Archive for Sir Fred Hoyle

Simone Manuel and the Racism of Fred Hoyle

Posted in Biographical, Politics, Sport, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2016 by telescoper

Reading just now about Simone Manuel, the first black person to win an Olympic Gold medal in swimming, I suddenly remembered a bizarre event that has been lurking in the back of my mind since 1985.

In September of that year I attended a Summer School for new PhD students in Astronomy, held in Durham. I have posted about this before actually, primarily because it is interesting how many others who attended that School are still around, in senior academic positions.

Anyway, one evening during the course of this meeting there was a public lecture by non other than Sir Fred Hoyle, many of whose books on cosmology I had borrowed from the public library when I was at school and played a big part in encouraging me to study physics at university.

But Fred Hoyle’s talk that evening (to a packed lecture theatre) was not about physics but about his pet theories about the evolution of life, most of which are now generally regarded as nonsense.

At one point in his somewhat rambling discourse he digressed into the subject of the sporting abilities of different racial groups. His first assertion was that black people (by which he meant people of African origin) do not make good swimmers because their bones are too dense and the consequent lack of buoyancy is a significant disadvantage. “Have you ever seen a black swimmer in the Olympics?” he asked. None of us had, of course, but couldn’t that be because of other reasons such as lack of access to swimming pools? No. Fred was adamant. It was down to biology. I assumed he knew what he was talking about, so kept quiet.

He went on to argue that black people were also disadvantaged at tennis – not because of social factors limiting access to tennis courts – but for reasons of “poor hand-eye coordination” which he also asserted to be an inherited characteristic. This time I knew straight away he was talking drivel. The previous summer I had watched the brilliant West Indies cricketers thrash England 5-0 in a test series; their hand-eye coordination certainly wasn’t poor. And neither was that of Arthur Ashe who had  beaten Jimmy Connors in the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon a decade earlier,  nor the majestic Serena Williams who is probably the greatest female tennis player the world has ever seen.

These examples left me not only deeply suspicious of Hoyle’s racist attitudes but also staggered by his completely unscientific attitude to evidence. Great theoretical physicist he was – at least early in his career – but being expert about one thing doesn’t mean can’t make an utter fool of yourself if you blunder into another field. Sadly, theoretical physicists do have a greater tendency than most scientists to forget this.

A celebration of Sir Fred Hoyle at the Royal Astronomical Society

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 13, 2015 by telescoper

I had to miss this meeting – because I was involved in a special Senate meeting on Friday afternoon – but I did make it to the “famous RAS Dining Club” afterwards where I had a brief chat with the author of this post, Cormac O’ Raifeartaigh.

Here, for reference, is the Athenaeum, where we dined on Friday..



The birth centenary of the noted British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle was celebrated on Friday at the Royal Astronomical Society with a one-day meeting of talks describing Sir Fred’s many contributions to 20th century physics. While he is chiefly remembered in some quarters as the physicist who was ‘wrong on the big bang’, Sir Fred in fact made a number of seminal contributions to modern physics in several fields. Indeed, it was a treat to witness former collaborators and students recall his contribution to stellar nucleosynthesis, accretion physics, stellar structure, astrobiology and cosmology, to name but a few.

I hadn’t been to the RAS before although I was elected a Fellow a few years ago, and I was stunned by its fantastic location in central London location. it is housed in the famous Burlington House on Piccadilly, sharing the premises and courtyard with the Linnean Society, the Geological Society

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Camera may have exposed a fossil…

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 1, 2012 by telescoper

Yesterday’s old photograph reminded me of this classic from Private Eye ages ago. It appeared originally in the Guardian (before it went all Helvetica). Sorry it’s a bit battered…

Observational Tests of Inflation, Durham 1990.

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 31, 2012 by telescoper

I came across this old picture in my office today and couldn’t resist posting it for nostalgia’s sake. It was taken at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop called Observational Tests of Inflation, which took placed in Durham in December 1990. You’ll probably need to click on the image to be able to recognize faces, but I should at least point out Sir Fred Hoyle in the turquoise jacket in the front row; I am behind in the red and white T-shirt and black waistcoat. In those days I was considered quite trendy, among cosmologists.

You can also see George Smoot, Simon White and Alan Guth sitting next to each other in the front row.

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 41

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , , , on October 11, 2010 by telescoper

Not a lot of people know that the late great British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle was in fact born in Royston Vasey and has many famous relatives from the same place.

Edward Tattsyrup

Sir Fred Hoyle