Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Captains And Kings Depart

In the press there is the story about Kings College London and a debate about changing the pictures on the wall of one of its departments. It is said that this is another example of political correctness to please a small group of students from minorities.

They do not want to be looking at some of the founders of modern Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, in which Kings was a leader in research. They were around a long time ago and all male, elderly, etc. etc.

The Dean of the School says that it was an ordinary decision to rehang the pictures elsewhere and replace them with diagrams etc. to help learning, which are bigger than those online, can be more clearly understood and are nicer than old men with the then fashionable fuzz on the chins.

It is difficult to argue with this logic. The students now will spend little if any time on time the early ideas of those sciences and will be concentrating on the rapidly developing present. Much as their History department will have little to say about The Battle of Omdurman once deemed essential.

The wooliness of the reports could give the impression that the men in question were among the founders of Kings, which is not the case. It was founded in 1828-9 after a meeting of Church of England leading lights, chaired by the Duke of Wellington, set up Kings to rival the 1826 University College founded by the Progressives of that time and secular.

They were joined in 1836 to be Colleges of the University of London, which grew and grew in the next century and more. UC, which featured in the 1950's film "Doctor In The House" became famous for drunken nurse chasing rugger playing medic's training to be stalwarts of the NHS.

In the meantime on the other side of The Strand, the Webbs, GB Shaw and others founded the London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE. One famous member of staff was Clement Attlee, so by the 1950's it had become heavy hitters in politics, social sciences and history.

It's Director between 1937 and 1957 was Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, a leading man in the Eugenics movement, whose research and ideas about race etc. became embedded in much policy thinking and government in many countries in the first half of the 20th Century.

Hence centralised planning and government with the authority of learned men who know to tell the lower classes etc. what to do. You do not hear much, if anything, about Eugenics any more. It has become one of the more embarrassing episodes in academic history and LSE in particular likes to avoid any mention of it.

But one of the twists of history was that when LSE was proclaiming Eugenics, over the road at Kings something else was going on. It was Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and others researching into the base properties of humanity and living things, DNA.

They and their fellow researchers had something of a rough ride. But we know what happened next. DNA has become a science central to medicine, archaeology, paleontology and other sciences.

DNA tells us that while we are all different in some respects we are all the same. I wonder what Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders would have made of it, especially if on one of the times I was on the carpet, I might have claimed it was the Neanderthal in me what done it.

The Tour de France this year heading out of Dusseldorf on day one went up the valley of Neanderthal. So what is it in the DNA which makes a top cyclist?

Lastly, when King George IV, above, the portrait is a little flattering, issued the Royal Charter for the foundation of Kings College, not wishing to argue with the Duke of Wellington, he could not have imagined all this.

The Kings College today does not like to mention either of them.

1 comment:

  1. Governing with the authority of learned men wasn't a bad idea, but finding them was always likely to be a weakness. As we are finding out.