Thomas Huxley and rename a building named in his honour.

But some of the country’s leading scientific figures including Prof Richard Dawkins and Nobel laureate Sir Prof Paul Nurse have taken up the baton to defend Huxley’s reputation as a dedicated abolitionist against slavery, The Telegraph reports.

The move comes after a report was published in October by an independent history group, formed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, which has examined Imperial college’s links to colonialism.

Their report argued that Huxley wrote an essay which ‘espouses a racial hierarchy of intelligence, a belief system of “scientific racism” that fed the dangerous and false ideology of eugenics’.

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) was a famed English biologist and a founder of the Royal College of Science, later Imperial College, the institution which is now examining its links with him

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) was a famed English biologist and a founder of the Royal College of Science, later Imperial College, the institution which is now examining its links with him

Who was Thomas Huxley? Found father of Imperial College under spotlight 

Thomas Huxley (1825 to 1895) was an English biologist known for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which led to his nickname ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’.

In 1860, he engaged in the ‘Oxford evolution debate’ with evangelist Samuel Wilberforce, which was widely seen as a crucial step in the public  acceptance of human evolution.

Huxley was instrumental in advancing scientific thought in Britain and coined the term “agnosticism” in 1869. In 1889, he expanded upon it as a means to assess what is knowable and what is not.

He worked on invertebrates, examining the relationships between groups pf species which were previously only vaguely understood. Later, he worked on vertebrates, particularly the relationship between apes and humans. 

The group concluded that Huxley ‘might now be called racist’ and suggested the removal of his bust, as well as renaming the Huxley building.

But a group of 39 leading scientists have risen up to object to the report’s characterisation of Huxley, and they have asked Imperial College not to cut its links with him.

Their letter stated: ‘Huxley was an ardent abolitionist who fought the virulent pro-slavery scientific racism of his day and publicly welcomed the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865,” they say.

‘From childhood poverty, Huxley rose on merit to become President of the Royal Society and Privy Counsellor.

‘”Darwin’s Bulldog”, he fought for the theory of evolution, and first demonstrated our evolutionary descent from an ape-like ancestor.’

Although the scientists admitted Huxley believed in a hierarchy of races, they stated that he became wary of racial stereotypes as he aged.

They added that Huxley ‘reformed London’s schools, was a principal of a working men’s college, wrote volumes of journalism, gave lectures for working people and opened his classes to women’.

‘He was instrumental in founding the Royal College of Science, later Imperial College, the very institution that now seeks to disown him. Many staff were outraged’

‘Huxley’s early belief in a hierarchy of races is not ours. 

‘But, for his scientific accomplishments, his conviction that all men and women should be judged on their merits, civic-mindedness, and the reforming zeal he brought to British science and education, we remain in his debt. 

‘For these reasons we think his name should stay on Imperial’s walls.’

An independent history group formed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 has reassessed Huxley and suggested his bust should be removed from the campus, as well as renaming a building named in his honour

An independent history group formed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 has reassessed Huxley and suggested his bust should be removed from the campus, as well as renaming a building named in his honour

An independent history group formed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 has reassessed Huxley and suggested his bust should be removed from the campus, as well as renaming a building named in his honour

Prof Armand Leroi, an expert in evolutionary developmental biology at Imperial College, described the history group’s suggestions as ‘frankly shocking’ and said many members of staff were ‘outraged’ – especially the biologists.

He added: ‘Huxley was such a champion of egalitarianism, of access to science, of working class education. These are all things he worked for tirelessly in his life.

‘By the standards of the day he was an extraordinarily enlightened man – he fought against the racist scientists of his day who were allied with slavery ideologues in the US. He should be seen in the context and the mood of his time.’ 

Imperial College has been contacted by Mail Online for comment. 



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